Solar power is one of the most important upcoming modes of power in the world. Though much of the world has not yet transitioned to using solar power, it is slowly taking over how we power our cars, homes, and electronics. Whether you are an individual who owns their own home or a business looking for more sustainable power methods, solar power is a great alternative to traditional power, and it is sure to become more and more popular as time moves forward.
Solar power might seem like a complex method of power generation, but it is actually quite simple. Solar power is generated by harnessing the power of the sun and converting it into usable energy that is much more financially and environmentally responsible than other modes of power generation.
Whether you already know about solar power or are just now hearing about it for the first time, understanding how solar power is generated is the first step to understanding how it works and deciding whether or not it is for you. Read on to learn about solar power generation, the history of solar power, and how solar power is making its way into our everyday lives through residential and vehicular use.
The History of Solar Energy
Solar energy is quickly becoming the most dynamic method of power in today’s society. It is seen as not only financially viable but as ergonomic and environmentally friendly. The history of solar power, though somewhat disputed, goes back to something called photovoltaics, or P.V. Photovoltaics was the original idea that brought solar energy to the forefront of the power generation world.
First used as early as the 7th century B.C., solar power, or the ability to harness the sun’s energy and use it as power generation, was said to be used by Greeks and Romans. Using mirrors, fire, and the sun’s reflection, they would use something called “burning mirrors” during ceremonies and everyday living. It was not until the late 1700 and 1800s that researchers succeeded in harnessing the sun’s power to heat cooking ovens, and later even steamboats.
What is Solar Energy, and Why is it Used?
Solar energy is simply energy that comes from harnessing the power of the sun’s rays. The sun is a very powerful source of renewable energy, unlike gas and oil, and shines every day regardless of whether humans use its power or not. That’s why it is a very practical form of energy because it is an energy that uses what is already there.
Solar power works by taking the sunlight, or solar photovoltaics, and converting it into an energy source such as electricity. The photovoltaics, or P.V., are captured by using mirror-like equipment called solar panels. Solar panels are made up of many tiny atoms, which are the smallest particles known to man. These particles make up all of earth’s matter, with their nucleus made of protons and neurons.
When the sun’s rays’ solar energy is harnessed by using these mirrored solar panels, the energy works by forcing the photons to bump into each other at a very fast rate that cannot be seen by the naked human eye. This, in turn, creates energy or electricity.
Since the solar panels used to harness the sun’s energy are made of P.V. cells, the P.V. cells get linked together to make up the solar panels that are often attached to the roofs of homes, cars, or large buildings, specifically in more sunny locations.
How Solar Panels Produce Energy
Solar panels are amazing at producing energy. This is because they do so by gathering the sun’s rays’ molecular information and using the photons produced by this sunlight to create direct energy, otherwise known as D.C. This is also sometimes simply referred to as electricity. Since electricity is what powers our homes, computers, phones, televisions, and even cars, it is an incredibly important resource. According to Vivint Solar, solar panels operate by following the steps listed below. They include:
Step 1. Solar panels gather sunlight from the rays of the sun
Step 2. Inverters convert solar energy into useful electricity
Step 3. Solar electricity is used in the home or converted into car battery or engine energy
Step 4. Leftover solar electricity goes back into the energy grid
The Purpose of Solar Inverters
While solar panels and solar power generation might seem simple, they also use something called solar inverters. Solartechnologies.com tells us that, “A solar inverter takes D.C. electricity from the solar array and uses it to make new electricity or energy.”
Inverters are very smart and operate like neural networks of a human body. They provide protection and statistics information about voltage and D.C. circuits, allowing us to track the amount of energy that is being gathered from the sun.
Since the beginning of solar panels and solar inverters, central inverters have also been a very important tool. Also known as micro-inverters, central inverters are created to optimize every single solar panel so that each panel can gather energy to the best of its ability. A badly working solar inverter or central inverter can easily make or break a solar panel’s ability for efficiency.
What Solar Energy is Used For
While solar energy might seem like something from a science fiction novel or the future, solar energy is actually already becoming very popular in our modern age. Solar energy has many potential uses and is constantly becoming more and more used today.
From heating a home to lighting up an entire business’s factory warehouse, solar energy is much more than a fad or science fiction plot tool.
Household/Widespread Large-Scale Electricity Needs
One of the most commonly growing trends is the use of solar power for household electrical needs. Many homeowners have taken to installing solar panels on their roof, both in sunnier parts of the world as well as places that tend to be cloudy.
This is because solar power, regardless of the weather, can be a very valuable source of energy. Not only can it power your home’s appliances such as phones, ovens, fridges, light switches, and more directly, but it can also save power stored within a battery.
Solar Battery Storage
A solar battery is a great way to store power from a solar panel system, especially during less sunny winters. A solar battery can allow you to use solar-powered E.V. overnight or even act as an emergency source when needed.
An even more efficient solar technology that is less commonly used on residential homes and is more commonly used in factories and large businesses is called concentrated solar power or CSP.
Freedomsolarpower.com tells us that “A CSP solar farm uses mirrors to reflect and bounce the sun’s energetic rays towards a different tower or platform” that receives heat and ends up powering a larger area. This system works very similarly to how a wind turbine operates.
Along with powering a factory or home, solar power also has the capability to heat water. This is a very important quality, saving tons of gallons of water per year. The benefit of using solar power to heat the home is that the electric boiler uses less energy. It also means that the tap does not need to run for as long to start heating the water. Rather, hot water comes out of the faucet at a much faster timeframe, therefore reducing water waste.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, solar water heaters usually have a five to ten-year payback, meaning you will end up saving money in the long run when switching your home to solar water heating. With costs between $3,000 and $4,000, it is possible that solar water heating and solar pool heating are some of the most cost-effective ways to use solar power today.
Another important use of solar power is the creation of solar ventilation. Solar ventilation such as solar attic fans are fans that can reduce the energetic output of a typical HVAC system in any home, business, or warehouse. Similarly to the benefits of using solar power to heat water, using solar power for ventilation purposes can offer a more reliable source of power with a high financial return and less risk of power failure during critical situations such as filtration needs for wildfire smoke or poor air quality in densely populated cities.
Cars and Transportation
The arguable most exciting new use for solar power is its increasing usage in cars and transportation. Solar-powered vehicles are becoming much more than a thought of the future; they’re actually an innovation of the now in forms such as:
- Sedan cars
- Solar-powered semi-trucks
In Australia and the United States, even trains will soon have the possibility to become completely solar-powered. This is a significantly important innovation because solar-powered trains, cars, and other transportation will essentially mean the end of society’s dependence on fossil fuels, allowing for the possibility of:
- Fewer oil spills
- Less oil drilling
- Less other nature-damaging man-made events.
Partially electrical, and even all-electrical cars like the Tesla series are now even available for purchase by the public today.
Understanding the Photovoltaic Effect
As mentioned before, the science of making solar-powered energy begins with the photovoltaic effect. It was first discovered in 1839 by Edmond Becquerel and is one of the longest-used energy forms of its time. Characterized by semiconductors, or generators, gathering electric currents when exposed to light, the photovoltaic process follows these simple steps in order to operate:
- The sun shines on a sunny day and activates the silicon photovoltaic solar cell absorption
- This translated to solar radiation absorption
- The sun’s rays begin to affect the silicon cells
- Electrons start moving within the makeup of the solar panels
- A flow of electric current is created
- Wires feed the electric current, otherwise known as the direct current or D.C., to a solar inverter
- The solar inverter then changes the energy to an alternating current or A.C. current
- The A.C. current is available to be used for energetic electrical needs
Save Money By Installing Solar power in your Home
If you live in a home that has solar power and you want to see how much energy you are using versus how much energy you are generating, it is a good idea to check your energy meter. If you’ve owned a home or rented a house or apartment, you know that it had a meter that connected your utility usage to the electrical grid.
Your utility meter is provided by your energy company and is used by that company to measure how much of their energy you personally use in your home. This meter then determines how much money your energy company will bill you each month based on your use. When you install solar panels on your roof, they will then become connected to your energy meter. This means that you will be able to meter how much energy you produce as well as how much you are using from your energy provider.
Have the Utility Company Pay You
A positive new initiative that many cities across the United States have instituted is that of a major solar incentive. This incentive allows for net metering, which means that when you generate more solar power than you need, you can send your excess solar power to the city grid from your solar panels.
This is when you will receive a financial return on your electric bill. In addition to this incentive, it is important to recognize that the cost of solar energy has been lowered by almost 70 percent in the past decade, making it consistently more affordable for the average homeowner.
Tips for Adding Solar Panels to Your Home
A recently updated report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, recommends that consumers compare as many solar options as possible so that they are paying the “true” at-cost market rate. This way, contractors won’t be able to take advantage of those wanting to upgrade their power situation. Additional tips on purchasing your first at-home solar panel grid are:
- Bigger isn’t always better. Go for the solar panels that fit your rooftop and make sure they have the energy conversion rate that will be the most effective for your home’s energy needs.
- Compare your equipment. If you have a neighbor or friend with solar panels, talk to them about their experience. Comparison is the best way to figure out what is right for your needs and initial installation budget.
- Stick with a small solar energy company installer to save anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 compared to larger companies’ fees.
- Use a search engine to find a good and reliable solar calculator. This solar calculator will be able to tell you an estimate of your long term needs depending on your home’s location, type of roof, and size of space available for panels.
Tesla and Solar Power
The Tesla company, headed by founder and CEO Elon Musk, is the leader in creating fully electric cars. Tesla has also begun to create solar tiles that can be used for construction projects. These construction projects will allow housing and commercial buildings to be made out of materials that directly harness the sun’s energy and are considered revolutionary by today’s building and construction materials standards.
Solar Energy and The Environment
Solar energy is a favorite of many scientists, environmentalists, and activists alike because it puts way less pressure on the earth’s resources than other modes of energy sourcing. Using solar energy can effectively reduce the carbon footprint, or the negative effect of carbon created by man on the globe, and create a healthier planet in the long run.
Solar energy can lower the energy used by power plants as well as limit their pollution and the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. This is because the energy utilized is effectively clean energy, simply harnessing the rays of the sun which already exist without environmental impact, transferring them into usable power, and in turn, powering cities and factories with that safely harnessed energy.
While using solar energy is, without a doubt, the cleanest way to power cities and even countries for human convenience, they are never without their environmental impact. Any man-made factory will impact the environment, especially when a large amount of water is needed.
Depending on where some large solar power harnessing factories are built, native plants and animals can be affected. Birds and bees also commonly fly into those factories and become injured due to collisions. While these are unfortunate consequences, solar powered energy is still the most earth-friendly form of energy ever harnessed.
Solar Power is the Energy Source of the Future
Solar power is one of the great innovative marvels of modern energy harnessing technology. It is generated by using the photovoltaic effect, harnessing the power of the sun, and converting it into usable energy that is much more financially and environmentally responsible than other modes of power generation.
When the sun’s rays hit the panels’ surface and gather energy:
- Inverters convert the solar energy into useful electricity
- Store it in a reusable battery
- Send the excess energy to the city, which returns to the homeowner in the form of funds
While solar panels and solar power are becoming more and more widely used and researched today, it is clear that we have only seen the beginning of this environmentally friendly and incredibly useful energy harnessing capability.