Solar power has enjoyed worldwide acceptance thanks its sustainability and renewability. As long as the earth has a sun, we can harness its power to our advantage. But maybe solar power isn’t quite the Holy Grail that we’d like to think it is.
A report recently predicted that solar capacity thanks to modern technology will soon surpass nuclear capacity. While this is good news, the report ignores certain elements such as the context of energy production, use and consequences.
According to the Executive Director of WISE (Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy), energy produced in kilowatt hours (kWh) and capacity installed in kilowatts (kW) are different and unequal. Energy services which the average man utilises and pays for to use as heating, or for cooking, lighting, etc. is measured in kilowatt hours. But energy consumed on a larger scale such as for industrial purposes, is measured in gigawatt hours (GWh) or megawatt hours (MWh).
Every energy technology’s capacity to deliver useable energy is calculated as energy output. Solar energy’s output tends to be low because of the nature of its efficiency of energy conversion.
For instance, energy from different solar platforms which amounts 1,000 megawatts (MW) will have a capacity to deliver on the average an output of perhaps 10-12% of its capacity. In the scenario of a nuclear power plant, what you get is 80-90% of its capacity as useable output.
Thus, placing solar technology and nuclear technology side by side with the same installed capacity, the useable solar energy that’s produced will be 8-9 times less what you’d get out of equivalent nuclear technology. This would mean that for you to acquire same amount of energy with solar as you would from nuclear, installation of additional solar arrays would need to be 8-9 times the number.
No doubt solar is contributing greatly and still has a lot more to contribute towards attaining a greener and more efficient earth. Also, the future of earth’s power doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of solar as the future of energy is diverse and distributed ranging from wind to hydro, geothermal, natural gas, bio-solutions and many others.