Climate change is perhaps one of the biggest existential threats that humanity has ever faced. Acknowledging its dangers is often difficult because it reveals that the massive progress humanity has made in the past few centuries has been at the expense of the planet. This means that it’s simply not sustainable for the long term. If climate change is to be addressed, humanity will either have to stop progressing at its current rate or a paradigm shift needs to occur. Part of this paradigm shift is a movement away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
Solar energy is by far the most popular form of renewable energy. The sun is limitless, and advances in technology make solar power easier to use. Most people know that the sun’s power can be used to create energy. However, you might not know the specifics of this process. We are going to address the technical aspects of this topic. This includes explaining how solar energy is converted to electricity. This is essential for obtaining a balanced worldview. Understanding solar power is the key to making sure everyone wants to use it.
Is Solar Power Truly Beneficial?
Before a full understanding of how solar power works can be established, the benefits of this source of energy should be discussed. Lots of people say solar power isn’t perfect. This is because it has certain disadvantages. These disadvantages can be addressed, though. The benefits of this energy source are great enough that the disadvantages don’t become too much of an issue. That said, here is a list of advantages that can be gained from using solar power. These are facts that prove that solar energy truly is revolutionary.
It Saves Money
The sun has been solar energy to the Earth for millions of years. It will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. You don’t have to pay the sun for it to send its energy. Hence, if this power can be utilized, this can greatly reduce energy production costs.
It Reduces Pollution
Fossil fuels are notorious for the air pollution they create. This problem became so severe that many cities were covered with smog. London is a good example. Unchecked industrialization lead to a lot of pollution which took years to reverse. Solar power doesn’t create any kind of air pollution.
It Has No Owner
Certain countries own vast oil, gas and coal reserves. This makes them very powerful. These countries use these resource stockpiles to exert international influence. However, the sun has no owner. Switching to solar power means that international influence can be distributed more evenly. Countries can access energy without having to deal with other countries. This gives said countries more domestic power.
It Will Never Run Out
A big problem with the fossil fuel industry has to do with supplies running out. Companies are always on the lookout for new deposits. Solar power does not have this issue.
How Efficient Is It At Producing Electricity?
If you look at raw power, the sun provides more than enough for humanity. If we manage to fully utilize the energy of the sun, we can produce thousands of times more power than we need right now. That said, the sun doesn’t provide energy at night. Hence, storage mechanisms need to be improved. Improvements also have to be made to solar power collection. Much of the power we get simply isn’t collected with current technology. Solar power is limitless but we aren’t efficient enough to use all of it yet.
How Does The Process Work?
It has been established by now that solar power is a great source of energy. This means that it’s time that people start to learn about the conversion process. Learning how it works can inspire more people to join the field. A lot more work needs to be done before solar power can achieve its full potential. We will start off by noting that there are two ways of making use of solar energy. These two ways are direct usage and indirect usage. Both of these ways have different process that apply to them.
Direct usage is by far the most widely utilized form. In order to directly use solar power, you need solar panels. These panels contain cells that are made of a special material. This material can absorb the energy of the sun and convert it into electricity. A system that uses something like this is called a Photovoltaic System. Basically the energy that hits the panels is absorbed. This is then turned into an electrical output which can be used to power all sorts of things.
The silicon cells aren’t directly connected to each other. Instead, they are separate. Their connections are outside of the panel itself. This connection is an external circuit. Each cell is further divided into four crucial parts. There is a metal electrode on either side of the cell. Between these cells is silicon which is placed in two distinct layers. This is because the material acts as a semiconductor inside the panel. One of the layers will serve as a conduit for positive charges. This layer will use boron to create the charge in question. The second layer will serve as negatively charged silicon and it will use phosphorus to achieve this result.
Photovoltaic basically means “light electricity”. The light from the sun consists of particles known as photons. Each solar cell in the panel collects photons. This silicon placed between the metal electrodes in each cell contains atoms much like any other object or material. Each atom has a set of electrons, protons and neutrons. Whenever photons are absorbed, an interesting phenomenon occurs.
This phenomenon involves electrons separating from atoms. Once separated, these electrons begin to move freely. If you see a similarity between electrons and electricity you are on the right track. These freed electrons become electricity. The electricity then travels through the metal electrodes on each side of the cell. People can then use this electricity for anything since it is the same kind of electricity produced through fossil fuels or any other source of energy.
It is also it is important to note that eventually the silicon will wear out. This is why you need to get the cells replaced every twenty five years or so. This is a long time, though, and silicon is not an overly expensive material. It does raise the value of this material, though. Still, a single expense that gives twenty five years of free electricity is definitely worth it.
Most people think that direct usage is the only way to use solar power. This isn’t true, though. Indirect usage has its own merits. It is an entirely different way of making use of solar power. One major difference is what aspect of the energy is being used. The direct method uses light from the sun. Indirect methods usually use heat instead.
This heat is absorbed. The heat then warms up water. Once the water has been heated up to a certain point, it releases water vapor. This also creates kinetic energy. The combination of vapor and kinetic energy is used to move turbines. Every time the turbine moves, electricity is produced. This is a novel way to incorporate solar power into electricity production. This is called thermodynamic solar energy.
However, it is not very efficient. When compared with direct use the efficiency is far too low to be effective. Hence, direct use is what is generally referred to when solar power is being discussed. We will be using direct use as our example for the rest of this article as well. Indirect use is a very old school way of utilizing solar power. It will inevitably be phased out once direct use becomes cheaper and more efficient.
All The Details on Solar Panels
Solar panels are clearly essential to the use of direct solar energy. The process is also pretty easy to understand. It starts off with light hitting the surface of the panel in question. This light is absorbed by solar cells inside the panel. The photons react with the atoms of the silicon, forcing the electrons to break free. Once they are broken free, they begin to move independently. The metal electrodes end up guiding the electrons into the external circuit. This leads to the production of DC electricity.
However, DC electricity is not generally considered to be safe to use. It needs to be converted into AC currents before the electricity becomes safe. An inverter is used to facilitate this conversion process. This converted electricity can then finally be used for anything that requires power. If extra electricity is produced, which it always is because of how efficient solar power can be, it can be either stored in a battery or sold to the power grid. Hence, anyone that uses solar panels can contribute to overall electricity production. This inevitable surplus is what makes solar power so feasible.
All of this is well and good. But just saying that photons separate electrons from atoms is not enough. There is a very distinct physical process occurring here. This process is based on Newtonian physics which really is quite basic. Basically, every action has a reaction. Since photons are basically just raw energy, they fire up the electrons in the silicon atoms. When the electrons get more energy, they can break away from the rigid structures of the atom they are in. Hence, we aren’t technically using the energy of the sun. We are just using this energy to break electrons away from silicon.
The Devices Used in an Average Solar System
Solar panels are also referred to as solar modules. They contain all of the ingredients necessary to convert solar power into clean electricity. Its main purpose is to collect photons. The conversion of photons into electricity is therefore the main purpose of a solar panel. Modern solar panels are quite lightweight and portable. They are also a lot more durable than they used to be. However, one thing to bear in mind is that positioning really matters here. If you don’t position your solar panel the right way, it will never give you enough electricity.
Most people try to solve this problem by using their roof. The roof is a popular place for solar panels because of its usually unrestricted access to sunlight. Most roofs don’t need to worry about shade either. There are few if any other places on the average home that can give the potential for this much energy efficiency.
A solar array on a roof has many benefits, but there are some obstacles that need to be considered as well. For example, not all roofs are designed to hold panels on them. Some roofs are oddly shaped, and cultural differences mean that different roofs will require different solutions. Flat roofs are going to work best. Slanted roofs will be trickier to deal with.
The shape of the roof is not the only factor here other. There are state and local laws that need to be contended with as well. There are often regulations that prevent panels from being added to roofs. A lot of reasons are given for this sort of thing. Whether or not you agree with these laws, you will have to follow them. The best thing to do is to contact a local government authority. You can then ask them what kind of regulations have been put in place. If there are no restrictions then you can just have at it. Sometimes you might have to purchase a permit.
Most of the time there won’t be any serious roadblocks preventing you from installation a rooftop solar array. It’s rare for there to be laws that completely forbid this sort of thing. Governments just want everything that you do to be compliant with the safety of the general public, and permits usually don’t cost all that much.
If the roof can’t be accessed for whatever reason, any open outdoor land can be utilized. Just make sure that there’s no shade blocking the sun. Direct sunlight is necessary for any solar panel to work after all. This is great for areas that have a lot of deserts in them. Deserts are very open and have pretty much no shade. What’s more is that the sun shines more frequently on a desert. There have been a number of attempts to turn deserts into solar farms. This can make rooftop solar arrays less important if you think about it. Countries can potentially generate a lot of solar power by making use of otherwise useless land.
The type of solar panel you use is also important. Fixed solar panels stay in one place. They are placed by calculating the optimal angle at which maximum sunlight can be absorbed. However, if you truly want maximum efficiency you might want to try using a tracking panel. This will track the movement of the sun and move along with it. Hence, the panel will always be in the optimum position. This can send energy efficiency through the roof since the panel will always absorb the maximum number of photons.
Solar panels are important but they are not all that is required. You see, they mostly produce DC electricity. Most household appliances can’t use this form of electricity. Instead, they need AC electricity. By using a solar power inverter, you can help convert DC currents to AC currents. This is another essential aspect of your solar power system. Without it, your solar panels are going to be pretty useless. They would generate electricity, of course. It just won’t be the kind of energy that you can use in your day to day life. This is why inverters are usually included in the solar power package.
Storing Solar Power For Later
The sun isn’t going to be out all day, every day. Hence, there needs to be some way to store energy for later use. Solar energy production throughout the day usually also exceeds requirements. Storage of energy is therefore also essential because you need somewhere to put all of this excess electricity. While a number of solutions have been proposed for this, for the average consumer there are three options. Each of these three options have been discussed in detail below:
This is for people who truly want to become energy independent. Being self sufficient in terms of power can be really important. For this you would need to disconnect from the grid and buy batteries. You would also need a charge controller. This monitors battery levels and prevents overcharging. This can really improve the life expectancy of your battery. Energy stored in batteries can then be used at night when the sun is not out. Hence, solar power can be turned into a source of electricity that you can rely on twenty four hours a day, making centralized grids less effective than they have historically been.
Sometimes you don’t want to step away from society entirely. Instead, you might want to supplement your energy supply. Using as much solar power as you can while sending the excess to the power grid is common here. Most electricity suppliers will give you credits for sending them your excess power. These credits can be used to decrease the electricity bill you get. You would want to install a net meter, though. This would be attached to your inverter. It would give you an accounting of how much energy you have used from the grid and how much power you have sent back to it. Many people end up not paying any bills at all because they get enough credits to pay for their bills entirely.
This is the best system to use. You would first use excess energy to charge batteries. Once the batteries are full, any further excess power is sent to the grid. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can use solar power or grid power as your standard and use the alternative as a backup in case something ends up going wrong.
Solar power is quickly becoming the most innovative and unique way to generate electricity. It can service areas that have no other resources at their disposal. What’s more is that the science behind this is not that difficult to understand. With so many options available, most people are considering making the switch to solar power pretty much immediately. This can help them deal with energy shortfalls in a much more sustainable manner. The benefits to the environment are also clearly very important to consider.