Solar Power For a Brighter Future

One of the most important inventions in human history, if not the single most important, is the electrical grid. Since its inception, the grid has revolutionized how anthropogenic activity has been conducted. In the 21st century, many people have a lifestyle that is largely dependent on electricity, and there is no doubt that the loss of this resource would be disastrous. Most of the energy that the world uses comes from fossil fuels, which are in extremely limited supply and cannot last indefinitely. Despite this, the United States, one of the largest consumers of electricity in the world, has not developed a sustainable energy policy, and considering the political gridlock that looms over Washington, will not in the near future. Every few years, a form of alternative energy makes it into the news as “the Holy Grail” of energy, but all of them have considerable drawbacks on many levels.

Nuclear fission and fusion, hydro, wind, and biomass have all been proposed, but each has fatal flaws. Nuclear power relies on a specific isotope of uranium, which is both expensive to produce and also in limited supply. Nuclear power also poses a risk for disastrous meltdowns and terrorist attacks. Hydro power has been used for many centuries to some degree, but when electricity is the goal, the structures and devices used in gaining this power become more invasive and destructive to the surrounding ecosystems. Besides this, hydro power is only viable in certain rivers and bodies of water, and cannot be widespread. Wind power has also been used by humans for a considerable amount of time, but has gone supersized in the 21st century. These tall structures produce considerable power, but are also noisy and disrupt natural atmospheric conditions that cause abnormal weather. Biomass uses plant matter to produce electricity, but is very inefficient, not economically viable, and impossible to cultivate.

One type of alternative power with little drawbacks is solar power. Solar power harvests the energy of the sun, which is in plentiful supply, especially in areas nearing the equator. A set of solar panels can produce energy completely independent of the electrical grid, which makes these panels a preferable choice for anyone from a reclusive anarchist to a poor villager in Kenya. States like Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico can especially benefit from this type of power, as these states receive supple sunlight throughout the year and have a great amount of open land to place these panels. In urban and suburban environments, solar power can be collected from placing panels on the rooftops that are otherwise unused. New York City has enough rooftop space to provide 14% of its annual energy consumption, and there are countless suburban homes that could lower their energy bill through a solar investment.

Solar power is not without its own disadvantages. Firstly, sunshine is not guaranteed in all parts of the world, and it is difficult to predict how much sunlight an area will get over the course of a year. Secondly, solar power requires a large initial investment that is difficult for many potential customers to meet. Lastly, there are few government subsidies and programs that encourage solar over conventional energy, as most of our government officials are in the pockets of oil and coal companies.

There is no one solution to the energy crisis that may come in the future, and no single source of energy should be overly trusted. A prudent approach would be to work towards a mixture of energy sources that will fuse reliability with sustainability. Fossil fuels will soon become more and more scarce and expensive, but this does not mean that the world will collapse into a Mad Max-esque dystopia, but rather it presents an opportunity for the human race to band together for the benefit of the planet and future generations to come.