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Solar Energy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      Every year, the sun emits over 1,000 times more energy than all our human needs require, and of that, about 700 quadrillion kilowatt-hours per year actually reach earth. (A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy needed to power a 100-watt light bulb for ten hours. The average annual electric consumption per U.S. household in 2001 was 10,656 kilowatt-hours.) There are ways to harness the small fraction of this solar power that we need to replace our limited fuels.

Solar energy can be used in a number of ways. One is for people to connect to a solar plant with many cells in a central location. Another is to locate the solar cells where the energy will be used, like in a home or business. The Leipziger Land solar power plant in Germany meets the electricity demands of 1,800 homes, and, according to Annett Fruehling, a project engineer for the firm responsible for the plant’s planning and development, saves about 3,700 tons annually in carbon dioxide emissions.

With 40 minutes of exposure to the sun, the U.S. receives more energy than all the fossil fuels we use in a year, and those fuels are being depleted 100,000 times faster than they can be created. Energy from solar plants and smaller solar units would dramatically decrease the amount of precious fossil fuels used.

Solar energy is collected in photovoltaic cells made of solid-state silicon. They are the smallest semi-conductor devices that convert sunlight into electricity, and are similar to computer chips. No materials are consumed or emitted from them, so they have no moving parts. They convert more energy when the weather is cool and sunny, similar to other electronics, but are reduced to five to 20 percent of their potential when it’s cloudy.

Interest in solar energy is growing, and it should, too. Many places are offering incentives to use solar energy, including New Jersey, parts of California, Germany, Spain, France, and South Korea. Complete solar power systems’ costs are decreasing every year, and they are becoming more popular. In 2005, the cost of solar energy in Japan, Hawaii, and northern California was at times lower than conventional electricity without any incentives. Using solar energy is a great way to conserve the environment, but there are other, smaller ways to help.

Other ways to help the environment without switching completely to solar power include using microwaves, which use 70-80% less energy than a conventional stove. Lighting accounts for 15% of the electricity a household consumes, but compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) use 75% less electricity than incandescent. A CFL lasts up to 10 years and will save about $30 in electric bills over the life of each bulb, plus keep 500 pounds of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, according to Mother Earth News.

Imagine how much money and energy could be saved if all households switched their bulbs! According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), every time you turn off fluorescent lights for more than five seconds you save energy. If your main goal is to save money, EERE recommends leaving fluorescent lights on if you’re planning to return to a room within 15 minutes.

Using solar energy can greatly help the environment by not using so much fossil fuel. Solar energy is a good answer to our planet’s energy needs.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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Lindsey31 said...
Apr. 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm:
Go Minnesota! I like your article! Very well written. Please check out some of my work, I would really appreciate it! Feel free to comment and rate. (:
 
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