Global discussion and concern about climate change has amplified in the past few years, as more research has been conducted and more world leaders have voiced their opinions on the issue. The most recent world leader to do so was Pope Francis, leader of almost 70 million Catholics worldwide, who declared global warming to be a threat to life on the planet and called for a reduction of the usage of fossil fuels. As this movement garners further support, more and more nations are turning to clean and renewable alternative energy sources to supplement, and eventually replace, their fossil fuel driven energy sources. Of these renewable alternatives, solar power is one of the most popular worldwide.
Solar power is utilized on all seven continents and is growing rapidly on many. In the first quarter of 2015 alone, China added 5.04 gigawatts of solar capacity to grids across the nation, an increase of over 15%. Solar power has proliferated globally for several reasons, including its high abundancy and availability.
While the implementation of solar power has ran smoothly in most places, a few nations and regions have reached a technical barrier, as billions of dollars of investments have drastically increased the supply of energy. The mechanics of power grids require that energy supply exactly matches the demand, as excess demand will lead to a blackout, while an oversupply can damage power grid equipment. For this reason, the volatility of solar power can be an issue. Solar panels produce all of their energy during the day and the total output fluctuates depending on the weather (i.e. sunny or cloudy). Unfortunately, energy demand does not align with this production schedule. While solar production is at a peak during the day, most people are at work and demand is relatively low. At night, when people return home, demand is relatively high while production is at zero. This tasks power companies with finding a way to handle the surges in power when the sun is shining and store that energy for usage at night or on cloudy days.
In Europe, and other places with large power grids, this issue is mitigated relatively easily by dispersing the power surges across the expansive grid. Surges are posing the biggest problem for small grids such as those found in Japan and in the state of Hawaii. In both Hawaii and Japan, geography restricts the ability to connect the power grid across the islands. In an attempt to solve this problem, the Japanese government has recently invested in the construction of both a 50,000 kilowatt and a 40,000 kilowatt battery, both of which will be used to study “how to stabilize electricity flows when solar power generates a large amount of power on a low demand day.”
While large scale implementation of solar power has hit a barrier in some developed nations, solar power is playing a crucial role in the development of many other nations, especially those in Africa, where hours of uninterrupted, intense sunshine is commonplace. In Senegal, for example, the government is working on a project to turn 14,000 traditional rural villages into “eco villages” that will run almost entirely on solar power. These traditional villages had almost no power prior to the implementation of solar power, and what power they did receive was inconsistent and marred with frequent blackouts. Senegal has built 100 of these villages so far and has immediate plans to build another 600 more in the next two and a half years.
Similar solar projects are simultaneously occurring in many other nations across Africa. These projects are being funded by a mix of government money, foreign aid, and charitable individuals. One of the most notable of these projects is Akon Lighting Africa, led by American music artist Akon, which aims to bring electricity for the first time to millions of people across 14 African nations.