Solar Energy

Posted August 15th, 2011 by

Solar EnergyIn today’s climate of growing energy needs and increasing environmental concern, alternatives to the use of non-renewable and polluting fossil fuels must be investigated. One such alternative is solar energy. Solar energy is quite simply the energy produced directly by the sun and collected elsewhere, normally the Earth. The sun creates its energy through a thermonuclear process that converts about 650,000,000 tons of hydrogen to helium every second. The process creates heat and electromagnetic radiation. The heat remains in the sun and is instrumental in maintaining the thermonuclear reaction. The electromagnetic radiation (including visible light, infrared light, and ultra-violet radiation) streams out into space in all directions.

Due to the nature of solar energy, two components are required to have a functional solar energy generator. These two components are a collector and a storage unit. The collector simply collects the radiation that falls on it and converts a fraction of it to other forms of energy (either electricity and heat or heat alone). The storage unit is required because of the non-constant nature of solar energy; at certain times only a very small amount of radiation will be received. At night or during heavy cloud-cover, for example, the amount of energy produced by the collector will be quite small. The storage unit can hold the excess energy produced during the periods of maximum productivity, and release it when the productivity drops. In practice, a backup power supply is usually added, too, for the situations when the amount of energy required is greater than both what is being produced and what is stored in the container.

How Is Solar Power Generated?
With the increasing popularity of solar energy in the past few decades, solar power generation has become a widely-talked about topic as well. Truth be told, generating solar power from solar energy is fairly basic for anyone who understands the sun and the energy it produces. In our day-to-day life, we look up at the sun as our primary source of light. It also allows life to exist. We also look at the sun as a source of warmth, almost to a negative extent especially on a hot, scorching day. However, the sun offers much more than we know. The sun, through its rays, emits solar energy which can be converted to other forms of energy with practical applications. Specifically, solar energy can be converted into heat and electricity – two things which are indispensable in modern living.

However, before heat or electricity can be produced through solar energy, there has to be a system through which energy from the sun can be collected. Technology has allowed this to happen in the form of solar cells or panels. These panels are made of semi-conductive material, usually silicon. When light rays (in particles called photons) hit these solar panels, the electrons that make up these solar cells can absorb the energy. The absorbed energy allows them to behave like conductors. Ideally, as the electrons in the solar panels get heated up, they can break free and carry an electric charge. This creates a current of electrons, which are collected through metal wires, that in turn results to the generation of electricity. This goes without saying that for solar power generation to become successful, there must be ample sunlight to generate enough heat energy. The amount of electricity generated also has something to do with the efficiency of the solar panels or cells used. However, the nature of solar cells allow for very low maintenance requirements and no moving parts. In fact, it is believed that an efficient solar power system can last over 40 years with minimal maintenance necessary.

How is solar power generation useful for our day-to-day life? Solar energy can make a big difference in as far as our energy needs are concerned. Solar energy can be converted to electricity which can power your electrical appliances at home. This basically means that it is a cheaper, more efficient and much more environmental-friendly energy source than what we use today. Furthermore, solar power can be used to heat up your water, your pool, and even run your central heating system. A solar powered home can run 75% to 100% of your electricity requirements – which basically means that you wouldn’t pay for monthly electric use!

But how is solar energy generation possible during times when there is no sunlight shining? Good question. Now, there are advanced systems that allow collection as well as storage of solar energy for later use. This means that with features like solar rechargeable batteries, you can run on solar power even during the night.

Solar Power Advantages
There are many advantages to using solar power, which include the following:

1. Pollution free. No greenhouse gases once it’s set up. The power companies reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil which is a huge step towards reducing the dangerous effects of climate change.
2. Free clean renewable energy. The sun keeps coming back every day (in many places). The solar energy landing on the earth in one day is enough to power the planet for a year!

Solar Power Disadvantages
Despite the advantages of solar power, there are some disadvantages:

1. Cost. Expensive to install, though plants and panels are getting cheaper, and some grants are available in some places.
2. Efficiency. Some panels and plants are inefficient, though better ideas and discoveries are constantly appearing.
3. Reliability. They only work when the sun is shining, so independent households need to store electricity in batteries for night use. Power companies need to find ways of storing the electricity or have alternative ways of production (like hydro electricity).

As with other traditional energy sources, such as natural gas and coal, solar power is not an ideal solution for an energy source. Rather than rely on solar power as an energy source, we must seek out less costly, more efficient, and more reliable alternative energy.

Photo Credit: Solar Power News

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