1 Going Green: Installing Solar Panels around the Campus of Widener University by Andrea Stickley Student at Widener University November 27, 2012
2 Abstract In recent years, it has come to light about the impact global warming has had on the environment and what causes global warming. Nonrenewable energy resources release greenhouse gases while drilling and this is one the leading causes of global warming. To combat this, alternative energy sources have been a major investment for companies. One such source is solar energy. This captures energy from the sun and converts it into power and electricity. Widener University uses vast amounts of energy to power the entire campus. Since the university runs on nonrenewable energy sources, it is contributing to global warming. By switching over to solar energy, not only will it be beneficial to the environment, but also will prove to be cost effective for the university.
3 TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS iv INTRODUCTION 1 NONRENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES 2 Definition 2 Fossil Fuels 2 Nuclear Fuels 4 Dangers of Sources 4 GREENHOUSE GASES 4 Definition 4 Effects 5 Future Emissions 6 ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES 6 Definition 6 Advantages 7 Disadvantages 7 SOLAR ENERGY 7 Definition 7 Advantages 8 Disadvantages 8 SOLAR PANELS 8 Definition 8 Process of Conversion 8 Facts 10 WIDENER UNIVERSITY GOING GREEN 10 Local Examples 10 Incentives 10 Advantages 11 CONCLUSION 11
4 REFERENCES 12 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Table 1. Primary Energy Source by Use, Figure 1. US Primary Energy Consumption Estimates by Source, Table 2. US Greenhouse Gas Emission in Figure 2. World Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Region, Figure 3. Photovoltaic Cell Sunlight Conversion 9 Figure 4. How Solar Panels Work 9
5 INTRODUCTION Subject and Purpose The purpose of this analytical research paper is to provide information about nonrenewable energy resources and the effects of greenhouse gases to the environment. It also will present ideas about alternative energy sources, focusing specifically on solar energy. I will give material regarding the negatives and positives of solar energy. There will also be information about installing solar panels on the roofs of buildings around campus and their benefits for the university. Background In our world today, people rely on oil, natural gas, and coal to provide energy. These are nonrenewable energy sources that create toxic emissions into the atmosphere, called greenhouse gases. With the depletion of nonrenewable energy sources and the problems that greenhouse gases cause to the environment, people have started to look towards alternative energy sources. The reason for this is because they prove to be more cost effective in the long run and help the state of the environment. One of this energy sources is solar energy from the sun. Solar panels have been invented which captures this energy and allows it to be transformed into electricity and other energies. Statement of Problem The problem is that if people don t start paying attention to the seriousness of greenhouse gases then it will pose a bigger issue for the future. Converting to alternative energy is what people need to start looking into to combat this concern. If the university doesn t begin to convert to some sort of renewable energy source, then in the years to come it ll become more expensive to use nonrenewable energy sources. The university will also be contributing to global warming and harming the environment, which is compromising the future of Earth. Scope and Limitations This report covers research into greenhouse gases, alternative energy sources, solar energy, and solar panels. This report does not cover any data about the university s energy usage, how many solar panels
6 can be installed or the exact cost of installing them on campus. It also does not cover extensive research into wind, hydro, or geothermal energy sources. Going Green at Widener University Nonrenewable Energy Sources Definition Nonrenewable energy sources are those that cannot be replaced as fast as they are being used or have limited quantities (Barry, 2012, para. 1). They do not have an infinite supply and are therefore considered to be precious as their supply is being depleted. The reason that they are being depleted so quickly and have become a focal point for scientists is because of population growth. In the 21 st century, the world s population is growing exponentially and people are using up nonrenewable energy sources at a faster rate than ever before. Nonrenewable energy sources can be divided into two types: fossil fuels and nuclear fuels. Fossil Fuels Fossil fuels include coal, natural gas, and oil (Eriksson, 2012, para. 2). They provide roughly 82% of the United States energy demand (Institute for Energy Research, 2012, para. 1). The breakdown of the three energy sources by usage in the United States, and also including alternative energy sources, can be seen in Table 1.
7 Table 1 Fossil fuels are what make the world go round. They create electricity, run cars, heat buildings, and allow for every day modern life to continue. Due to the enormous dependence on fossil fuels, it would detrimental to the United States if their supplies were to run out. This is because we are unprepared for using alternative energy sources as our main source of energy. Figure 1 below shows how the United States dependence upon fossil fuels has increased exponentially over the past few decades. Figure 1
8 Based on 2003 production rates, it was determined that coal can last for another 192 years, while natural gas and oil will only last for 67 and 41 years respectively (Lincoln, 2005, p. 622). With these startling numbers, it is apparent why they are considered to be nonrenewable energy resources. Nuclear Fuels Nuclear fuels are part of a cycle where electricity is produced from uranium in nuclear power reactors (World Nuclear Association, 2012, para. 1). Uranium is considered to be a common element. It must be mined from the ground and then processed before it can be used to generate electricity (Cameco, 2012, para. 1). While uranium is considered to be a nonrenewable energy source, there is still a solid supply left because nuclear fuel is a relatively new idea compared to fossil fuels. However, if the United States continues to invest in nuclear fuels, it will dwindle down the supply of uranium rapidly, eventually depleting it. Dangers of Sources Nonrenewable energy sources also pose many threats to the environment. The potential danger of collecting fossil fuels is extensive (Eriksson, 2012, para. 12). In the history of the United States, people have seen the negative effects that fossil fuels can have. For coal, this includes miners being trapped, possibly leading to their death. Oil and natural gas both involve drilling with interrupts the natural flow of the ecosystem. Oil spills have also occurred, including two major ones within the United States itself. First, one up in Alaska, and more recently the BP Oil spill down in the Gulf of Mexico. These oil spills not only impact the environment, but also people and the economy because it cuts down on fishing and requires lots of money to clean up. The other problem that fossil fuels pose is greenhouse gases. Greenhouse Gases Definition Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. The most common ones are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide (all which occur naturally), and fluorinated gases (manmade) (United States Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2012, para. 1). Table 2 shows the percent of each gas emitted in the United States.
9 Table 2 * US Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2010 (Source: EPA) Greenhouse gas emissions come mostly from energy use (United States Energy Information Administration [EIA], 2012a, para. 8). This means that nonrenewable energy sources, because they are the United States primary energy source, are directly responsible for greenhouse gases. Since there are greenhouse gases made from nature, the planet is designed to handle their emissions. However, humans have also added artificial greenhouse gases which the planet is not equipped to handle. This poses several problems for Earth. Effects Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases generally produce an increase in the average temperature of the Earth. This in turn may produce changes in weather, sea levels, and land use patterns, commonly referred to as climate change (EIA, 2012a, para. 5). Another term that people use for this effect is global warming. While these effects don t seem that severe, they actually have harsh consequences for our planet. Changes in weather patterns greatly affect the organisms and plants that live in the regions of the world. These changes will then have an impact on the people and economy of that area because they will have to adjust and may not be able to see the same results they once did. Rising sea levels take away land space which people, organisms, and plants can live on. With a rising population, this is going to be an issue because less land will reduce our carrying capacity. This means that people will not be able to survive because the Earth cannot produce enough to enable this. There also won t be enough space for people to live on, causing a rise in the death rate. Greenhouse gases also have a separate effect by contributing directly to pollution and acid rain (Eriksson, 2012, para. 11).
10 Future Emissions Global biological carbon cycle allows for carbon to be taken out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, respiration, decay, and sequestration. This cycle is a natural process to help rid the planet of natural greenhouse gases. However, because the amount of greenhouse gases produced is greater than that which the planet can cycle through, it has led to increased levels in the atmosphere. Human-made gases also add to this because the planet cannot process those greenhouse gases. As the years continue and populations grow, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to accelerate. This will increase the levels in the atmosphere even more than they already are. As the Figure 2 shows, the predicted level of emissions will grow exponentially over the next few decades. This will lead to even more environmental problems than we are already facing. Figure 2 * World Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Region, Alternative Energy Sources Definition Alternative energy refers to any way of producing energy that does not require fossil or nuclear fuels. This has led to the discovery of renewable energy sources. These resources are available infinitely. The most appealing sources of energy are wind, water, and sun (Eriksson, 2012, para. 18). There is a fourth source, geothermal, which hasn t been fully developed yet. Hydropower refers to using water to generate electricity, wind mills are used to capture wind power, and solar energy uses the sun to provide heat, light, and electricity (National Atlas, 2011, para. 4, 10, & 13).
11 Advantages Each individual renewable energy source has its own advantages. However, there are several benefits that are over-arching for all alternative sources mentioned. The main advantages are that they are non-polluting and help to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases (Eriksson, 2012, para. 18). Since these energy sources are natural and don t need to be processed, they have very little effect on the environment. Another benefit is their cost-effectiveness and availability across the United States (National Atlas, 2011, para. 2). People do not have to pay for the energy source itself, on the cost to harness it which cuts down on prices. On problem with nonrenewable energy sources is the fact that as they are being depleted, their prices rise. Therefore, with sources that will never run out, the issue of cost will never arise. Disadvantages The main problem currently with renewable energy sources is developing the appropriate technology so that we can use it (Eriksson, 2012, para. 21). Since people haven t put an emphasis on alternative energy until recently, not all the proper or most efficient technologies have been designed to capture wind, water, or solar energy. The other issue is that sometimes these energy sources are not available. There are days when the wind doesn t blow and the sun doesn t shine which prevents people from being able to use alternative energy. The other issue is that installing wind mills and capturing hydropower disrupts the natural flow of the environment. Wind mills require vast expanses of land in order to build them upon to catch the wind. Hydropower also poses the potential to cause harm to fish that live in streams where dams are built. This has impacts on fishing and thus the economy of the country. Solar Energy Definition Solar energy is the conversion of sunlight into usable energy (Power Source Solar, 2008, para. 2). The reason solar energy has become a leading alternative energy source is because more energy from the sun falls on the Earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2009, para. 1). There are many different ways to capture solar energy. It is usually dependent upon the scale of the project, its purpose, and location. The most common technique is solar panels, although solar thermal power plants and passive technologies exist as well (National Geographic, 2012, para. 2, 3, &5). Solar energy can be used to heat, cool, or generate electricity for a building. It can be useful in residential or commercial areas.
12 Advantages Solar energy provides many advantages, some of these are economic and others environmental. The first and foremost advantage of solar energy is that it does not emit any greenhouse gases (Whitburn, 2012, para. 3). This is a big benefit for the environment because we will reduce the damage that we cause to it. Economically, solar energy is 100% free because nobody owns the sun. Solar energy production also helps to create jobs that will be sustainable into the future as the industry grows (Whitburn, 2012, para. 22). It also dramatically reduces electric bills because people are no longer relying on electric companies to provide energy, but instead become independent energy producers. Disadvantages There are really only a few disadvantages to solar energy, but they tend to have major impacts on whether people convert their energy. The primary disadvantage to solar energy is the upfront cost (Power Source Solar, 2008, para. 4). The larger the system, then the more the cost is going to increase. Installing a system to harness solar energy at a university can cost millions of dollars. However, after the initial cost, solar energy costs next to nothing. The other problem is the fact that solar energy production is not constant (Whitburn, 2012, para. 35). At night, when there are clouds, rainy days, and other time when there is no sunlight or it is limited means a reduction in production rates of solar energy. Solar Panels Definition Solar panels are a system of photovoltaic cells wired together to form a large system called an array (Knier, 2011, para. 5). A photovoltaic cell, commonly called a solar cell, is the technology used to convert solar energy directly into electrical power (EIA, 2012c, para. 1). Solar cells are very small and so must be wired together in large groups in order to capture the maximum potential of sunlight. Photovoltaic cells are made of semi-conductive materials, mainly silicon. Process of Conversion To understand the way that solar panels work, it is necessary to look at the process of converting solar energy into electricity through the photovoltaic cells. Sunlight is composed of photons (particles of energy), which when they strike a cell can be absorbed (EIA, 2012c, para. 2 & 3). This knocks loose the electrons within the cell, which causes them to become connected through the two layers within the photovoltaic cell at its junction (Chasteen & Chaddha, 2007, para. 5). This causes electricity to be created. Figure 3 illustrates this below.
13 Figure 3 * Photovoltaic Cell Sunlight Conversion (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration) The electricity flows out of the cell via metal conductor strips into a wire and then an inverter (Chasteen & Chaddha, 2007, para. 6). Photovoltaic cells generate direct current which to be used commercially or sold to electric utilities must be converted to alternating current using inverters (EIA, 2012c, para. 9). Figure 4 shows the entire process of converting solar energy. Figure 4 * How Solar Panels Work
14 Facts Putting solar panels on roofs at Widener University poses some hazards because they are susceptible to the environment and weather conditions. In southeastern Pennsylvania, one needs to be prepared for almost anything to occur. We have experienced earthquakes, hurricanes, nor easters, and daily weather patterns. This brings up the issue of whether solar panels can handle that. Solar panels are tested to be able to withstand winds up to 125 miles per hour and impacts of objects 50 pounds or less. Most companies also offer a warranty for solar panels that usually lasts about 20 years. This is because solar panels are usually good for anywhere between years. Solar panels are only about 5-15% efficient, but researchers are trying to get that number up to 30% (EIA, 2012c, para. 7). Widener University Going Green Local Examples Colleges and universities around the United States have already started the trend of going green. Initial steps were taken with recycling, paperless modes of homework and assignments, and cutting down on energy use. Recently, however, solar energy has become the new trend for colleges. Two universities around Widener have already implemented plans for solar energy: the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware. The University of Pennsylvania has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as being part of a collegiate athletic conference with the highest combined green power purchases in the nation (Environmental Leader, 2012, para. 14). The University of Delaware is also starting to go in that direction. They have devised a plan to install solar panels on the roofs of three of their buildings on the main campus (Environmental Leader, 2012, para. 12). Colleges have already embraced the advantages of solar power and Widener needs to do the same. Incentives The biggest problem with solar energy is the cost. To finance a project to install solar panels on the roofs of the buildings on Widener s main campus would cost millions. However, we don t have to fund all the money ourselves. Going green and helping out the planet has gotten the attention of many people, and with such a strong alumni network, Widener could have fundraising for this project. The other options are government funding and third party memberships. Pennsylvania has recognized the need to convert to alternative energy, but also the financial restrictions. The state government, along with the federal government, has allotted funds for this purpose, as well as tax credits. Renewable energy credits (RECs) are just one example of this. RECs are financial products that are sold, purchased and traded. This allows a purchaser to pay for renewable generation without physical need of it (EIA, 2012b, para. 6). There are also many grant programs and acts that Widener can use and apply for to help combat the cost. The last option is to have an investor pay for the solar panels and own the rights to them, but the university gets to use the energy produced.
15 Advantages By converting to solar energy, Widener University would be doing many things not only to benefit itself, but also the environment. Solar panels help to cut down on electricity costs. This campus has roughly 20 buildings that are probably viable to put solar panels on which would generate a lot of clean energy. Widener would also gain national recognition which could help boost admissions and alumni support. Installing solar panels has monumental impacts on the environment. The university would cut down its carbon dioxide emissions which would reduce greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and allow the environment to recover and prosper after the damage we have already caused it. CONCLUSION Summary The need for alternative energy sources has become more and more apparent in recent years. Nonrenewable energy resources are not only being depleted at an alarming rate, but they are also posing many problems for the environment. This in turn affects human survival and our future. Switching to renewable energy sources is what needs to begin to happen. They are clean sources for the environment and will never run out. This makes it a win-win situation for everyone. Solar energy and solar panels are the future of energy because of how little they impact the environment and the potential to provide energy for the entire world. Recommendation Widener University should take steps to consider the benefits of going green and making changes around the campus to reduce our carbon footprint. The best way to do this is to convert to an alternative energy source. My recommendation is that Widener pursues the idea of installing solar panels on the roofs of buildings around campus and stop using fossil fuels to provide electricity.
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