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At the present energy set-up nuclear energy provides around 20% of world's electricity. This energy is produced naturally -- by the sun and other stars making heat and light- and artificially-electricity from nuclear power plants. The nuclear power plants produce more energy using less fuel compared to the fossil fuels and hence it is seen as an environmentally friendly energy source (Ansolabehere, et al., 2003). However, the true scope of the consequences of developing nuclear energy has been realized through rather very unfortunate lessons. When names like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Fukushima are mentioned the only thought that runs the minds of many must be disaster. Nuclear plants pose a great danger to the surrounding community in case of any accident. Although, the chances of an accident ever happening are very minimal this has not counteracted the fear people have towards nuclear energy producing plants.
The Fukushima explosion (Bradford, 2006)
This energy has very commanding disadvantages that have hindered its development. Some of these demerits include:
The fuel use to produce nuclear energy is not renewable and the deposits of uranium, the main raw material, are very scarce. it, therefore, has lost its role as a long-term solution to environmentally friendly energy source.
Production of plutonium from breeder nuclear reactors is a big problem to the maintenance of peace on earth. This element is used by terrorists to engineer dirty bombs that when used cause devastating destruction. Although the other types of reactors don't produce plutonium, this issue needs to be resolved before nuclear energy being fully accepted (the reason why the UN has to inspect new projects aimed at nuclear energy production in countries and why USA is so opposed to the nuclear program being set-up by Iran).
Accidents -- as mentioned above, the occurrence of an accident no matter how minute leads to a huge loss of lives. These accidents known as meltdowns happen when the fission reaction goes out of control leading to a nuclear explosion and emission of great amounts of radiation as witnessed in Fukushima, 3/11/11. The radiation destroys the body cells leading to sickness or immediate death. The land around the accident also becomes uninhabitable for decades because the decomposition rate of the nuclear materials is extremely slow. (Ansolabehere, et al., 2003)
The cost of building nuclear facilities is very high.
Waste nuclear materials have highly radioactive making them very dangerous to dispose. This has become a barrier to the expansion of nuclear power because the wastes either need an extra setting to store the dangerous radioactive wastes or to be buried deep into the ground in a restricted area. This area dedicated to depositing these waste remain unproductive for long periods of time.
The Solar Revolution
Having looked at all the above energy resources it is evident that solar energy provides the most appropriate direction to follow if we are to save this planet and ensure the survival of current and future generations. Today, grid-connected photovoltaic systems are providing an alternative source of energy in the form of electricity to homes and buildings. Solar mass-any material that absorbs and stores the sun's heat- and solar chimney have also been incorporated into buildings where they act as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Solar cookers, on the other hand, harness sunlight for cooking, drying and pasteurization while solar hot water heaters use the sunlight to heat water. Solar water heaters have become a common feature in the households of many developed and developing countries as it offers a very cheap alternative of obtaining hot water. For example, in Israel 90% of homes use solar hot water system hot water systems (Bradford, 2006).
Solar energy being chosen to be the next big thing in energy production has come because of the advantages the following advantages (Scheer, (1995)):
i. Creation of new jobs in almost all the sectors of the economy.
ii. The introduction of solar energy offers the opportunity to reduce the administrative costs and cost of supplying energy since power lines would not be needed.
iii. Increase in land use since the land under solar panels is very minimal compared to that used to hold hydroelectric or geothermal power plants.
iv. Solar energy does not require any fuel.
v. It is not affected by the supply and demand of fuel and is therefore not subjected to the ever-increasing price of gasoline.
vi. Eco-friendly; Solar Energy is clean, renewable and sustainable, helping to protect our environment.
vii. Solar energy does not produce the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide). Therefore, does not cause global warming or formation of acidic rain.
viii. The use of solar energy reduces dependence on foreign and centralized sources of energy, influenced by natural disasters or international events and so contributes to a sustainable future.
ix. Once installed solar energy equipments require very minimal maintenance and last a long time with warranties of over 20 years.
x. Additional panels can be added when the demand of energy increases.
As nature would testify there is nothing perfect under the face of the sun and solar energy is not an exception. These are some disadvantages associated with this resource:
When installing solar energy system, the initial cost of installation is the main demerit. This is a result of the high cost of semi-conductive materials used to make these panels or solar cells.
The cost of solar energy is becoming more expensive as the supply of energy using non-renewable sources diminishes. However, the industry continues to gain experience and the scale of production of distributed PV increases, the cost per kWh delivered of solar energy is dropping and will continue to drop as a function of cumulative global production (Bradford, 2006).
The amount of output per day is influenced by the amount daytime and pollution levels of the air where the solar generating devices are installed. Only areas around the equator having the greatest potential because the durations of sunshine can be easily predictable since the length of day rarely fluctuate.
The current market status
The development of supporting policies has lead to the exponential grown in the installation of solar technologies all over the globe With Germany, China, Japan, Italy and United States leading. By December 2010, global installed capacity for PV had reached around 40 GW with crystalline silicon base photovoltaic cells dominating the market. Since fuel costs are highly volatile and capital costs of solar technologies are changing every year, an economic analysis carried out in one year might be outdated the next year (Timilsinaa, Kurdgelashvilib, & Narbelc, 2012).
However, the fact is that within ten to fifteen years distributed PV will be the cheapest electricity option for a majority of residential electricity consumers in the world. Since each market has its own dynamics like discounts, subsidies, installation costs or duration of sunshine, it is possible to determine where and when customers in a particular location will start to find it cost-effective to adopt PV. The key factors that will determine which markets will get to the cost-effectiveness first are: PV system cost, average sunlight received per day and the local price of the traditional grid-based electricity-grid-tied PV electricity becomes a cost-effective technology when its cost on a customer's site, either home or building, drops below that of local grid electricity. Japan is the best example of this scenario as many residential homes have PV systems providing energy below the cost of grid electricity even without any subsidy (Bradford, 2006).
The facts that solar energy is sustainable and less affected by weather conditions make it a very promising energy resource. Solar energy constitutes the most abundant renewable energy resource available- the amount of solar energy reaching earth per year is approximately twice as much as the energy that will ever be obtained from all the non-renewable sources (coal, oil, natural gas and uranium) combined. It can be exploited both as through solar thermal and solar photovoltaic means making it limitless. The environmentally friendly trait of this energy type distances it from the other source because none can match to a technology that does not have wastes, requires no raw materials or will never be depleted. Solar energy will also aid to address the accessibility of energy to rural and marginalized areas.
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