Our current green energy solutions for climate change are not providing the results we need. They are very inefficient, so we need to find their problems and fix them, before these green energy solutions are able to stop climate change. Climate change is a long term shift in temperature and weather patterns, as defined by the UN. Climate Change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide which come from various sources, such as burning fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. Currently, climate change causes many environmental catastrophes such as: horrible droughts, raging wildfires, and increasing sea levels, which will sink cities. These effects will one day affect us all, making it even more important than ever to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gasses. One way we can do this is by using green energy, which does not produce greenhouse gasses, compared to burning fossil fuels, which do produce them.
Solar panels are a very problematic form of green energy. Currently only 15%~20% of the light energy that hits solar panels can be turned into energy. Currently, the most efficient cell is 39.5% efficient, made by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but it requires compounds made with gallium, a very expensive metal. We can only hope that they get cheaper, but for now their use is restricted to extreme places like space. Moreover, solar panels produce energy that is 2-3 times more expensive than hydropower, coal, or nuclear power, while also needing large tracts of land to produce enough energy, according to the University of Minnesota. Currently China and Russia produce most of the world’s silicon as graphed by statista expert Ms. Garside, Efficient and cleaner manufacturers, such as Mississippi silicon are located in the USA, not in the bulk of the market. All in all, not only are solar panels inefficient, but their production process is inefficient too, so we need more research into this technology before it can stop climate change.
Solar panels inefficiency is caused by many effects as reported by the youtuber Real Engineering whose sources range from National Renewable Energy Laboratory to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. First, some light is just reflected back off the cell, though there are upgrades that allow light to have a higher chance to be absorbed. These upgrades include: a sheet of silicon dioxide with or without another sheet of titanium oxide, which is then textured to allow reflected sunlight to have another chance of being absorbed. 19% of the sunlight that hits a solar panel has too low energy levels to produce electricity, meanwhile another 33% is lost through heat. This is worse in hotter climates where solar panels will have to be cooled to work efficiently, leading to a greater loss of energy from cooling them. The metal electrodes, which siphon electricity produced by the panels, cover the panels themselves, leading to more loss. The most efficient designs for these electrodes are not easily manufacturable as they are complex leaf-like patterns, which is why we use square designs which lose 8% of the sun’s energy. After all these losses are put together, solar panels are only 15%~20% efficient; many improvements are needed to make solar panels efficient enough to be a viable source of energy.
Hope is on the horizon, the price of solar panels are dropping, and the amount of energy produced by solar power has only gone up since 2008 and its cost has only gone down too, from $5.57 for rooftops cells each, to only $1.72 according to the Energy Information Administration and National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Moreover, according to Lafayette college, the efficiency has increased since 1955,
from 2% to 20% in 1992. This increase in efficiency and decrease in cost has only seemed to continue
throughout the years, so it’s very, very likely that this will continue, but we still have to continue to improve the technology.
Another promising green energy source is green hydrogen. Electricity is employed by electrolyzers to break down water molecules into their core elements – hydrogen and oxygen. These two components can be combined afterwards to generate electricity and water in a hydrogen fuel cell. If the energy utilized to power the electrolyzer is sourced from renewable sources, the hydrogen produced is labeled as green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen can be used in place of fossil fuels in various manufacturing processes that currently require fossil fuels, such as steel production, which social entrepreneur Vaitea Cowan suggests we do. For planes, it is required to use unsustainable fuels to power it because batteries don’t work, but fuel cells and green hydrogen can allow planes to use clean energy instead of fossil fuels. However, electrolyzers are hard to produce, so until electrolyzers become cheap, mass produced, and scalable, green hydrogen will be very rare to come by and expensive to use, but entrepreneur Vaitea Cowan suggests this should be changed to make hydrogen usable. Currently Vaitea Cowan is creating new technologies that make electrolyzers small and easily scalable, but more problems arise with green hydrogen. Firstly, very little hydrogen is green, most of it is made using fossil fuels, as reported on by Sabine Hossenfelder who has a Phd in physics. Most gas and oil companies right now are investing in what they label as blue hydrogen in which most greenhouse gasses are stored underground during the production process of the hydrogen, but often these gasses leak into the atmosphere reversing the possible “greenness” of blue hydrogen according to the University of Cornell. Before green hydrogen can be a solution for climate change, it needs to be highly developed further. It’s clear that this technology is currently unable to efficiently reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, though fortunately entrepreneurs such as Vaitea Cowan can help us solve this problem.
All in all, all green technologies need some improvement. If we are to further develop these technologies, we need to understand the pitfalls and successes of each possible solution. Once we have solved these problems we need to implement them on a bigger scale, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This is why it is essential that we all become informed about the issues at stake, so that we can create solutions that will stop climate change.
Alrawas, M. (2020, October 16). Why Aren’t Solar Panels Everywhere? Institute on the Environment. From http://environment.umn.edu/education/susteducation/pathways-to-renewable-energy/why-arent-solar-panels-everywhere/
ELECTRICITY DATA BROWSER. (n.d.). eia. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/#/topic/0?agg=2,0,1&fuel=0045u&geo=vvvvvvvvvvvvo&sec=g&freq=M&start=200101&end=201611&ctype=linechart<ype=pin&rtype=s&pin=&rse=0&maptype=0
Friedlander, B. (n.d.). Touted as clean, ‘blue’ hydrogen may be worse than gas or coal. Cornell Chronicle. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/08/touted-clean-blue-hydrogen-may-be-worse-gas-or-coal#:~:text=The%20carbon%20footprint%20to%20create,12%20in%20Energy%20Science%20%26%20Engineering Garside. (2023, February 22). Major countries in silicon production worldwide in 2022. statista. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/268108/world-silicon-production-by-country/
Han, A. (n.d.). Solar photovoltaic (A. Mukherjee, Ed.). Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://sites.lafayette.edu/egrs352-sp14-pv/technology/history-of-pv-technology/ How Green Hydrogen Could End The Fossil Fuel Era | Vaitea Cowan | TED [Youtube]. (2022). TED. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OLxBvLvCoM
Hydrogen Will Not Save Us. Here’s Why. [Youtube]. (2023). Sabine Hossenfelder. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zklo4Z1SqkE
Milford, L., Mullendore, S., & Ramanan, A. (2020, December 14). Hydrogen Hype in the Air.
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