Of all the sources of renewable energy available to mankind in its pursuit of a sustainable future, solar power is a pivotal one. Plentiful, free and absolutely clean, the main challenge to fully tap its huge potential is to harness and distribute it. We have made considerable progress with solar power, but future uses of solar energy will be spawned by innovations still to come. At present, solar power is used in three main ways, that is, to heat air, water and space. Photovoltaic cells are also one of the most popular forms whereby sun energy is converted into power. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy arm, there will be more breakthroughs in new materials, cell designs, and novel approaches to product development in photovoltaic research and development. Future uses of solar energy could include our mode of transportation and even clothing, which will be equipped to produce clean, safe electric power.
The department believes that in the future, use of solar energy will be ubiquitous because concentrating solar power will be fully competitive with conventional power-generating technologies within a decade. "Concentrating solar power, or solar thermal electricity, could harness enough of the sun's energy to provide large-scale, domestically secure, and environmentally friendly electricity, especially in the southwestern United States", it says. In theory, the electricity needs of the United States could be met by a photovoltaic array within an area 100 miles on a side.
Those researching future uses of solar energy are also looking at the ocean for clues. That is because the ocean is a natural reservoir of solar power. Therefore it could be used as a source for thermal energy. The challenge is to devise a way to extract warm water from the surface and cold water from the depths so that an ocean thermal plant could operate 24 hours a day. According to ENTER SOURCE, George Claude tested this hypothesis as early as 1930 in Cuba. Cold water from the pipe and warm water from the surface were pumped into a plant on shore. It produced 22KW when the water temperatures were optimum and 12KW when seasonal current fluctuation reduced the efficiency.
Another exciting possibility in terms of future uses of solar energy is that it will be used in an electrolysis process that separates the hydrogen and oxygen in water so the hydrogen can be used in fuel cells for transportation and in buildings. That would be a true double-whammy for the two of the cleanest types of renewable energy.