Here’s what you need to know about ​the warming planet, ho​​w it’s affecting us, and what’s at stake.

<p>Photo: Solar panels on a house</p>

Photograph by Otis Imboden

Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun’s energy and make it useable. Today, the technology produces less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand.

Many people are familiar with so-called photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, found on things like spacecraft, rooftops, and handheld calculators. The cells are made of semiconductor materials like those found in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity.

On a much larger scale, solar thermal power plants employ various techniques to concentrate the sun’s energy as a heat source. The heat is then used to boil water to drive a steam turbine that generates electricity in much the same fashion as coal and nuclear power plants, supplying electricity for thousands of people.

In one technique, long troughs of U-shaped mirrors focus sunlight on a pipe of oil that runs through the middle. The hot oil then boils water for electricity generation. Another technique uses moveable mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a collector tower, where a receiver sits. Molten salt flowing through the receiver is heated to run a generator.

Other solar technologies are passive. For example, big windows placed on the sunny side of a building allow sunlight to heat-absorbent materials on the floor and walls. These surfaces then release the heat at night to keep the building warm. Similarly, absorbent plates on a roof can heat liquid in tubes that supply a house with hot water.

Solar energy is lauded as an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution and often noise free. The technology is also versatile. For example, solar cells generate energy for far-out places like satellites in Earth orbit and cabins deep in the Rocky Mountains as easily as they can power downtown buildings and futuristic cars.

But solar energy doesn’t work at night without a storage device such as a battery, and cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable during the day. Solar technologies are also very expensive and require a lot of land area to collect the sun’s energy at rates useful to lots of people.

Despite the drawbacks, solar energy use has surged at about 20 percent a year over the past 15 years, thanks to rapidly falling prices and gains in efficiency. Japan, Germany, and the United States are major markets for solar cells. With tax incentives, solar electricity can often pay for itself in five to ten years.

Events

Innovative Partnerships creates sustainable future for IDEAL Academy Public Charter School, Washington, DC

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Ideal Academy Public Charter School and BDG Renewable Energy Development (BDG) agree to demonstrate DMV’s first charter school-hosted microgrid in DC Lamond Riggs Community PRIVATE-COMMUNITY-PARTNERSHIP SEEKS TO DEMONSTRATE SMART COMMUNITY IN DC WASHINGTON, June 4, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — In a historic first of its kind for the DMV region, Ideal Academy Public Charter Academy and DC-startup BDG Renewable Energy Development, LLC., sign memorandum of understanding to transform the Lamond Riggs community toward a more sustainable and equitable energy future for area stakeholders; while saving Ideal Academy thousands of dollars in energy costs and direct more money toward achieving the school’s mission….

RESIDENTIAL RENEWABLE ENERGY TAX CREDIT

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PROGRAM TYPE: Personal Tax Credit REBATE AMOUNT: 30% Established by The Energy Policy Act of 2005, the federal tax credit for residential energy property initially applied to solar-electric systems, solar water heating systems and fuel cells. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 extended the tax credit to small wind-energy systems and geothermal heat pumps, effective January 1, 2008. Other key revisions included an eight-year extension of the credit to December 31, 2016; the ability to take the credit against the alternative minimum tax; and the removal of the $2,000 credit limit for solar-electric systems beginning in 2009. The credit was…

Zoning Approval

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Simon Solar Owner-Steve Ivey congratulates DirectSun Solar for assisting with 30MW solar farm zoning approval in Georgia.

Dealer and Distribution Agreement

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DirectSun Solar signs dealer and distributor agreement with JLM Energy to be the lead Southeast United States distributor and reseller of JLM Energy solar thermal and wind turbine technology.