Our sun puts out about 3.8 x 1033 ergs per second of power. An erg is a unit of energy used to define work done by an object with a mass of one gram as it moves one centimeter. While a single erg may not seem impressive, the amount of ergs produced by the sun is astronomical.
HOW MUCH ENERGY DOES THE EARTH RECEIVE FROM THE SUN?
The sun’s maximum power output is not the same as the amount of energy it shares with Earth. The sun is much more massive than Earth, and its energy, light, and UV rays spread across the entirety of space around the sun. Consequently, our planet only receives a fraction of the potential energy of the sun.
However, that small fraction of energy that we receive still adds up. Researchers use a measurement of luminosity to define the amount of energy the sun can emit.
Luminosity is recorded in Joules per second internationally. The sun’s luminosity is about 3.8 x 1026 Joules a second. In terms of mass, you can think of the total energy output as about 4,000,000 tons every second.
When the curvature of the Earth and the density of the luminosity that hits our planet is considered, we receive only about 4.5 pounds per second of that energy.
IS THE ENERGY FROM THE SUN ENOUGH FOR US TO USE?
The measly 4.5 pounds per second of power that we get from the sun is actually incredibly potent. Human beings only use about a 10,000th of the amount of power the sun provides to the Earth.
The people of Earth turn around 20 kg, or about 44 lbs, of mass into energy per day. At 4.5 lbs per second of solar power, we would have all the power we need for an entire day in less than 10 seconds.
Additionally, the power we produce on our planet creates waste heat that we have to dispose of. This heat gets trapped in our atmosphere and warms the Earth. Coupled with the pollution created by burning oil and fossil fuels, excess heat could cause serious problems for human life before we get a chance to truly harness the wonders of solar power.
WHY ISN’T SOLAR POWER THE STANDARD?
Problems with infrastructure and cost keep solar power from becoming the norm. The abundance of energy from the sun begs the question of why we can’t harness the energy and eliminate harmful energy production – but rest assured, there are many environmentalists working toward an answer.
FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE
Our current infrastructure is built on the idea of an infinite supply of fossil fuels. Industrialization flourished as a result of the use of oil and coal, and all of the processes thereof were born of the abundance of those fuels. Trains, cars, and energy production all completely rely on our supply of fossil fuel, so the change to solar power will have to be a gradual one.
COST OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
All current alternative energy sources require a significant initial investment and will only see payoffs with a long history of maintenance and maximum productivity. Alternative fuels have only just begun to garner influence among the general public, and very few are willing to take a risk on a venture that has a short history and a prolonged return on investment.
However, modern alternative energy sources are rapidly increasing in efficiency and decreasing in price. Smart homeowners can install solar power panels on their roofs and feed power back into the power grid. Businesses are taking advantage of roof space and cutting overhead with solar power. These are the first steps toward harnessing the incredible energy output of the sun – which, don’t forget, is exponentially higher than our current power consumption.