Writer: Jana Chan
Current Solutions and their Insufficiencies
The constant reliance on fossil fuels (such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas) has created disastrous repercussions on animal habitats, public health, and the world climate (Union of Concerned Scientists [UCS], 2013). However, renewable energy, or clean energy, has turned into a significant alternative to combat this growing problem. Renewable energy is simply energy obtained from renewable resources that can be naturally replenished leading to less environmental harm. While in theory there is an inexhaustible supply, these resources need time to restore itself, thus there is a “limited amount of energy available per unit time” (U.S. Energy Information Administration [EIA], 2020). Some examples of renewable resources include wind, sunlight, rain, geothermal heat, nuclear, and the tides, but this paper’s focus will be on sunlight or solar energy.
The Sun acts as an amazing resource in many different ways but one of its biggest uses may be in sustainably generating electricity. The use of sunlight and solar energy has quickly grown to become an extremely valuable resource and popular alternative. In fact, according to a 2019 study published on the Pew Research Center website, 46% of US homeowners have “given serious thought to adding solar panels at their home in the last year,” which is up from 40% in 2016 (Kennedy & Thigpen, 2019). According to EDF Energy (n.d.), one of the reasons why solar energy has become so favored is because “the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface in one hour is more than the planet’s total energy requirements for a year.” Solar energy is both effective and powerful, with a bright future full of potential opportunities ahead.
In order to turn the Sun’s energy into useful energy to power homes, buildings, and more, the state-of-the-art solution of photovoltaic cells has been devised. Photovoltaic cells, which can be grouped to form a solar panel, work by absorbing sunlight that hits the cell and then using a semiconductor to convert it directly into electricity (“Solar Energy,” 2017). This process is described in its name, with photo meaning light and volt representing the electrical charge at a given point. As seen in figure 1, most photovoltaic cells are made from an anti-reflective coating that is arranged underneath a glass cover. All of this is placed on top of the semiconductor which will convert light into electricity. With an efficiency (measures how well solar energy is converted into electricity) ranging from 12% to 17%, photovoltaic cells are typically seen as solar panels in PV systems on houses, electric road signs, or parking lots to power lights (Mundo-Hernández et al., 2015; “Solar Energy”, 2017).
Figure 1. Diagram of a photovoltaic cell and its use. (2017).
These cells are extremely cost-effective as one ultimately buys less electricity from the utility company since electricity is already being produced on its own. Moreover, solar panels are generally environmentally-friendly. There are no CO2 emissions, the silicon often used as an anti-reflective coating in these cells can be used and disposed of safely, and the solar energy from the Sun is both free and almost limitless. With a lifespan of about 30 years, a wide range of applications (from powering a calculator to powering entire buildings), low maintenance once installed, and no noise when producing electricity, photovoltaic cells are also great long-term solutions (Mundo-Hernández et al., 2015). However, even though photovoltaic cells seem to be the perfect solution, some major disadvantages often become the make-or-break for people considering installing solar panels.
One such disadvantage is the high cost of solar panel production and installation. Since this technology is constantly being improved, there needs to be a highly-skilled and experienced team building and operating the PV system—all of which quickly adds up. Furthermore, even though solar energy can lessen environmental harm, it is not completely harmless. Its environmental impacts range from increased land use (since more electricity production means more space needed for more cells) to greater water use (especially when constructing the cells), to the utilization of toxic and hazardous materials (such as hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid) which purifies and cleans the semiconductor (UCS, 2013). Additionally, the use of solar energy is highly weather dependent. The amount of sunlight varies greatly depending on “location, time of day, and season” (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020). This means that solar energy will need to be stored in preparation for the times with little sunlight. Typically, this energy is stored in large batteries. These batteries are not only very expensive and require high maintenance but depending on the type of battery, will also need to be replaced often due to short lifespans (Vourvoulias, 2020). To address the aforementioned problems and further increase the appeal of solar panels to consumers, the following is being proposed to store solar energy more efficiently.
This example begins by acknowledging the problem presented in the previous part and then shifting focus to the current solutions. It also ends with a statement that will allow the author to transition nicely into the next part of the proposal. Furthermore, this example is structured very well. It starts by giving a broad definition of the solution (renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels) then slowly narrows (solar energy as an example of renewable energy) until it reaches the focus point of the proposal. This can be a great method for providing context and setting the solutions on a broader stage. Additionally, this example does well in giving statistics to further expand on certain areas such as the popularity of solar panels. It thoroughly describes the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels and how they operate based on reputable sources with APA format and little grammatical errors.
However, this example might have benefitted from more detail about how solar energy is stored, possibly through figures or research results from other studies. After all, the author is trying to devise a solution to solve the solar energy storage problem so some more detail could become the background information needed to understand her proposal.
EDF Energy. (n.d.). Renewable Energy: Types, Forms & Sources of Renewable Energy. Retrieved August
Kennedy, B., & Thigpen C. L. (2019). More U.S. homeowners say they are considering home solar
panels. Pew Research Center. https://pewrsr.ch/2PsnXkE
Mundo-Hernández, J., Alonso, B., Hernández-Álvarez, J., & Celis-Carrillo, B. (2015). An overview of
solar photovoltaic energy in Mexico and Germany. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews,
Photovoltaic Cells. (2017). [Showing the components of a cell and its use]. [Diagram].
Solar Energy. (2017). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Archives. Retrieved August 18, 2020,
Solar Panels. (2020). Solar panel array on a rooftop. [Photograph for cover image].
Union of Concerned Scientists. (2013, March 5). Environmental Impacts of Solar Power.
U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2020, June 22). Renewable Energy Explained. EIA.
Vourvoulias, A. (2020, July 1). Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy. Greenmatch Blog.