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Solar energy

Solar Power Definition

solar power on the roof

To define what solar power is, we first need to explain that the Sun sends us every day a very large amount of free and clean energy, which needs to be turned into electricity to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Mankind is mostly relying on fossil fuels because solar and wind power are considered intermittent sources of energy (the Sun shines only during the day, and the wind is not always available), and the current installed capacity for solar is still very tiny to truly make a difference in the U.S. energy mix.

Solar Power Definition

Solar power represents a clean and free source of electricity obtained by converting the sunlight into energy using photovoltaic solar cells (through the photovoltaic effect) or large mirrors to concentrate the sunlight into a focal point where an agent such as oil or molten salt is located and heated up to a temperature where steam is produced and used to spin a turbine to generate electricity.

The Sun is also sending thermal energy, which can be used passively to heat a home during the winter and lower energy bills.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

You know that all the energy used today comes from the Sun?

Wind is produced by the Sun, the water cycle is driven by the Sun’s energy, fossil fuels contain energy from the Sun that was stored by plants millions of years ago through the photosynthesis process, wood is also produced using the Sun’s energy, etc.

The Sun is a very massive sphere of hot plasma (its diameter is 109 times larger than Earth’s diameter) and releases a huge amount of energy every second (our star is turning 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium every second through the nuclear fusion reaction that takes place in its core).

The energy produced by the Sun reaches our planet under the form of heat and light, and we need to use this energy (or at least a large part of it) in order the reduce our dependence on fossil fuels that are polluting the environment.

Fossil fuels are still used on a mass scale on the planet

Mankind still relies on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas to produce electricity, heat and also fuels, but because these sources of conventional power are limited (oil and natural gas will run out in about 50 years, and coal in about 115 years), mankind desperately needs to increase its generation capacity for solar power and the other renewables because these sources of energy are clean and will run out only in about 5 billion years from now on.

Today, we are converting the sunlight into clean electricity using photovoltaic solar cells (these cells are usually made of silicon and are turning the sunlight into electricity using the photovoltaic process).

The solar panels installed on your roof are producing DC (direct current) electricity that travels from the roof through an inverter to the circuit breaker panel in your home.

The inverter turns the DC electricity produced by the panels into usable AC electricity (alternative current), which is used inside the house to power all appliances, light bulbs, electric tools, gadgets, etc.

Solar panels on your roof represent a small power plant working only for you

By having a solar panel system installed on your roof, you have your own power plant that produces clean and free electricity during the day.

If your panels are producing more energy that you use, the excess energy is sent back into the grid, and the utility company will use this energy to power your neighbors.

Net metering is used by the utility company to purchase your excess solar electricity and use it to power other homes and businesses in your area.

Excess energy can generate additional savings

Your excess energy will be used even by homes and businesses that are not using solar panels, because they will receive your excess electricity through the power grid.

When the Sun goes down and your panels are no longer producing energy, your home will consume electricity provided by the utility company.

However, the credits from your excess solar energy produced during the day, will offset nighttime charges, which are cheaper than daytime rates.

Using net metering you can maximize your savings and pay lower or even zero energy bills.

Instead of buying electricity from the utility company that is usually produced from fossil fuels and only a small amount of it from renewables, you can install a solar panel system on your roof or in the yard, to produce your own energy (energy independence), which will be clean and free of any harmful emissions for the environment.

Energy rates continue to go up

Don’t forget that energy rates continue to go up because the conventional sources of power (fossil fuels) are becoming less available, and by having your own solar PV system installed on your roof, you can produce energy for you and your neighbors and you can forget about energy bills.

Take advantage of the available incentives and rebates in your area and go solar as soon as possible.

Doing this, you will not only make your wallet happy (lower to zero energy bills), but you will also become a protector of the environment because your carbon footprint will be drastically reduced.

To become even a greener person (with an almost zero carbon footprint) you need to replace your vehicle with internal combustion engine with an electric vehicle.

This way, you can use the solar energy produced by your panels to recharge the battery of your electric vehicle, and forget about gas stations.

By installing solar panels to power your business or your home, you can increase the profits of your company, and you will definitely increase the value of your home on the local real estate market.

Solar Power Challenges

Even if we know that solar power is an endless source of clean electricity for us, we are still using fossil fuels as the main sources of electricity, heat and fuels on the planet mostly because there are political factors at play and businesses that lobby to maintain the status quo.

There are also physical and logistical challenges related to solar power because the Sun is not shining the same way all over the planet, there are sunnier places than others.

Solar power is also an intermittent source of energy, because solar panels are producing a good amount of energy only during the sunny days, a reduced amount of energy during the cloudy and rainy days, and during the night they are not producing energy.

We need more efficient solar cells

In order to make solar power a reliable source of energy, we need to figure out how to store solar power in an efficient way, and we also need to improve the efficiency of the solar cells.

The most efficient solar cell available today has an efficiency of 46%, but the conventional systems have an efficiency between 15% and 22%.

Even if the technology used today to harvest the sunlight is not very efficient and we can’t store a very large volume of solar power because we are still using old battery technology, by increasing the investments in the field, we can increase the generation capacity for solar power up to a level where it can count in the global energy mix.

Any form of renewable energy that increases its share in the global energy mix is a win for mankind because it means that fossil fuels are less used, so the environment is less affected.

Final conclusion

Solar power along with the other sources of renewable energy are still struggling today to become the main sources of clean energy on the planet, and while fossil fuels are losing ground due to the fact that the renewables are increasing their presence in the global energy mix, we can say that mankind is on the right path towards the clean and free future that will follow.

Article written by:

I write about the renewable energy sector, electric cars and climate change issues. I love nature and good food, so I travel all over the world to see new places and meet new people. Magda Savin

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