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Photovoltaic Policy Position Paper

The US government should undertake a large-scale research and development program to achieve energy independence by the year 2030.

My assertion is that the US government should undertake a large-scale research and development program aimed at achieving energy independence by the year 2030. To stake this claim, allow me to first define what is meant by energy independence. Energy is a word we hear often in the home and around the world. It signifies whether or not something can continue or will fail. Without energy our lives would not be “livable” on our terms. We would have no electricity, no air conditioning, no factories, none of the amenities to which we have grow accustomed. Without energy we would be very dependant on one another for help to survive, and we do not cope well with having to depend on others. America takes pride in its independence and advanced innovations. This desire to be independent begs the question; why are we not independent enough and efficient enough yet to develop a way of acquiring our own energy? The answer to this belittling question is that we have!

Since the late 1950s scientists have been thinking up and developing a concept called a photovoltaic cell that will produce usable energy from the sun. A photovoltaic cell is a semiconductor device that converts sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity through the use of silicon layers that heat up from the warmth of the sun and produce energy in the form of an electrical current in watts. According to the Florida Solar Energy Center, “regardless of size, a typical silicon PV cell produces about 0.5 – 0.6 volt DC under open-circuit, no load conditions.” This means when it is not connected to an electrical load of any sort. The FSEC also tells us that “the current (and power) output of a PV cell depends on its efficiency and size (surface area), and is proportional to the intensity of sunlight striking the surface of the cell.” The cells are then connected electrically in a series of rows and columns. This connection produces an increase in the voltages, currents and power levels from that of the single cell. However, with the correct equipment, the power created by these solar power generators will be able to produce an alternating current (AC). Thus, having the ability to power any household appliance, run parallel to the utility grid and interconnecting with the grid for easy use. This is a wonderful idea because the sun is staying in the same place for the rest of eternity. Realistically, this is an ideal source; it is distributed evenly across our country and we would be recharged every single day. You may be thinking, what if the sun were to burn out? We would lose our entire energy source. Just to put your mind at somewhat of an ease, if the sun burnt out, we would all die instantaneously anyway. Besides, that’s not due to happen for billions of year.

This system that has been developed is a grid of what are called photovoltaic arrays. The arrays are composed of the smaller photovoltaic cells. They absorb the energy rays from the sun like a sponge. Then those photons go through a rigorous process of fighting their way through the layers of the cell, and thus producing our new source of energy. The Encarta Dictionary defines a photovoltaic cell as “a type of photoelectric cell that detects and measures light intensity using the potential difference that arises between unlike materials when they are exposed to electromagnetic radiation.” The electromagnetic radiation they refer to would be provided by its exposure to sun light and would generate a voltage or current. The FSCE compares PV systems to the conventional systems. “PV systems are like any of the other electrical power generating systems, just the equipment used is different than that used for conventional electromechanical generating systems. However, the principles of operation and interfacing with other electrical systems remain the same, and are guided by a well-established body of electrical codes and standards.”

These arrays were initially used throughout the 1960s to power our orbiting satellites in outer space. By the 1970s so much improvement had been done to the cells that reduced their cost that they were allowed to power more appliances with low power needs. Also in the 1970s, there was an energy crisis causing America to turn more toward solar powered energy for their energy needs. This technological push in scientific research on PV opened the way for use of photovoltaic arrays in many portable devices in the 1980s, such as calculators and watches. Soon this technology of getting energy from the sun was internationally coveted. This desire to be energy independent has thrown PV arrays into the lime-light of research and design. Ever since the 1970s, scientists, environmentalists, economists, and marketers have been emphasizing the implementation of these PV systems into the home, onto the interconnecting utility networks and onto all new buildings.

This source of energy is being tested on real peoples’ homes to get them out in the public eye. The cells are quite cool looking actually. They are sleek black with sheen coating to attract the sun. When the panels of cells are arranged on the edifice, they create a grid pattern just like one would presume to find on most homes in America today. In February of 2004, the Electrical Construction & Maintenance states that “engineers, architects, and designers are now powering large-scale residential developments and commercial high-rises with energy from the sun.”

The only draw back to this wonderfully efficient technology is that we would have no need for any of the energy sources we use today. The systems of today produce ample amounts of energy but so do the photovoltaic systems and at a much better price to the economy. This draw back on source is a problem only because it would put a lot of people out of a job. However, this shift would not be abrupt; it would be progressively slow giving the persons affected time to react and cope by finding a new job or changing their educational concentration.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, a gigantic plus to the use of photovoltaic energy is the cost! Compared to the cost of utilities from the local power company, photovoltaic is definitely the better, more economically correct and common-sense method of powering your home or building as well as the appliances there-in. The amount that it would cost you to put the cell panels on your roof and get the energy going is way under what it costs to pay for all your bills each month. Obviously, the initial cost would not be gentle on your wallet but in the long run you will save thousands! Along with this benefit of cost, the photovoltaic experts from Florida say “energy independence and environmental compatibility are two attractive features of PV systems.” The unique opportunity we have here to blend cost with efficiency to provide our nation with energy independence has been a long time coming. By the year 2030, it is my humble opinion to say that the United States of America will be exposed to and accept the efficiency and innovation of the photovoltaic system.

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