SUNPOWER: The Earth's largest energy resource
Everyday, the sun showers the Earth with abundant energy.
Although many people think of solar energy as a new and emerging
technology, capturing this energy source for heat was used historically by many
ancient civilizations populations, including those in the Southwestern United States.
Hundreds of years ago, the Anasazi Indians designed their cliff dwellings
to maximize the solar gain in winter by building into the cliffs.
They positioned their buildings under the cliff overhang to allow the
winter sun to reach their homes. The
sheltering overhang also minimized radiant heat loss at night, and protected
them from cold winds. They also used small window openings to conserve heat, and
built their structures with heavy stone and clay materials that absorbed and
held the solar heat, releasing it slowly after the sun had set.
In summer, the cliff overhang provided shade from the high summer sun
angle and the mass helped their homes remain cool in the hot months of summer.
same basic principles of solar design are being used today to make homes
comfortable with little assistance from outside energy sources, and more recent
inventions allow us to obtain electrical energy from the Sun as well. Making use of the sun's free energy makes particular sense
because of the many problems associated with fossil fuel use.
As the human population continues to grow and energy demands increase,
environmental problems like air and water pollution, global warming and depleted
fossil fuel reserves make switching from our reliance on nonrenewable
energy sources to renewable sources
even more essential. Although every
location on Earth receives sunlight, the amount received varies greatly
depending on geographical location, time of day, season and clouds. The
southwestern United States is one of the world's best areas for sunlight. New
Mexico receives more than 3200 hours of sunshine per year, twice the sunlight
received by other regions in the United States. The state's average daily energy
consumption of over 900 billion BTUs
is equivalent to the amount of solar energy received on an average day within an
18 square mile area. This energy is
equivalent to 161,000 barrels of crude oil.
Hence, the potential for solar energy development in our state is great.
There are several primary solar energy technologies including
A passive solar system is a
solar water-heating or space-heating system that captures and moves sun-heated
air or water without using pumps or fans. An
active solar system, on the other
hand, is a system that moves sun-heated air or water using pumps or fans.
To learn more about solar energy, see our Solar Primer: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells