It’s 2017, but solar cells went into commercial production in 1953, so you do the math: we should probably have access to affordable solar power, by now, but there are numerous dirty fuel proponents working to try to ensure that we continue to be dependent upon them for as long as possible. However, despite the slow progress, exciting technological breakthroughs are being discovered that should make affordable solar power available to the average consumer sooner rather than later.
Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with how solar energy is generated: first, solar panels collect sunlight; next, power is converted into usable electricity; next, electricity flows into the net meter; and finally, the attached building is able to use the electricity produced by the sun. In order for solar power to become more widely utilized, it has to become more affordable. However, National Geographic reports that significant advances in nanotechnology will soon lead to lower costs and higher efficiency rates.
What kind of advancements, specifically, you ask? To cite one example, researchers from MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have developed a new solar cell—what they’re calling a “step cell”—that combines two different layers of sunlight-absorbing material to harvest a broader range of the sun’s energy.
There was also a new development just this month, as reported in Science Daily:
Researchers at The City College of New York-based CUNY Energy Institute announce the development of a novel low cost, rechargeable, high energy density battery that makes the widespread use of solar and wind power possible in the future.
Think Tesla’s Powerwall, only more affordable. Moreover, Green Tech Media recently compared the costs of wind and solar to gas, coal, and nuclear-based energy, illustrating the clear advantage that renewable energy has over fossil fuels, price-wise. Why are our cities’ and towns’ energy grids so slow to implement clean energy sources? Michael O’Boyle cites two widespread misconceptions: first, “Misguided alarmism about the reliability of renewables,” and second, “Misconceptions of the cost of running the grid with more renewables.”
The potential cost of implementing solar power into energy grids is even lower due to increased loans to solar energy production companies, so there’s that, too. All in all, the costs of solar energy are going down—no matter how much the Trump administration would like us to believe in its inconvenience and unaffordability. Moreover, there has been considerable progress in the renewable energy world in terms of new career opportunities unique to the industry, more affordable consumer options, and new technological advancements.
Over the past year, there have been a number of new technologies developed related to solar efficiency, solar energy storage, wearable solar technology, and solar design tech. Perhaps one of the most exciting developments that has received a good deal of attention is solar roadways: they are roads with the ability to convert sunlight into energy to be delivered to local smart grids. According to their website, “Our goal is to modernize the infrastructure with modular, intelligent panels, while producing clean renewable energy for homes and businesses.”
Beyond specific products, there are also a number of careers in sustainability-related fields like forestry and geology that should be attractive to those interested in supporting the renewable energy industry. A common role for a forestry graduate, for example, is that of a conservation scientist or forester. Companies typically create this position in order to help them manage their use of forests as resources related to their product supply chain. Georgia-Pacific, for example, attempts to replenish and responsibly preserve the forest elements that they harvest for business use.
Other related fields, such as geography and geology, offer career opportunities in cartography or geoscience. The advantage of these nature-related jobs is the sense of purpose that they offer to the potential employee in search of ethical work. Many people these days, faced with dire news about the state of the environment and climate change around the world, are beginning to feel compelled to search for more meaningful job positions that help to improve people’s lives in some way.
Because of this new awareness of the importance of sustainability, moreover, it’s not as necessary as it used to be to enter the not-for-profit world in order to find meaningful work. Many small and medium-sized companies—even larger corporations—are becoming more aware of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and developing more substantial ethical compasses that offer more satisfaction to the socially-conscious job seeker. More and more people are asking, “Is the world a better, safer, or healthier place because of my company?” And an increasing number of companies are confidently responding with a resounding, “Yes!”
More people, also, are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of personal responsibility, when it comes to sustainable living and eco-friendly lifestyles. There are a number of simple, tangible actions that you, personally, can take at home in order to maximize your energy efficiency and long-term monthly expenses, as well. For example, you’ll be able to save a substantial amount of money just by getting rid of wasteful, out-of-date appliances.
Conducting a home energy audit requires little energy on your part after you make a call to a local certified energy rater or auditor. An auditor will be able to determine the areas in your home that need additional insulation and weatherization. You can also make sure that your appliances and lightbulbs are up to date, in terms of the most energy-efficient models and light sources—if in doubt, look for the “Energy Star” symbol on products when searching for replacements. Lastly, be mindful of your water usage and the amount of food waste you throw out; the simple act of composting can relieve much of the burden on our local landfills.
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Living in a sustainable manner requires all of us working together to ensure we’re picking the most socially and environmentally responsible options—whether it be an appliance, a job position, or a political vote supporting renewable, energy-efficient policies and legislation in favor of clean energy. What are you doing to contribute to a more sustainable world? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below!
Image Source: conifer