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The oldest forms of energy

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1 Introduction: Solar Energy

Solar energy is one of the oldest forms of energy on the planet. Rays emitted from the sun are responsible for sustaining all life forms on the planet. Solar energy uses the sun as a source of heat by concentrating the heat via various methods and using those methods to channel through a heat engine and produce power. Because of this, solar thermal power generation is very much like traditional forms of power generation due to the combustion of fossil fuels, which also need the heat engines as a catalyst for the conversion into energy. It is always renewable and will never be exhausted as long as the planet and sun are present. However, the initial cost of startup for the heat engines is expensive, but over time the savings actually outweigh the initial startup fees, making this a significant choice in promoting a cleaner option for energy usage (SOLAR ENERGY n.d.).

This is not a new technique. Although it is documented that the first patent for a solar collection device was given to Germany in 1907, the first real effort to actually use the sun as a heat source did not begin until the infamous oil crises of the 1970s. Even after the first plants were constructed in California during the 1980s, the funding for solar energy development dried up due to the fact cheaper methods could be found, although some of them might not be as environmentally friendly (Poullikkas 2009).

Because of the global warming crisis issue during the past several years combined with insanely erratic oil and gas prices, this method of energy is now being revisited as a potential means to help meet the needs of the current energy crisis. There have recently been several proposed projects and there is a strong possibility that solar energy can finally become mainstream as a renewable energy resource, along with wind, water, and solar photovoltaic technologies (Poullikkas 2009).

2: Review of Article

Andreas Poullikkas (2009) investigated the economic feasibility of the installation of a parabolic trough solar thermal system for energy generation throughout the Mediterranean region. In his article, "Economic analysis of power generation from parabolic trough solar thermal plants for the Mediterranean region- A case study for the island of Cyprus", all variables concerning the potential for Cyprus, as well as all of the available data pertinent to renewable energy sources dealing with the policy of the Cyprus government were taken into account. A method of cost-analysis was used to show the differences between energy output with and without the solar plants and also to show the differences in carbon dioxide level output and fossil fuel emissions.

The area of Cyprus was chosen as a research site due to the fact there are no hydrocarbon energy sources and it is almost one hundred percent dependent on imported fossil fuels. The solar energy in the area is used mostly for the heating of water. Current estimates show about 90% of the homes, 80% of the apartments, and 50% of the hotels have solar-water heating systems, thus causing Cyprus to actually be the first country in the world with the most installed solar collectors per person (Cyprus Institute of Energy 2009).

In order to fully understand the rationale behind the study, we must understand the different types of solar energy available. There are two major markets for solar energy, the photovoltaic and the solar thermal. The solar thermal market actually uses the heat emitted from the sun to heat water or generate power. The photovoltaic market consists of solar cells which use the properties of different materials to change sunlight into electricity (Poullikkas 2009).

The three forms of solar radiation systems currently available are parabolic trough systems, solar tower systems, and solar dish systems. For the purpose of this article, we will concentrate on the parabolic trough systems and the cost effectiveness of using the systems in the Cyprus area. When many of these parabolic troughs are lined together, it forms a power plant, which then is responsible for holding the heating fluid inside the pipes, moving it along the range of pipes into a generator to produce the electricity, which is the end product. The process continues in a cycle as long as there is solar power from which to collect the heating fluid to store inside the trough pipes. The significant drawback for this type of energy production is that the troughs are large in physical size and expensive, thus having an impact on the overall initial economics of the plant (Garcia-Rodrigueza and Blanco-Galvezb 2007).

The most important consideration for a solar thermal power plant is the land mass required to hold all of the equipment for sufficient energy production. There is little evidence due to under usage of this solar technology to make an educated guess at the land space required for such a plant to be constructed (Poullikkas 2009). The requirements for the amount of land needed, as researchers currently estimate, depends on the amount of sunlight potential as well as the amount of integrated thermal storage. Current numbers figure a space of approximately 25m/kW if there is no thermal storage integration (Poullikkas 2009).

Researchers also believe the electricity produced from a parabolic solar thermal power plan is dependent on the amount of sunlight as well as the number of hours the plant is in operation and the degree of thermal storage. The research conducted in this article shows a direct proportion in the increase of solar energy collection with an increase of the size and number of plant troughs. Therefore, the bigger the plant, the more electricity it will produce. After research was completed and figures were calculated via a parametric cost-benefit analysis, it was decided that, overall, the installation of a solar thermal system for the Mediterranean region would be profitable and economically feasible, but only under certain circumstances. Depending on the physical size of the plant, how much storage capacity is available, the initial startup cost, and the costs involved with purchasing land would all have to be factored in with each separate situation. Thus, there is no standard answer for the world (Poullikkas 2009).

3: What the Future Holds

The best model of solar plant would include building based on the parabolic troughs, but beside a combined cycle power plant, which would be called an integrated solar combined cycle plant. This type of configuration would burn natural gas to produce electricity. The heat from the turbine exhaust would be fed into a heat boiler and would generate steam to drive the steam generator portion of the plant. Heat from solar energy being collected would be used to help supplement the heat from the turbine exhaust and would increase the output from the steam turbine section. There actually are plants being built in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt which rely on this integrated electrical technology to produce greater masses of electricity, yet decrease the emissions of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide output (Promotion and consolidation of all RTD activities for renewable distributed generation technologies in the Mediterranean region 2009).

There are actually a minimal number of solar thermal power plans both under construction and already in operation around the world (Concentrating solar power for the Mediterranean region 2009). The Solar Electric Generating System, which contains nine solar power plants, is located in the Mohave Desert in California. The energy from solar power is utilized at night from the burning of natural gas, but about ninety percent of electricity from this plant is directly produced from the sun.

Nevada Solar One is located in El Dorado Valley, Nevada, and is based on the parabolic trough technology discussed earlier in this article. There is a gas heater for back -up production in the case of solar energy not being sufficient to meet the demand. PS10 is based on solar tower technology and is located in Sanlucar de Mayor, Spain. It is the first solar tower plant to begin commercialization of electrical generation in the world (Concentrating solar power for the Mediterranean region 2009).

Andasol 1 and Andasol 2 are solar thermal plants which are identical in physical appearance and operation. They are scheduled to begin operations soon and will be Europe's first solar thermal parabolic trough power plants. Solnova 1 is also under construction and is located in Sanlucar de Mayor, Spain. It, too, is based upon the parabolic trough technology.

There are other solar energy projects underway. In the field of photovoltaic research and development, new materials will be made and altered to further enhance the emission rays of the sunlight in order to get the most energy from solar light possible. It is speculated that a 10 x 15 mile area of desert land could actually provide citizens with over 20,000 megawatts of power. For this United States, this is a positive idea. It could potentially mean providing an area of 100 miles on each side of this desert with photovoltaic solar power. This would drastically cut emissions and harm to the environment (Solar History Timeline: The Future 2006).

4: Discussion

Solar energy and other renewable resources are needed at this very moment in order to cut greenhouse emissions and help with the general health of the environment and its people. However, based on the above article, it seems there is much more research and investigation to do. The research done thus far has been positive for the most part, but cost analysis is a significant factor in the decision making process. Many smaller countries are not going to be able to afford the extra capital in order to help their corner of the Earth, even if they have all of the right conditions. It will be up to the world leaders of more developed countries such as Europe, the United States, and others, to help contribute to this globalisation process.

Poullikkas' article does indeed give the public a good representation of the various types of solar power systems available to us and how each would be effective under our own unique set of conditions. What the article seems to fall short on, though, is a definite answer. Apparently, at this point in time, there is not one. There are only ongoing research studies and various solar power models in different parts of the world demonstrating how the generation of electricity actually would benefit society in a cleaner and more productive way. Perhaps in the next decade research will have come much farther and there will be many other ways renewable resources could be used to meet the energy demands of our growing world.

References

  • Concentrating solar power for the Mediterranean region. 2009. http://www.desertec.org (accessed December 31, 2009).
  • Cyprus Institute of Energy. 2009. http://www.cie.org.cy (accessed December 31, 2009).
  • Garcia-Rodrigueza, L, and J Blanco-Galvezb. "Solar-heated Rankine cycles for water and electricity production: POWERSOL project." Desalination, 2007: 311-319.
  • Poullikkas, Andreas. "Economic analysis of power generation from parabolic trough solar thermal plants for the Mediterranean Region- A case study for the island of Cyprus." Renewable and Sustanainable Energy Reviews, 2009: 2474-2484.
  • Promotion and consolidation of all RTD activities for renewable distributed generation technologies in the Mediterranean region. 2009. http://www.distres.eu (accessed December 31, 2009).
  • SOLAR ENERGY. http://www.history.rochester.edu/class/solar/solar.htm (accessed December 31, 2009).
  • Solar History Timeline: The Future. January 5, 2006. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/solar_time_future.html (accessed December 31, 2009).

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