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 What is Solar Power?


You have seen solar power in action, in small gadgets such as your solar powered calculator and in big solar panels that power homes and large buildings. So, how does solar power work and why should we even consider it?

Solar panel for the home

Solar panel for the home

The answer to the second question is, of course, that there is an unlimited supply of it. The earth receives 3850 Zettajoules (Zj) of solar energy annually, compared to annual total earth energy consumption of 0.5 Zj from all sources in 2007 (Department of Energy). If only we could be like plants which have a built in process of harnessing that solar energy so perfectly. Since we are not, we must find other ways to use it for our energy consumption.

Solar power converts radiant energy from the sun into electrical energy either by a series of photovoltaic cells (PV) or by concentrating solar power.

Solar power has been used in commercial applications such as a power source for the 1958 Vanguard I satellite which continued operating on solar power for a year. Various military installations such as Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada utilize solar power. European countries like Germany and Spain and Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have advanced their utilization of solar energy. The US has lagged behind in the use of solar energy for homes and business, perhaps in part because of the high up front cost of installing solar panels and also perhaps due to a lack of national will especially during times of low oil prices.

Photovoltaic Cells

A photovoltaic cell is a cell that converts solar energy into electrical energy through the photoelectric effect. The photovoltaic cell was first built by Charles Fritts in 1880 and using Selenium atoms. Present day photovoltaic cells use impure silicon mixed with phosphorus. When light hits the cell, electrons are dislodged and must find a host atom to cling to, thus the propagation of impulse from one cell to another. A group of PV cells are contained in a PV module and several PV modules go into a solar panel.

Solar Energy for the Home:

Recent advances in the manufacture of solar panels have lowered the cost of installing them. In addition, do-it- yourself step by step instruction manuals have recently become available to homeowners.

Some considerations for installing solar panels:

• Know your annual electricity consumption to calculate the number of panels needed. Depending on where you live, you may not be totally solar powered and need to get electricity off the grid at different times of the day.
• Check local meteorological data as to the average sunlight per month, taking into consideration such factors as altitude and humidity.
• Know the optimal location of the solar panels. In the western hemisphere, a direct southward angle of inclination is best, with eastern and western exposures next. An inclination as close to the region’s latitude is preferable. There should not be shade trees blocking the panels.
• Energy storage: Since the sun does not shine at night, a back-up plan to ensure continuous power should be considered. This may include switching to the electrical power grid, use of a back-up generator and use of a storage battery.
• Note that there is a strict National Electrical Code for photovoltaic cells to ensure your safety as well as those of electric power grid repairmen.

Other components of a solar energy home system:

Besides the solar panel, there is a component system needed to bring solar generated electricity into your home.
• Solar battery to store energy for later use
• Charge controller: This controls the charge and drainage of the battery. It stops the charging process when the battery is fully charged and stops the drainage of power when the battery runs low.
• Inverter: Solar panels produce direct current electricity. The inverter converts this DC current into alternating (AC) current. It also ensures that no electricity goes out to the grid during a power outage when repairmen might otherwise mistake a live wire for a dead wire. Some solar modules have built in inverters thus decreasing the work of a central converter.

Concentrated Solar Power

Concentrated solar power utilizes mirrors and tracking devices to focus and direct sun energy and is used mainly in commercial applications. It is both a solar converter as well as a storage mechanism for electrical energy.

Check out federal and state alternative energy incentives in your area if you are contemplating solar power for your home.

Check out this DIY manual for more information.

Do It Yourself Solar Energy Manual

Do It Yourself Solar Energy Manual

 

 

DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information only and does not constitute expert opinion. Check with a certified electrician before considering solar power conversion.




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2 Responses to “What is Solar Power?”

  1. Adolfo Enger Says:

    Excellent blog, Thanks for posting

  2. Andrew Jefferson Says:

    Really educative appreciate it, I presume your trusty followers would definitely want a good deal more blog posts such as this keep up the good hard work.

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