Solar and wind now stand out as two major alternative energy sources although their shares in the total energy mix are still small. They continue to attract consumers because they harness the free and clean energies that nature provides. As technology advances, solar and wind will become much more effective fuels for the 21st century.
Unlike fossil fuels, solar and wind do not compete but complement each other in many respects:
*Both sunlight and wind are free, clean and bountiful.
*Installing solar in one place does not exclude installing wind.
*Both are harnessed directly from nature with no expensive digging underground, and no refining after extraction.
*Both serve one single purpose – to produce electricity for heating, refrigeration, propulsion, and powering all kinds of gadgets and machines.
*Solar and wind empower the consumers to generate their own electricity independently without relying on the utility company.
Is there a big demand for solar and wind? It’s the greatest latent demand on a global scale. The price is key that determines how fast the demand will grow. We are now approaching the turning point where solar and wind achieve cost parity with fossil fuels, if not already. The price in turn depends heavily on technological advancements in the following fields:
*The current efficiency of solar panels is only 25%, thus a large potential exists for technological improvements and further price reductions.
*The new vertical-axis wind turbine has become increasingly smaller in size and weight. This enables wind turbines to be installed on top of housing units besides just the open wind farm.
*Technology has yet to deliver a less expensive battery with shorter recharge time and longer driving range for use in electric cars.
*An improved infrastructure known as the smart grid to accommodate renewable electricity generated by independent housing units.
In recent years, the technology for solar panels has improved to the extent that the price drops precipitously, causing many companies to fold. Although it is tough for the producers to survive, global demands continue to expand at a fast pace as a result of falling prices. Does this remind you of the chip and PC industries as they develop?
The race is on among world producers to develop better designs for harnessing solar and wind, and for storing the electricity generated. Within this decade, technological breakthroughs are likely to occur in three areas:
*Solar panels to dramatically raise the current low efficiency rate by employing new materials and circuitry. This will reduce the price of solar even further.
*Electric batteries employing new chemical reactions to achieve larger storage and faster recharge, with reduced weight and price. This will improve the portability of electricity that still lags behind that of gasoline in the transport sector.
*Wirelessly recharging cell phones is a reality now. If this breakthrough extends to large batteries, the demand for electric cars will explode. Imagine recharging your car while driving on the road. So you can forget about gasoline.
Although we are accustomed to using fossil fuels for a long time, the demands for solar and wind can never disappear, if not increasing rapidly. They originate from the accumulating frustrations and desires that all consumers have in common:
*Are you happy with ever rising oil prices? Don’t you think we are still being held hostage since the first oil crisis hit in 1973?
*Do you like the pollution of gasoline car exhausts? Do you want to live in the neighborhood of an oil refinery or a coal power plant?
*Do you think we can solve the energy problem by mindlessly digging and extracting as we have done for so long?
*Do you like to generate your own electricity with the help of nature rather than paying the utility company for supply?
*If you live in a remote area or an under-developed country where electricity supply is either absent or unreliable, do you want to produce your own electricity using sunlight or wind?
Regardless of their views about the environment, people want to switch away from fossil fuels when solar and wind become cheaper and more convenient. The time is approaching now as the world is progressing to a future where energy is smartly derived from the moving electrons instead of burning fossil fuels. In addition, electric motors of all sizes are here, ready to replace the internal combustion engine for most human needs. Based on how fast technology is advancing nowadays, we finally have a real choice — between cheap, clean and bountiful electric energy, and the dirty fuels underground that we must fight one another to secure the land in order to dig and extract. The choice seems so obvious, but it has taken us a long time to get wiser.