Power vs. Dollar

Natural resources, such as petroleum and coal, are the most significant sources of energy nowadays. The reasons are not only because of our understanding of these resources, but also due to the development of technologies, which to maximize production. The profit behind these natural resources is, of course, enormous. Who doesn’t care about the money? It helps the economy growth as well as the quality of life.  On the other hand, who should be concerned about the sustainability?

Statistically, there are an estimated 1.3 trillion barrels of proven oil reserve left in the world’s major fields, which at present rates of consumption, will be sufficient to last around 40 years. Production levels then may be down to 15 million barrels per day, which is about 20% of what we currently consume. As the world population will be twice as large in 40 years, we might have to find a new source of energy. Though coal could last longer, viable deposits might be exhausted in another century. Additionally, carbon dioxide emission due to energy consumption was increased from 27% in 2007 to 38% in 2012 in the United States. All the data has shown that nature resources are not sustainable and green, but profitable.

Solar energy, the most abundant and renewable energy, can potentially become the best energy supply and substitute for the use of natural resources. The advantage is that solar is the greenest among all the sources. No special engineering equipment is needed to explore solar besides solar panels to harness it. In the past several years, the development of solar energy broke into many different societies and changed some conceptual understandings of its usage. On a minuscule scale, the usage of organic matter in creating solar cells can be developed on small devices, such as battery chargers, flashlights, etc. Although only minimum amount of energy can be converted from these devices, it is more than enough for us to make an emergency phone call or shine a light on a dark road. On a immense scale, some solar power plants, which are developed from inorganic matters, can convert significant more solar to electricity. In Europe, a lot of developed countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, have been building power plants to generate energy supplies for communities. In the United States, more power companies have realized the importance of using green energy. The number of solar plants has essentially increased in the past couple of years; however, the solar energy cost remains high compared with energy supplies from natural resources. The low efficiency of energy conversion is even more difficult for solar technology to occupy the market. A consequential conflict in between economy and green becomes a target of power supply in the next few decades.

Tucson, Arizona, a college town and most importantly, a great location for solar storage, can be one of the cities to show how well solar energy can be impacted in the community. The University of Arizona is playing an essential role in between solar industry and the community, not only the fascinating research on improving solar systems, but also to help the industrial companies build and test all of these applied solar technologies for the community.

Many researchers have their own solar projects at the University of Arizona. For example, Dr. Neal Armstrong, the joint professor in both chemistry and optical science department, conducts research on applying the understanding of interfaces to organic photovoltaic solar cell platforms. He is also the director of Center of Interface Science: Solar Electric Material. (CIS: SEM). As one of the legends on solar electric material discoveries in the past few decades, his work will assist companies to have more choices on developing solar cells with different organic materials. Professor Anthony Muscat, from Chemical and Environmental Engineering, on the other hand, is focusing on the inorganic material solar cells development in a nano-scale. The converted electricity will be more powerful for larger scale devices compared with organic materials. It could apply to households, restaurants, bars, and small businesses. There are two other professors researching how to improve the efficiency and performance of the solar cells, as well as lower the cost with new technologies. Dr. Alexander Cronin, Department of Physics, conducts and collaborates with local companies, Tucson Electric Power (TEP), Biosphere 2, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Arizona Research Institution for Solar Energy (AzRISE), on testing and analyzing the performance data from different photovoltaic systems. The aim is to find a better way to integrate solar into electric grid and the community. Professor Raymond Kostuk, Department of Electrical Engineering, is collaborating with Prism Solar Technologies and Global Solar Energy. They have secured a $330,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate methods to optimize solar energy efficiency that blends low-cost holographic optical collectors with thin-film solar cell technologies.

In addition to all these professors and local companies, many more professors from other institutes and companies across the world are also investigating novel ways to develop solar technologies. All these researches and cooperation will lead us to a new chapter in energy usage, especially sustainable energy. Solar, as one of the most environmentally friendly sources, will help us protect our environment in a new way for the future.