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Michael Phelps – Energy In Action!

Enjoy this guest blog post from Claire Scoggin, Director of Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science!

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is the first athlete to win 8 gold metals in one Olympics. He is the epitome of American drive and determination. Just tell him - it can’t be done – and he will work even harder to make sure it does. 8 gold metals – won through his physical energy being used to its maximum ability.

When faced with a challenge, we must step up and exert the effort needed to win, whether to win gold metals or to win at creating a better world for the future.

We have a challenge facing us now in another form of energy. We need to face the world energy situation, create solutions, and implement whatever it takes to approach sustainable living. As with many issues Americans have faced, the answer lies not in one extreme answer or the other, but in balance. We have to recognize that we will continue to use petrochemicals, but we must use other renewable, non-polluting sources as well.

One rising source of renewable energy is solar. The Earth receives more energy from the Sun in just one hour than the world uses in a whole year.

Solar energy is used mainly in 2 ways – we can use it to heat things such as water and our houses, and we can turn sunlight directly into electricity by using photovoltaics. (”Photo” means light and “voltaic” means electricity.)

Photovoltaic solar panels are made of silicon. Similar to sand, silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. The silicon has to be heated to super-high temperatures and formed into very thin wafers. When the sunlight hits the solar panel, it makes electrons in the silicon move around. The electrons flow through wires built into the solar panel and electricity is formed. Batteries in the panels store electricity for use when the sun is not shining.

Why isn’t photovoltaic energy used more frequently? It is very expensive to make the solar panels of thin wafers of silicon. It also would take a lot of solar panels to provide all of the electricity an average family would need in their house. However, many large businesses are shifting their power source to solar. The Denver International Airport just installed 7 ½ acres of solar panels to power the airport. This will reduce their carbon emissions by 6.3 million pounds each year.

This challenge requires Americans to invest in more energy, research and innovation. An excellent example of the possibilities is these solar powered air conditioners.

Solar energy is also being used in large spaces such as the new Discovery Green in Houston. BP has provided solar panels that are on top of the buildings in the park. It also created a SUV which has been equipped with solar panels to provide a clean, quiet alternative to get around the park.

Solar power plants are being built around the globe to catch the sun such as this one in Arizona due to open in 2011.

Another way that solar energy is used is by CSP - concentrating solar power. We’ll be shedding more light on CSP on the HMNS BEYONDbones blog soon.

As Director of Wiess Energy Hall Programming at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Claire Scoggin,BEYONDbones, the HMNS blog, for her perspective on all things energy – from the “Big Bang” to sustainability. coordinates energy education activities for schools, universities and business; promotes energy-related events, and generally works on spreading the word about the Wiess Energy Hall, the premiere energy resource worldwide. Check out her posts on BEYONDbones, the HMNS blog, for her perspective on all things energy – from the “Big Bang” to sustainability.


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