Levene Energy

Solar Energy as a Source of Sustainable Energy

By: Nneamaka Atuanya, Senior Geoscientist and Sustainability Champion

As part of a series of editorials on Sustainability and Sustainable Development, we wrote about sustainable energy, the need for sustainable development, and the impact of renewable energy sources. In this month’s article, we will delve into the history of one of the most important sources of renewable energy: Solar Energy.

Human beings have always been aware of the power of the sun and have utilized this energy in ways ranging from drying farm produce using the heat of the sun to heating water for a bath. However, in the year 1839, the way we utilize the energy from the sun changed when a 19-year-old French boy, Edmond Becquerel, discovered the photovoltaic effect and put forward an explanation for how electricity can be generated from exposing a liquid electrolyte to sunlight. Despite the inefficiency of his methods, this paved the way for other scientists like William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day to observe the photovoltaic effect in solidified selenium.

In 1883, Charles Fritz installed a solar cell with less than 1% efficiency. This was a major breakthrough, but at the time, non-renewable power sources were able to produce electricity with higher efficiency, and this meant that the adoption of solar cells was ineffective and very expensive. Advancements in solar cell development stalled until the space race rejuvenated interest in solar energy. This is due to the fact that scientists can generate power using solar cells directly in space; instead of using batteries which were heavier and far more expensive.

As we learnt in the previous editorial on Sustainable Energy published in the February 2023 newsletter, we cannot continue to depend on non-renewable sources of energy, as our increasing demand means that we will exhaust those resources eventually. We need renewable sources of energy to satisfy and maintain our energy needs and direct radiation from the sun is a massive resource that can provide solutions.

Solar energy is likely to become the backbone of global energy systems. Photovoltaic technology has developed rapidly over the last 10 years, with solar cell technologies becoming more efficient and less expensive. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar photovoltaics fell by 85% between 2010 and 2020. This means that the use of solar technologies is no longer limited to big budget projects like space travel; we now use solar energy to power our homes, schools, offices, hospitals, communities, worship centers etc. Businesses are now utilizing solar technology as an alternative power source, thereby reducing operating cost and increasing efficiency. In many countries, companies benefit from government incentives and tax credit designed to accelerate deployment of solar technologies.

Aside from government incentives, several international organizations have solar energy funds and carbon credit schemes to enable companies and end users acquire reliable solar solutions and earn carbon credits while utilizing solar energy systems.

As stated in the aforementioned editorial, organizations that utilize renewable energy solutions are smart businesses, and we are about to witness one of the greatest transformations in the global energy system. Companies and organizations should find ways to develop strategic sustainable goals to take advantage of some of these funds and incentives by investing in a sustainable project or by utilizing renewable energy.