How does solar power help the environment?

How much do you know about solar power?
How much do you know about solar power?

Modern society is extremely dependent electricity generated by oil and coal, which both add to greenhouse gas buildup in the environment. Our homes, vehicles and technologies require immense amounts of energy, yet fossil fuel supplies are finite. Sunshine, however, isn't disappearing anytime soon.

Solar energy is abundant throughout many parts of the United States. In a single day, the amount of sunlight hitting the United States is more than 2,500 times the entire country's daily energy usage. From an energy security and sustainability perspective, it seems logical to make the most of solar power technologies.

There are multiple technologies used to create electricity from solar energy. Many homes and businesses install photovoltaic panels, which absorb sunlight and use semiconductors to create usable energy. Larger complexes use panels, too, but others deploy concentrated solar power, which uses lenses or mirrors focused to a small area, where the tremendous heat is turned into electricity.

Both technologies help the environment because they reduce the need to burn fossil fuels. That means a correlating drop in air pollution and greenhouse gases. And because they don't have many moving parts, they're quieter, too.

Photovoltaic panels are still expensive to produce. However, many experts expect that hardware prices will drop by at least 50 percent in the next few years as more companies invest in this technology. Once a resident or business can afford the panels, they're installed easily and tied into the electrical system.

One of the great things about solar power is that it produces its greatest output as demand spikes. Energy usage jumps during summer months due to air conditioners -- but that same solar energy that warms the country can be captured and used to power those devices.

At this point, though, solar power accounts for only around 1 percent of electricity generation. It will take years of concentrated effort by the government and by private investors to make the most of solar power's potential.

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