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Tei Junsei
Professor Shuwen Li
Writing120
20 September 2016
Is Solar Energy Far From Us?
As one of the seventeen sustainable goals announced by the United Nation, the search for
sustainable clean energy has always been the focus over the past few decades. Concerned
citizens always ask, “what if we are run out of fossil fuel in few decades; what if global
warming becomes worse enough to affect our lives?” Now, the founder of SolarCity, Elon
Musk; the founder of Dividend Solar, Steve Michella; and the biggest solar field individual
investor, Bill Gates answer, “what if we use solar energy as primary energy source?” Though
many investment bankers fully endorse the conclusion about potential benefits solar energy
might bring us, they overlook the investing opportunities for solar companies and believe that
solar energy is far from our generation. But perhaps solar energy is exactly what our
generation should be focused on.
Contemporary Debates
In my research, investors, entrepreneurs, and publicity mainly debated over two
difficulties of using solar energy: the feasibility of solar energy and power storage. Put it in
another way, these two difficulties prevent many investment bankers from investing in solar
energy and have them believe that solar energy is far from us. Without a doubt, the sun has
always been the most reliable energy source for centuries, but it will become a different story
if people try to use it to generate other forms of energy other than simply enjoy the sunlight
on the beach. Hopefully, the following discussion over these two main aspects will draw a
clearer picture of the controversial solar energy in our world.
Feasibility. As the most favored sustainable energy in our world, solar energy has neither the

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side effects like the current used fossil fuels and oils which cause ozone depletion, nor it will
not run out in at least 5 billions years. Ideally, sun can even provide us enough energy in an
hour to sustain all inhabitants on earth for 365 days. More specifically, in addition to
predominating the generation of heat and light, solar energy can also fly our planes, drive our
cars, and desalinate our water. When investors analyze by doing a one-to-one comparison
with the resources we normally deplete to fulfill these roles, they find the promising future
for solar energy even more compelling. For instance, the U.S.-based Union of Concerned
Scientists once calculated that the energy acquired from all of the world's reservation of coal,
oil, and natural gas can be matched by just 20 days' supply of sunshine.
However, taking feasibility into consideration, if you either look at the progress made
since the 19th century when solar power was first introduced as an energy source or take a
glimpse at the actual amount of contribution to energy made by solar power, the benefits
mentioned above will not appear to be reliable any more. According to the International
Energy Agency, last year solar power’s contribution to the global energy supply is only 0.039
percent. While it is true that the figure shows that solar energy might not necessarily look like
a panacea at its first glance, it does not necessarily follow that solar energy is not promising.
Under the law of exponential growth, our current understanding and mastery of science is
way beyond when it was first introduced, and it is developing at an exponential speed, as
many scientists believe. To be specific, we cannot predict what is going to happen in the next
ten years just like our parents cannot predict the current technology when they used to be
young. Therefore, we cannot predict and undermine the future of solar energy just from
today’s data.
Battery. One major challenge faced by solar energy, as many venture capitalists suggest, is
power generation and storage. Normally, photovoltaic(PV) cells (solar panels) can only work
efficiently when the sun is shining. By extension, the suitability for mass-scale photovoltaic

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plants varies in different locations. For instance, the sunniest state in the United States (US),
Colorado will have a better chance of absorbing sunshine than the gloomiest state in US,
Washington, where storing solar power into a battery as much as possible then becomes a
major concern. The solar battery, however, is in no way similar to the electrical battery except
for the name. It not only has lower efficiency and more expensive material fee but also
requires greater amounts of available space.
As for the price, some might doubt if its higher price will reduce its availability for
medium-salary and low-salary families. Others might doubt if the continually low efficiency
of solar energy will be good alternative for coal and fossil fuels. Thankfully, recently a new
material known as perovskite answers these questions. Within just a few years it has started
rivaling the efficiency of traditional photovoltaic solar cells, which currently maxes out at
roughly 20 percent. By responding to this new discovery, Michael Graetzel, the Director of
the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces, showed great enthusiasm about the cheaper price
and higher efficiency by claiming, “This is all being examined now. I’m optimistic and sure
this can be tackled. It’s an exciting time.” Well, perovskite solar cell may or may not be the
future for solar energy, but it is irrefutable that scientists will keep searching for the most
efficient, affordable, and usable form of solar energy. As the result, the search will only
become more competitive.
Space is another problem that has been discussed by many scientists. A recent study done
by the Rockefeller University in New York indicates that it would require PV cell to cover an
area of 150,000 square kilometers for solar energy to meet current U.S. electricity needs for
just one year. Critics of the study might respond, how big deal is 150,000 square kilometers
in a country the size of the U.S? Many people might assume that due to the recent growing
urbanization with ongoing population, there are not many available, untouched territories left
for us for such endeavor without adding more harm to the environment of which destroying

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the forest will not make any sense here. But according to Greenpeace, the small and often
overcast United Kingdom could meet two-thirds of its electricity needs with solar panels—on
roof of existing buildings, negating the need to find space for solar plants. In addition, just
like most of us will ignore it, the Sahara Dessert in Africa does meet two basic needs of
sunshine and space availability. The United Nations Environment Report once released a data
examination that an area of 640,000 square kilometers could provide the world with all of its
electricity needs, which forms a clear contrast with 9 million square kilometers’ dessert, the
Sahara. In a broader perspective, this technological interaction between the third world
countries and the first world countries might even be the first step to reduce the inequality
between them.
In conclusion, feasibility and power storage should not be the obstacles in our pursuit to
validate and generalize solar energy. By agreeing with what Bill Gates once said in the tech
chat called “The future of Renewable Energy” in “How Stuff Works” Podcast, I consider solar
energy as a great opportunity of ensuring future prosperity, and I believe it is not something
far from now that our generation should really be focused on.

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Reference links:
http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/tech/gallery/solar-cells-of-the-future/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/10/01/solar.energy/index.html#cnnSTCText
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/business/dealbook/tesla-solar-city-merger-elonmusk.html?
action=click&contentCollection=DealBook&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia
&pgtype=article&_r=0
http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/the-future-of-renewable-energy-featuring-billgates.htm