Non-renewable fossil fuels, which include coal, oil, and natural gas, supply approximately eighty percent of the world’s energy. We use them for things like electricity, heat, and transportation, as well as for making products like steel and plastics .
These fuels come at a cost, however, and that cost is climate change. When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, which get trapped in our atmosphere and contribute to the warming of the panet .
Because of this, governments around the world have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Much of the effort in this area is being put toward finding alternative renewable energy sources, as well as increasing energy efficiency.
Solar power has, for several years, been regarded as one of the best renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, and an enormous amount of research has gone into developing solar energy technology.
Tesla has been at the forefront of innovation in the area of solar energy and has developed some of the leading technologies and advancements in solar power, including the Tesla Solar Island in 2016.
The Tesla Solar Island
Ta‘ū is one of five islands in the American Samoa, a territory of the United States located four thousand miles off the West Coast in the Pacific Ocean. For generations, the island’s six hundred inhabitants had relied on diesel generators to power their homes, shops, water pumps, and harbour.
One hundred thousand gallons of fuel had to be imported every year, with a significant portion of that fuel being reserved for the transportation of the fuels itself. The fuel was delivered by boat, and several times there would be a delay, leaving the entire island without power.
Keith Ahsoon, a local resident, described a time when the boat was delayed for two months. He explained that the water systems on the island use pumps, and everyone in the village depends upon them, but they require fuel to work.
“We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity,” he said. “Once diesel gets low, we try to save it by using it only for mornings and afternoons” .
In 2016, however, Tesla partnered with SolarCity, one of the biggest residential solar energy contractors in the United States, to switch the entire island from using fossil fuels to solar energy.
Using a 1.4 megawatt solar array and sixty Tesla Powerpacks, the new system can supply the entire island with power for up to three days if the panels are cut off. Ahsoon feels a lot more at ease knowing that his community’s power is coming from the sun, and not an unreliable boat.
Another Samoan resident spoke about the effects of climate change that the island’s residents are noticing, such as beach erosion.
“This is part of making history. This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world. Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand,” they said. “It’s a serious problem, and this project will hopefully set a good example for everyone else to follow” .
Going Off the Grid with Solar
Tesla’s solar island is not the only example of a successful solar energy strategy. The following is a roundup of just a few other incredible innovations that have taken place over the last few years.
The Tesla Solar Roof
2016 was a big year for Tesla. Another successful outcome from Tesla’s merger with SolarCity, the Tesla Solar Roof claims to cost less than a new roof with added solar panels, and is three times stronger than standard roofing tiles .
The company says that the price of the roof is “less than the price of a regular roof when accounting for energy generation”, which means that it costs less than a regular roof when you account for the savings on your electricity bill .
There are four different versions of the product, and the end price to the consumer will vary depending on the price of the house and the difficulty of installation.
In July 2019, officials in Los Angeles, California approved a deal for a massive solar farm backed up by one of the world’s largest batteries. Starting in 2023, the farm is supposed to provide seven percent of the city’s electricity, at a cheaper rate than any power generated by fossil fuels .
The project is expected to create a 400-megawatt solar array, generating roughly 876,000-megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity annually, enough to power more than 65,000 homes during daylight hours. An 800-MWh battery will store electricity for after the sun sets, which will reduce the need for natural gas-fired generators .
A Floating Solar Plant
Marlenique, a fruit farm and wedding venue in South Africa, came up with a plan in 2019 to get off the national power grid completely, using the continent’s first commercially-operated floating solar system .
The project will be completed in the following two phases:
- Phase one includes a floating solar PV system, as well as a land-based solar installation on the farm, which will allow it to run 90 percent of its cold storage, irrigation, and wedding venue facilities off of the traditional electricity grid.
- Phase two will include the installation of battery packs, which will take the farm off the grid completely.
“The knock-on effect is that the business will save money in the long run, and create a business that is not only environmentally sustainable but financially sustainable as well,” said the Western Cape’s Beverley Schäfer. “As the Western Cape Government, we have been urging businesses to take up solar PV as an alternative energy source” .
The Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
Solar energy is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels because it is renewable, it reduces electricity bills, it can be used in diverse settings, the maintenance costs are low, and it is a constantly developing technology that will continue to improve as more innovations happen.
The drawbacks, however, are that solar systems can be costly to install, it requires a lot of space, it is highly weather dependent, and storing solar energy is difficult and expensive .
As more companies and governments allocate resources toward solar technology development, however, many of these problems can be overcome. Not only is it beneficial for the environment, but solar energy provides individuals and families the opportunity to become more self-sufficient in terms of energy generation, as opposed to relying on the local power grid to power their homes.
Innovative companies like Tesla are constantly working toward more efficient, cost-effective solar energy strategies, with the hope that one day, we will be able to abandon fossil fuels altogether.
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