Solar Energy | Harnessing The Power of the Sun
The Power of the Sun—Harnessing Solar Energy
Solar power is essentially energy generated from the rays of the sun. It is captured and stored, and used to power homes, businesses, and institutions throughout the world.
Solar Panels and the Photovoltaic Effect
Also known as a “solar module” a solar panel is made up of silicon cells, a metal frame, glass casing, and wiring. Silicon is a substance that conducts energy through the absorption of sunlight. When solar rays hit the silicon substance, electrons circulate, creating an electric current. This produces what’s known as (PV) or the “photovoltaic effect”.
The photovoltaic effect was first identified in 1839 when specific materials exposed to sunlight were able to generate an electric current. Solar panels today include electric wires that conduct direct current (DC) to a solar inverter that changes DC into alternating current (AC). This form of electricity is used to power homes and commercial spaces.
It was not until 1954 that Bell Labs developed the first photovoltaic cell making solar power a viable alternative energy source. Initially, the conversion rate for solar radiation to electricity was an efficiency of about 4 percent. Today sunlight conversion to electric converts at a rate of 20 percent efficiency.
Solar panels capture the rays of the sun, converting them to usable electricity. Solar power is also used for thermal heating of a home or commercial space, as well as for the heating of fluids including water. Solar hot water systems can provide hot water for the kitchen, bath, and laundry.
Applications for Solar Power
Residential solar panels are usually installed on the roof, though they can also be mounted on the ground. This produces generally between 5-20 kilowatts of electricity, depending on the size of the property.
Solar panels are installed on a larger scale for businesses and non-profit organizations. This supplies some of the needed energy for companies and industrial complexes.
Utility-scale projects generally involve large solar projects that generate many megawatts (MW) to a great number of utility consumers. While the power is not used onsite, energy is sold to wholesale utility buyers or is owned by an electric utility company.
Passive solar is a wonderful way to utilize energy from the sun without the need for rooftop panels or boiler installation. Essentially, passive solar works by collecting sunlight through specific windows where it can be absorbed into dark surfaces that hold heat. Thermal mass materials such as brick, stone, ceramic tile, and concrete can continue to provide heat long after the sun goes down. This heat is released throughout the home or commercial space and controlled through a series of roof overhangs, vents, and sensors. In North America, south facing windows generally collect the most sunlight throughout the day.
In some cases installing residential or commercial solar panels may not be an option. Some homeowners cannot (or prefer not to) install solar panels on their existing property. While many state governments fully support solar energy and the placement of solar energy panels, many local municipalities, Homeowners Associations (HOA’s) and building management companies may still have the right to restrict certain types of installation that affect the aesthetics of a neighborhood or business district.
The answer to this may be community solar. By creating utility-scale solar energy projects, more residential and commercial consumers can take advantage of solar power. Community solar farms are designed and built in central locations accessible from many different locations.
Residential and commercial consumers can subscribe to a community solar project and reap the benefits of solar power without having to install panels on their own property.
Sustainable Energy—The Advancement of Solar
While the move toward solar energy has taken time to gain momentum, many states have created clean energy initiatives in efforts to commit to sustained, renewable power. At this point, roughly 11 million households can be powered by solar energy alone.
Solar Energy Cost
While initially solar energy may have been cost prohibitive for many homeowners and commercial businesses, much of that has changed. In fact, the cost of solar has fallen a great deal over the years, by about 60 percent. Currently, rebates and incentives are available in many parts of the country as well as a 26 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for those who install a solar system before 2023.
Solar energy is renewable, sustainable, inexpensive and infinite. As long as the sun is shining, solar energy can be harnessed all over the world. Fossil fuels that took millions of years to form beneath the earth’s surface are depleted once they are consumed for energy. By using natural, inexhaustible resources such as solar, wind, and hydropower, there’ll never be a shortage of energy and the environmental impact will be minimal.
Solar panels collect sunlight while the sun is shining. Once the sun goes down, the unused energy that’s been stored in a battery can then be used. Solar-plus-storage is useful for all types of solar applications. Reliable energy, grid reliability and inexpensive power can come from the sun.
Electric vehicles for personal and commercial transport are more widely available as newer technologies and processes lower the costs overall. Lower maintenance costs, inexpensive “fuel”, and reduced environmental impact make electric transportation attractive for many car buyers.
The growing need for electricity to power these new vehicles creates an excellent opportunity for solar installation as well.