Many solar energy questions don’t have answers yet. The sun is a vast source of electric and thermal energy with its light and heat. As the most abundant energy on earth, solar power can be a perfect alternative to fossil fuels. It is not only clean but also renewable. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about its depletion, like we are worried about oil deposits.
As early as 700 BC, solar energy was used to light fires using a magnifying glass. And as far as living things exist, solar energy has supported life for all those years. Without the sun, there would be no life on earth.
In the 1970s, solar power used to be a preserve for the affluent in the world. However, over the past 50 years, the cost of solar energy has fallen by more than 99%. The sun produces enough power in one hour to last the whole world for more than a year- 430 quintillion joules (430 × 1018). We are yet to discover all the mysteries surrounding solar power. But here are some of the answers to frequently asked questions about solar energy.
Answers to the Most Common Solar Energy Questions
1. What is solar energy?
Solar energy refers to light and heat from the sun. The energy is required for the survival of plants and animals on earth. PV solar cells convert the light from the sun to electricity, while thermal technology uses the heat to heat water. Recent technologies like concentrated solar photovoltaic systems allow indirect solar energy conversion to electricity through lenses and mirrors.
2. How does solar energy work?
Solar energy systems work through the photovoltaic effect. A typical solar module has a glass covering, metal frame, silicon cells, and wires that provide a pathway for electrons flow from the cells. When the sun’s radiation hits the silicon cells, electrons begin to move, which triggers electricity flow. The whole phenomenon is the photovoltaic effect and is the principle through which solar energy.
The generated electricity is usually direct current. Since the majority of electrical appliances use alternating current, the direct current produced has to undergo conversion. Therefore, solar energy systems have a device referred to as an inverter that converts direct current from the solar panels into alternating current. The electricity then distributes across the building to power electronic devices. After that, any excess energy flows to the electric grid.
3. Is solar energy renewable?
One of the most common solar energy questions is whether it is renewable. Yes, it is. A renewable energy source is the one that restocks naturally at the rate of human utilization. It forms on the spot, and there are no fears of exhausting the resource. Such is different from non-renewable sources of energy such as oil and coal. It takes very many years to form, meaning as people continue to exploit them, there is a deadline when they will be no more. Solar energy is a renewable energy source that won’t run out even if everyone decides to tap it.
This energy comes to form the sun, and as long as it continues to shine, there is an assurance that it will be around. According to NASA, the sun is about 50% of its lifetime, meaning it will continue to shine for over 4.5 billion years from now.
4. How do solar panels work?
Solar panels consist of several photovoltaic cells. The cells consist of a semiconductor, which most of the times is silicon. It is a material capable of allowing the flow of electricity while at the same time maintaining the electrical instability vital for the creation of an electric field.
When the sun’s radiation hits the semi-conductive material, it absorbs the energy and knocks electrons, setting them into motion. Solar cells have negative and positive semiconductors. The electrons flow in a particular direction approaching the metal plate conductors. When the electrons strike the plates, they flow into wires. Therefore, electric current flows similar to any other source of electricity.
The energy is in direct current and has to flow into an inverter, which converts it into alternating current. From there, electricity distributes into the building and is now available for daily use.
5. How much do solar panels cost?
An average household has a monthly consumption of 905 kWh. With an abundant amount of sun’s radiation, such a home could mount a solar panel system of 5-6kW to help reduce the utility bills. Installing a larger solar module system translates to a lower cost per watt, which usually ranges between six to eight dollars a watt when you include permits, overhead, parts, solar panels, and labor costs.
The soft costs in the united states have been on a decline as more people embrace solar power. To be precise, there has been a fall in the average annual rate by 5 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The average consumption in a household determines the number of solar panels to install and the cost. Although it depends on the solar energy system’s size, the cost range is 4k to 16k dollars. If you add 3k-10k dollars for other necessities, the total cost of installing a solar panel system is around 20k dollars.
6. How much energy does a solar panel produce?
If a sunny state takes, for instance, California gives about five hours of direct sunshine in a day, you can determine the output of a solar panel system. It is the product of the number of hours of direct sunlight and wattage for a premium solar panel, which is about 290 watts. Therefore, the solar panel gives you an output of five hours by 290 watts, 1,450 watts-hours. Converting that to kilowatt-hours gives about 1.5 kWh in a day and 45 kWh in a month.
You get the rating for all solar panels depending on the amount of direct current they generate under standard trial settings. The output for solar modules is in Watts and represents the theoretical energy generation when there are ideal sunshine and temperature. The power output ratings for most household solar panels range between 250-400 watts. It is recommendable to go for higher power ratings.
7. How is solar energy produced?
The generation of solar energy begins with the installation of solar panels. It is the primary component capable of converting the radiation from the sun into electricity. A standard solar panel consists of either polycrystalline or monocrystalline silicon in a metal frame housing and glass covering.
When the sun’s radiation hits the thin silicon layer on the upper part of the solar module, it dislodges electrons from the silicon. Since they have a negative charge, they tend to move to one end of the silicon cell. Through the movement, an electric current begins to flow through the wires of the solar module.
As more of the sun’s radiation hits the solar module, it knocks more electrons, thus increasing electricity generation. However, solar modules generate energy at different rates. It depends on their quality and efficiency. Although solar panels’ cost is more for high-quality types, they save money in the long run as they generate solar energy more efficiently.
8. How is solar energy used?
There are various uses of solar energy. One is the solar water heating systems that warm water for the household. It is also common to use solar energy to heat swimming pools, especially in the United States’ southern regions.
Besides, solar energy is crucial for the heating of residential and commercial buildings during winter. It pairs with a Forced Hot Air system or radiant power floors to provide heat in a building.
Another common use of solar energy is the charging of electronic devices and lighting. Nowadays, solar lights are popular in home landscapes, street lights, among other places. Other solar energy uses include powering vehicles, an interesting application that has great promise for the future.
9. How to store solar energy?
The storage of solar energy has been the same for more than the last 30 years. Sometimes back, lead-acid batteries were the solution for the storage of solar energy. However, there were many struggles with lead-acid batteries as a result of cold and hot temperatures. Lithium-ion batteries came to rescue the situation. These types can store and release power with almost equivalent energy in a crazy cold day as it would when the temperatures are average.
Although lithium-ion batteries just hit the market the other day, it does not mean that they are that new. The technology has been around since the 1970s, but it gained popularity around 20 years later. Solar panels do not generate electricity at night; therefore, you need solar batteries to store excess energy. The batteries maintain their capacity above 80% after so many charges and discharge cycles. They do not require maintenance, meaning you can store solar energy and use it without concerns of damages due to frequent discharges.
10. Where does solar energy come from?
While the earth consists of water, rock iron, and several other components, the sun majorly consists of hydrogen gas. While the sun and the earth have a similar characteristic, the former has the core as the hottest section. Besides, there is also a lot of pressure on the part. The hydrogen atoms fuse as a result of the intense pressure and heating. Through nuclear fusion, they turn into helium.
You can compare the reaction occurring in the sun’s core to an explosion of a hydrogen bomb. Of course, very many times more powerful. But the sun does not explode due to a balance of outward and inward pressure. Fusion reactions lead to external pressure, while the resulting gases around the core have a force of gravity that leads to inward pressure. That is where solar energy comes from. Due to the balance of the two forces, there is a constant flow of energy to the earth.
11. Are solar panels waterproof?
Among several solar energy questions that most people haven’t found an answer to is whether solar panels are waterproof. Solar modules function for over 30 years. for all those years, they remain in harsh environmental conditions, whether on the rooftop or the ground. Among the extreme weather conditions is rain. For solar modules to work for all those years with all the rainy periods that occur over time, they are waterproof.
Though it is rare, if water causes damage to the panels, the manufacturer’s warranties are there to protect you.Solar modules produce electricity through solar cells. The wire systems and other components within the solar panels are in locations where water could damage. Therefore, the construction of solar panels is considering the sensitive components and is so that it cushions them from water damage.
A front glass sheet, back sheet, metal frame, and sealant are the components that ensure that water does not penetrate the solar panels.
12. Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
Solar panels generate electricity even when it cloudy. It is among the solar energy questions that people seek to find answers. Although the performance is lower than that of a fully sunny day, there is significant power production. Interestingly, the most popular regions for the installation of solar energy are the cloudy and rainy areas. It is not the amount of solar radiation a place receives that increases solar panels’ popularity but rather the electricity cost. Besides, there are cases whereby clouds lead to better solar panels than typical bright sunny weather. It can reflect and even magnify the sun’s radiation, resulting in extra power output from the solar modules.