“Sun is the only main source of energy and life on the Earth”: an interview on the occasion of the International Sun Day

The International Sun Day is celebrated each year at the beginning of May. The decision to establish this holiday was made in 1994 by the European branch of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) in order to attract attention of the society to the possibilities of using the renewable energy sources. Students of the Power Engineering Faculty of South Ural State University’s Polytechnic Institute are studying all the technological chain of power engineering industry: generation, transmission, distribution, regulation and consumption of electrical and thermal energy. Special attention at the Faculty is paid to development of the newest electric technologies which include hydrogen power engineering, laser technologies, electric welding manufacture, electrometallurgy, and electrolytic manufacture. This year, the first bachelor’s degree students are to graduate from the Department of Theoretical Fundamentals of Electric Engineering in this specialization. The Faculty approved and is implementing the strategy of development entitled “Distributed digital energy engineering and intelligent electric drive”. This strategy covers all types of alternative energy engineering, solar energy included. Dean of the Faculty, Sergey Gandzha, told us about the potential of solar energy and its further development.

– The Sun is our nearest star, what does it give to our planet?

– Energy of the Sun stands behind all known forms of matter movement: mechanical, physical, chemical, biological and social. The Sun is the only nearest-to-us source which fills all forms of animate and inanimate nature with energy, For example, this is the Sun that influences the energy of wind, waves, the hydroenergy of rivers, the energy of hydrocarbons including biogas at the initial stage of its formation. Wind energy is conditioned by uneven heating of the earth surface; the energy of hydrocarbons originates under the influence of photosynthesis; hydroenergy of rivers is formed as a result of water vaporization and subsequent precipitation. Only several types of alternative sources are not of solar origin. They are the tidal energy conditioned by gravitational attraction of the Moon, the nuclear energy accumulated by the universe many billions years ago, and the geothermal energy of the Earth generated during formation of the planet. These types of energy compose a small part in the energy balance of the planet. We can say that the Sun is the only main source of energy and life on the Earth.

– How is solar energy produced and utilized?

– The source of energy in the Sun itself is thermonuclear fusion during which the aggregating atoms of hydrogen produce helium, the second element of the Mendeleev’s table. At that, a giant amount of energy gets produced; this energy gets spread in the form of radiation and reaches the Earth. Here it gets transformed into other types of energy. For example, we can turn solar energy into electric energy using the effect of photosynthesis. In the scale of human civilization’s existence, the Sun is an inexhaustible energy source. Alternative power engineering utilizes transformed solar energy. Its main advantage is in the fact that they are primarily ecologically pure sources of energy. Historically, traditional power engineering caused emissions of harmful substances and increased content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn leads to greenhouse effect and global warming. Solar radiation turns directly into electricity; windpower plants do not cause emissions as well. Nevertheless, alternative sources have one essential flaw. This is unstable generation of energy, which depends on natural conditions. Industry and large metropolitan cities can’t fully rely on such unstable sources. Alternative power engineering will receive a powerful boost for development if it manages to solve the problem of energy accumulation; at that the volume of accumulation must be gigantic, commensurable with the existing reserves of hydrocarbon fuel. McKinsey Global Institute called creation of such technology for electricity accumulation to be one of 12 breakthrough technologies which will essentially change global economy. Students of Power Engineering Faculty carry out such work on the basis of hydrogen power engineering.

– Do students of Power Engineering Faculty study renewable energy sources, including solar energy?

– The structure of Power Engineering Faculty is designed so that everything existing in power engineering is taught at one or another educational level: in the course of bachelor’s, master’s or postgraduate studies. We have a well-developed study of traditional energy: electric power stations, networks, power supply systems. There is a master’s degree program within which we perform training of specialists in the field of alternative power engineering. Moreover, we have serious scientific prospects in this area, including projects carried out in cooperation with American scientists. Generally, we are working with windpower engineering as well as in solar, biogas and hydrogen power engineering.

– What future does solar power engineering have?

– Power engineering is moving along the way of complex development. We can’t get oriented by one type of energy. Power engineering can be stable and reliable when various energy sources are used. Having such developed and marketable hydrocarbon infrastructure and destroying it or utilizing it inefficiently is absolutely unreasonable. In the course of depletion of hydrocarbons it will gradually lose its importance, but according to evaluation of the Minister of Power Engineering of the Russian Federation, Aleksandr Novak, this is going to happen no sooner that in 100 years. At the same time, traditional energy sources will get replaced by alternative energy sources and atomic power engineering. There is a bright future awaiting solar power engineering, but for that we still need to solve a lot of scientific and engineering problems. Power Engineering Faculty is actively working in this direction.

Екатерина Кузнецова
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