Solar Energy Concept
Renewable and Sustainable Energy with Solar Power
Table of Contents
Our planet is mysterious, with many wonders perfectly encapsulated inside. Since prehistoric times, we’ve all been fascinated by the wonders of the world and nature around us. Our world is rapidly evolving, from starting a fire using woods and stone to the latest technological advancements in science.
We are exposed to a new technology that soon becomes a part of our everyday life. And one such technology that has made its way into our lifestyle is solar energy.
In today’s world, where humankind is facing scarcity of resources and depletion in electricity, solar energy hails as no less than a savior or, at the very least, an alternative to a more stable life.
But before we discuss and elaborate on the groundbreaking advantages and problems associated with solar energy, you need to know and understand what it is.
So let’s start with the basics and see what solar energy is. More importantly, why has it become a science sensation in recent years?
What is solar energy?
If you think that it is a complex process, that is far from the truth. We’d say just as far as the sun itself. In simpler terms, solar power is the energy that we receive from the sun in the form of light and heat. You must be wondering what’s unique about solar power because it surrounds us all day long.
The groundbreaking aspect is that you can harness this energy to generate electricity and power in different ways. You can use this energy to produce electricity to combat scarcity issues. Apart from that, it has its advantages and disadvantages.
A Brief History of Solar Energy
Before we move on to the advantages of solar energy and how it can positively impact your life, let’s understand its history. This will help you further understand why it is essential and relevant to our modern needs.
Use of Solar Energy In Earlier Centuries
Human beings have harnessed energy from the sun since the 7th century. Of course, the technologies weren’t as advanced as today; that makes people think it is only a recent invention. However, our ancestors would use pieces of glasses to focus the sun’s rays on a piece of land to light a fire.
By the 4th century, during the era of Christ, basic solar designs had started to come into appearance already. Buildings and structures would have their windows, especially in their bathrooms, facing south for maximum sunlight.
The positioning would help to garner maximum energy. You must have heard how we can get vitamin D from the sun? Well, people in the 4th century knew that. That is why they positioned and structured their infrastructure for maximum sunlight.
However, during the dark ages, diseases and war significantly hampered technological growth. As a result, advancements in solar energy suffered as well.
Invention of The Heat Engine
The first high jump for solar energy came in 1816 when Robert Sterling invented the heat engine. The engine was designed to use solar energy as a source of heat to run the machine. The invention saved a lot of other energy sources, such as electricity or water. The design proved to be a breakthrough and is even used today in many solar devices.
Following in Robert Sterling’s footsteps, Edward Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect. This is the fundamental principle behind solar devices’ operation, which we will explain later.
The next advancement in solar energy came from a New York inventor, Charles Fritt. He chanced upon the utility of semiconductors and their ability to use the sun’s energy to conduct electricity. Fritt used this knowledge to produce the very first solar cells in 1883. The work done by Fritt paved the way for many significant developments, which had a high impact on solar energy in the years that followed.
First came Wilhelm Hallwachs, who found out that copper showed specific photoelectric properties. He used this knowledge to create the first photocells. Other innovators did many notable works in the field after Fritt’s initial contribution.
Word War II and Solar Energy
It was World War II that turned the world’s eyes towards solar energy. World War II was intense and caused energy shortages. It was during the chaotic period that people started searching for alternative energy sources.
That is when attention turned to solar power as a source of energy needed to create and operate the mass destruction weapons. Many people still argue that solar energy can be a massive disaster for humankind in such instances. However, that is dependent on its use.
The first type of device innovated using photovoltaic effects was in an AT & T lab in 1954. In 1956, researchers gave thought to the use of photovoltaic cells to power a satellite. In 1958, scientists saw this dream come true as they launched the first satellite of this kind. It took the world by surprise, and everyone was in awe of the power of solar energy and just how big an impact it can create in our lives.
In the 1960s and ’70s, researchers further refined solar technology. Installers considered more efficient alternatives. For the first time in human history, 1981 witnessed the world’s first solar-powered aircraft launch. Today, we’ve launched electric cars as well. However, at that time, powering an aircraft through solar energy was indeed a breakthrough for everyone. It opened a gateway for further advancements.
Since then, solar energy has come a long way to the solar panels we use in our homes and workplaces today.
What Are the Components of a Solar Energy System?
Well, while it may seem no less than a miracle to you, it has a science behind it and not just pure magic. Below, we have broken down the solar energy system into its main components and their uses. This will help you understand the process by which solar energy works as a system.
A. Photovoltaic Array
These are the heart of solar energy devices. It is where the entirety of the process lies. They can be broken down into smaller parts, all composed of many solar cells combined in an array.
Each solar cell takes up sunlight and produces a small voltage on its own. When these small voltages are combined, it creates mass electricity. We use the power to run our whole houses and offices or wherever you’ve set the solar energy system.
You’d be surprised to know that photovoltaic cells generally produce electricity when exposed to any source of light. However, the sun works best. The PV arrays are the central part of a solar energy system.
Types of Photovoltaic Array
B. Battery Bank
Nobody likes sitting in the dark. Sudden power cuts can cost you a lot in your work and even your personal life. You could have an important assignment to finish, and the load-shedding would just put you hours behind on your schedule. That is a situation that nobody likes to be in, right? That is why the battery banks are useful as a backup.
You should know that you will not consume all the electricity that your solar energy panels produce immediately. Then the question is, where does it go? Well, the battery banks in your solar energy systems save any excess energy reserves from the panels.
Previously, homes could directly sell any extra electricity to the electricity company. But storing them in your battery banks carries two advantages for you. Both of them are explained below:
Selling surplus electricity to other companies isn’t an excellent idea. The rates at which they pay you are almost always sub-par and don’t benefit you in the long run. Therefore, to decrease your costs, it is in your best interest to keep your stored electricity reserves safe in your battery banks. Moreover, it helps you store energy for emergencies as well. This way, you can recover your cost quickly.
Are you tired of load shedding interrupting your favorite matches? Are you tired of your internet connection shutting down during a critical zoom call? Well, you don’t have to worry anymore. Battery storage uses extra electricity reserves in precisely such moments, bathing you in light when everything else is dark.
Battery banks are a bit costly, though. So, unless you have buyers willing to offer an excellent amount for your electricity during times of need, you should go slow on purchasing an energy storage system.
C. Power Conditioning Unit
It will safeguard your system from technical faults such as short circuits etc. This is possible through a device present in the power conditioning unit called thermal-magnetic circuit breakers, which prevents any technical fault. This way, you can be assured that your solar energy system won’t face a short circuit or suddenly break down.
The second advantage your power conditioning unit will provide is the conversion of the direct-current supply produced by your photovoltaic modules to an alternating current, so that it is consistent with the appliances in your house. The conversion happens in an inverter, which makes the process smooth and safe. You won’t face any external hazards during the process.
Moreover, a power conditioning unit also employs a charge controller to adjust the input and output of power from the battery banks. On the other hand, if your solar energy system does not come with battery banks, you will not benefit from this feature. So if you want to benefit from it, make sure that you get a solar panels with storage system. It will also help with energy backup in emergencies, as explained above.
D. Safety Disconnect
This is needed when you either have a maintenance crew inspecting your device or any emergency requiring you to switch off the current.
E. Main Panel
This is the leading distributor of electricity in the solar energy system. The main panel connects all the electrical loads. Circuit-breakers further protect it to ensure the safety of the system and prevent any faulty mechanism.
F. Electric Meter
How Does A Solar Energy System Work?
Now that you know the different solar energy system components, it is time to understand how it works. This is the most exciting bit and something that’ll fascinate you as well. Many people ask this question; how exactly does a solar power system produce energy?
i. Photovoltaic Cells
Photovoltaic cells work when solar energy strikes their surface. It is one of the most popular methods of producing solar power. Photovoltaic modules are made up of solar cells, as mentioned previously. Each solar cell has an element called silicon. Silicon is a semiconductor found in abundance on the Earth.
Let’s now discuss the sun’s role in this process. Physics shows that light is a component of tiny energy packets. These packets are called photons. When these photons strike the solar cells, a lot of them are reflected or pass through. But some photons are absorbed, and this is what leads to electricity production.
Silicon is an element in the periodic table that is partly metallic. This means that it forms positive ions, i.e., cations. Silicon does this by giving away or donating its extra electrons. When photons hit the solar cells, they cause the silicon atoms to enter into an excitation state, where they become negatively charged and are ready to donate their electrons.
ii. Thermal Energy
This method is much simpler than the photovoltaic method. It uses solar concentrators to focus a large portion of the sun’s light onto a tiny area. The resulting heat is then used in a steam generator, as explained below.
The heat focused from the sun’s rays is not used to turn water into steam directly but is first used to heat another liquid, such as oil.
The oil is circulated in closed circuits around the water to maximize surface contact so that a more considerable amount of heat gets transferred to the water. The steam produced through this process is called supercritical because it is at temperatures higher than 374 degrees Celsius, which is water’s critical point. This steam contains within it an immense amount of unused energy.
Solar Energy Pros and Cons
Are you blown away by the information provided so far? Are you wondering whether solar energy is the right investment for you or not? Read on to find out its advantages and disadvantages. This will help you make an informed choice. A choice that’ll allow you to acquire a better and safer future for yourself and your loved ones.
Advantages of Solar Energy
Here’s a list of the merits and benefits you can reap after installing a solar energy system. They’re all aimed towards making your life happier and raising your living standards.
i. It Is Easy to Harness
What is the one problem that threatens to cripple the world in the future? Its scarcity of resources or a limited supply of resources. This means that you can run out of water or electricity at any point. Life without these amenities would seem impossible. That is where solar energy comes in.
Solar energy is superior to all other forms of renewable energy. This is because it doesn’t require any specific conditions and criteria to operate. It is natural, and as long as you have the sun rising from the East, you’re good to go.
In contrast to solar energy, hydro-powered plants require strong power flows in their passageways to generate electricity. The same goes for windmills, which need wind blowing above a particular speed limit to work. But that is not the case with solar energy.
Solar energy is far simpler and easier to use. All you need is sunlight. The intensity of the sunlight also doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t significantly low. You also don’t need complicated machinery for solar power generation. Just place your device out in the open, and it will do everything for you.
Lastly, unlike the speeds of wind and water, which are vector quantities, sunlight is a scalar quantity. Sunlight has no direction and is a lot easier to use.
ii. It Is Safe To Use
If you plan on installing a solar energy system for your home, you’d naturally want it to be safe for your children and family. Similarly, as an employer, the safety of your employees is your responsibility. That is why whichever option you decide; your first concern should be how safe it is.
Solar power systems are safe to operate and use. They produce no toxic or environmentally corrosive substances as by-products. Hence, they have absolutely no negative impact on the environment. That is why they are far better than fossil fuels, whose consumption is slowly ruining nature.
Moreover, solar energy also has no carbon footprint. It does not release any carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
For sustainability, this means that solar power is a compulsory investment for humanity in the future. We need a source of energy we can utilize indefinitely without damaging the environment and compromising the needs of the future generation.
iii. Solar Energy Systems Are Economically Viable
Do you know that China and the United States are actively investing in solar energy? Wondering why? It’s because solar energy is helpful for the economy. Why, did you ask? Find out below.
The most common solar energy systems are solar panels. They require extensive knowledge in production, installation, and maintenance to work. However, if you install them, you will cut your electricity cost. In the long run, you can eliminate electricity costs.
This is one reason why more and more companies are shifting towards clean energy consumption. The usage of solar panels will increase with this shift. Consequently, this will create a host of employment opportunities for skilled workers in the energy sector and boost the country’s economy.
iv. No Taxation
The tax charged on a commodity or product often surpasses its price and makes it an overall expensive investment. However, that is not the case with solar energy. Sounds like a dream come true?
v. It Is Limitless
Have you ever wondered how the sun is essential to human life on Earth? We never worry about it. The sun is the life of our planet and is necessary for its future growth. Similarly, as long as we have the sun, we have solar energy, and it is limitless. The sun is an infinite energy source, and we can harness that energy to produce as much power as we need. This way, solar energy’s most important quality is that it is an infinite source of energy.
Some really great news is that Texas is ranked as the 4th sunniest state in the US. Solar Energy in Texas will continue growing.
vi. Helps You Maintain Low Electricity Bills
Electricity bills are a significant cause of headaches for all of us. High bills make us stressed and anxious, wondering how we will pay them off. Often, those causes us to monitor our electricity usage continually, and that calls for sacrifice. It also leads to erratic behavior and compromising on the very basic need for electricity.
As it happens, solar energy may be the remedy to this problem. Generating electricity through solar energy systems, such as solar panels, can significantly lower our electricity bills. Research suggests that solar energy can reduce our electricity costs by as much as 20%.
It might sound like a magical dream for some, but it is true. This is because the system uses most of the sun’s energy and converts it so you can use it. This way, it doesn’t take up much of the electricity that can lead to reduced bills.
vii. It Enhances Your Residence or Workspace
This is especially true in localities where environmental degradation has been very prominent, and the government is looking for ways to fix the situation. Installing solar energy systems in your home will undoubtedly prove to be a smart move and would save you many electric expenses. Similarly, integrating a solar energy system in your workspace will help you reduce the place’s maintenance cost and enhance the office’s appeal.
Research carried out in this department has shown that solar energy systems in homes can increase their value by as much as $20,000. Since this amount is similar to the money required for installation, this means you can get your cashback when selling the property. This is undoubtedly a smart investment and one that’d only increase in value with time.
viii. It Requires Little Maintenance and Has a Long Life
What would be better than installing a system that requires little effort but can give you huge benefits? Well, solar energy systems fit completely on these criteria. They are easy to install and maintain. Each system comes with a detailed guideline about the installation procedure that you can read to get helpful tips on managing the panels.
Moreover, solar energy systems have a long lifespan. It means you can comfortably use solar energy in your home for 20-30 years without any hassles. They require little maintenance that you can do yourself or hire a professional to do.
ix. It Is Accessible and Viable In Remote Locations
But with solar energy, you can be assured of no such occurrence. It is a god-sent solution for locations isolated from civilization or in places without electrical transmission cables. This way, development can take place even in the most backward or underdeveloped areas of a country.
x. It Offers Great Financial Prospects
A good investment has a reasonable payback period. Solar energy offers you the opportunity to earn your money back. Or at least one-third of it. Many governments have started offering tax credit incentives to residences that use solar energy technology. These tax credits cover approximately 26% of the price of your solar energy system’s installation. This way, you can get a decent return on your investment from the start.
Furthermore, tax rebates are also offered to homes generating solar electricity. And if all of this isn’t enough to convince you, then know that any excess power generated through solar energy can be sold back to electrical companies for profit. However, we wouldn’t recommend that because this backed-up energy can help you in many other ways, such as during a power cut down or load shedding.
xi. Installing a Solar Energy System Helps You Avoid Politics
The usage of non-renewable resources, such as coal and oil, requires constant vigilance. Changes in the political climate occur frequently and unpredictably, causing the prices of these fossil fuels to fluctuate in response. This is a source of stress for users, especially since electricity generation through fossil fuels requires a constant input of these resources.
Solar energy stands above and beyond all this. There are no price fluctuations for you to worry about. This is because, after its purchase and installation, solar energy systems are free to use. They require no additional inputs or materials, apart from sunlight, freely available and accessible to everyone.
xii. It Helps You Become Self Reliant
With the advancement of technology, people are becoming more self-reliant. This is where the solar energy system enables you, as a society, to become self-reliant even in generating your electricity as per your needs. Each home can harness the sun’s energy and fulfill its electricity requirement independently.
Although solar energy does not work at night, you can install solar energy storage batteries for backup. Apart from that, you can go for a grid-tied solar power system as an alternative when your system does not generate enough power.
What is Grid-Tie and Off-Grid Solar?
As we conclude this chapter, it is essential to establish the distinction between the two types of solar energy systems and how they can help you in different ways.
a. Grid-tied Solar Energy Systems
This also benefits homeowners because, in situations where the solar energy system doesn’t produce the required amount of electricity, you can use the grid. Grid-tied solar energy systems are the most popular.
B. Off-grid Solar Energy Systems
Off-grid solar power systems operate independently in electricity production and, as the name suggests, are not connected to any grids.
Such systems require large battery banks for your home to receive a steady supply of electricity, especially during times of emergencies.
Net-Metering- What Is It, and Why Is It Important?
Net-metering is the process of storing any excess energy that is produced by your solar energy systems. This energy is then measured and converted into credits and transferred to your account.
You can exchange the credits saved in your account at any time for electricity. Through this process, the entire electrical grid serves as your electricity reserve, and you can use these reserves in emergencies or any other times of need.