By Christie Chapman
Ask a child to draw a picture of a happy day, and you can expect that child to crayon a bright yellow sun smiling down from the sky. Golden sunlight drenches many of our happiest memories, from summers at the beach to childhood adventures in the back yard. It’s a source of vitamin D and an instant mood booster. It sets photosynthesis in motion, nourishing plants, animals and us (as long as we remember to wear sunscreen).
For those of us with asthma, allergies and other respiratory conditions, it’s an idea worth exploring: Wouldn’t it be nice if sunlight could also replace the air-polluting, grimy, non-renewable, ozone-depleting energy sources that the world currently relies on? Fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil supply most the U.S.’s energy needs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Converting clean, abundant sunlight into energy is a pleasant thought—but is this seemingly utopian notion too good to be true? What are the facts about solar power? How practical is it? The Clean Energy Ideas website, www.clean-energy-ideas.com, provides a helpful, user-friendly overview.
- This one’s obvious but true: When we use solar power, we’re less dependent on the world’s limited supply fossil fuels.
- It produces no pollution, except for any energy used manufacturing, transporting and installing solar panels.
- It may be expensive to initially install the solar cells, but once they’re in place—it’s a free source of energy for years to come.
- You can install solar panels on many rooftops.
- Homes in remote, “off the grid” locations can produce their own solar energy. Even in space, satellites are powered by high-efficiency solar cells!
- Compared to other clean forms of energy such as wind turbines, solar power isn’t noisy.
- The initial cost of installing solar cells is on the high side for many families. Highly efficient solar cells can cost more than $1,000, and some households may need more than one.
- Solar energy is only produced during daylight hours—in other words, for at least half of a day’s 24 hours (depending on how sunny it is where you live), the panels are not producing energy.
- Also, bad or cloudy weather means less solar energy production.
- Pollution can literally cloud up the sunlight that hits solar panels—a factor in large industrial cities.
Overall: Solar energy is clean and, over the long run, cost-efficient. Many people are put off by the currently high initial cost of installing solar panels. However, new and more efficient solar panel designs are making solar energy an ever more viable option for homes and businesses.
First published: Allergy & Asthma Today, December 2009
Medical Review by Cathy Boutin and Andrea Holka