Solar Energy and Its Social Consequences

To understand the social consequences of solar energy, one must be aware of what solar energy is. Solar energy is a radiant energy produced in the sun as a result of nuclear fusion reactions. It is transmitted to the earth through space in quanta of energy called photons, which interact with the earth?s atmosphere and surface. The strength of solar radiation at the outer edge of the earth?s atmosphere when the earth is at its average distance from the sun is called the solar constant. The intensity of energy actually available at the earth?s surface is less than the solar constant because of the absorption and scattering of radiant energy as photons interact with the earth?s atmosphere (Thorsen, 1997, Encarta). The amount and strength of the solar energy available at any point on the earth depends on the day of the year, time of day, the latitude of the collection point, and the orientation of the object used in collection.

The earth is rich in abundant natural resources. However, the earth?s natural resources are being consumed at an astronomical rate. It will only be a matter of time before those resources are depleted and we are forced to consider other alternatives. We can wait until every resource has been consumed and go back to living the way mankind did a century ago, or we can continue to move forward and explore the possibilities of harnessing the power of something that remains constant in our lives?the sun.

Mankind has been using the natural energy of the sun for ages. Interactions between the sun?s energy, the oceans, and the atmosphere produce winds that have been used for centuries to turn windmills. Modern applications of wind energy, when attached to generators, produce electricity. Through photosynthesis, solar energy contributes to the growth of plant life masses that can be used as fuel, such as alcohol or methane.

Solar energy is a clean and safe source of natural energy that should be considered as an alternative energy source for the future. The sun is not indigenous to any one country. It is a resource that can be utilized globally. Individuals and countries could possibly become more self sufficient in energy resources (Alcorn, 1997, p. 212).

An idea that has been proposed to produce power on a large scale would involve placing giant solar modules in earth?s orbit where energy generated from sunlight would be converted to microwaves and beamed to antennas on earth to be converted to electric power (Thorsen, 1997, Encarta). To produce as much power a five nuclear power plants, ten million pounds and several square miles of solar collectors would have to be assembled in orbit and an earth based antenna five miles in diameter would be required. This vision requires an exorbitant amount of money. To my knowledge, there isn?t a government on earth that is willing, thus far, to fund such a project.

The potential future uses of solar energy are confronted with opposition. So far, the cost of constructing devices that would be able to harness a free energy source is at the top of the list. I realize there is a lot of money involved, but I really can?t think of any technological discovery that was free to begin with. Every invention has come about through scientific research, and research requires money. Some have expressed concern regarding certain industries having to change their products to supply the new needs of society (Alcorn, 1997, p. 213). Due to new and expected futures advances in technology, the world will always be forever changing. Some industries will initially absorb some monetary and opportunity costs, but it is the price they will have to pay for progression. Another public concern is Mother Nature. If we experience too many cloudy days in a row; then we will need a backup source of energy. Perhaps it would be a good idea to explore the possibilities and fund the research for solar energy before we deplete our backup resources.