Climate Science

January 5, 2014

Solar: one of many renewable solutions for energy needs

The climate change issues we face today are caused in large measure by the production of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

Our civilization requires lots of energy, and needs more, to meet the needs of 7.2 billion-plus inhabitants of our planet.

Solutions do exist, however, and we need to be aware of all the options before us.

The energy requirements we have now, and will have in the future, could be met by renewable sources. The illustration titled “Renewable Energy Potential vs Current Energy Use (yearly)” deserves a lot of attention and discussion from both citizens and policy-makers alike.

The focus of this discussion will be on solar energy.

The circles within the large circle in this illustration (courtesy of Our Clean Energy Future) tell a remarkable story that we will get to in a moment. Note the small circle to the left of the large circle, labeled “World Energy Use.” It shows that world energy use amounts to about 16 terrawatts (TW). That is a big number and represents a lot of energy. The number can be written as 16 followed by 12 zeroes, or further expressed as 16 trillion watts. Note: All energy units are in energy per second.

Now let’s focus on the very large circle. The large number near the top after “Solar” shows that about 36,000 TW of power could be captured by land-based solar power generation. This solar power is more than 2,000 times the amount of energy the world currently requires.

Within this large circle is a series of smaller circles that indicate the energy potential of a variety of other renewable energy sources. These include “Wind,” “Biomass/Biogas,” “Geothermal,” “Hydro” and so on.

It should be noted that these TW energy estimates are approximate and different studies may produce data that differ. The data are intended to give a rough idea of relative scale.

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