How Does Solar Power Work?

June 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

When heard of home use, solar power seems to be a relatively modern invention. And while it may be true that huge and affordable solar panels that are used in solar systems today have only been around for three decades, the overall method actually dates way back to 1839, when Becquerel made the discovery of solar power. Becquerel found out that shining the sun on electrolytic cells could generate electricity.

Since then, various other scientists have added more to his discovery. In fact, Albert Einstein (most famous for his Theory of Relativity) obtained his 1921 Nobel Prize for his services to Theoretical Physics and the discovery of the photoelectric law effect. His paper on this was written in 1905.

Einstein’s photoelectric effect is quite similar to what avid solar power workers and enthusiasts would call the photovoltaic effect, which Becquerel first discovered. When sunlight hits particular materials, it tends to set electrons loose from their atoms. These moving electrons then produce a flowing current through these materials, generating electricity through solar power.

Today, these materials are normally a kind of doped silicon, which means that other elements were purposely introduced. Though these impurities would not be wanted in other applications, they are essential for solar power. Pure silicon is not very good at conducting electricity, but it is still very useful. By adding just the right amount of phosphorus, for instance, they can transform into semi-conductors.

Some special applications use other materials in place of silicon. However, silicon is much cheaper since it is ordinary and thus it is more abundant in the market.

The silicon-phosphorus compound is put into various layers and linked to a grid for an enhance electricity flow, which lessens the loss of resistance. Terminals are then put in to let the electricity flow into home electrical systems. All of this is protected with glass and things called photovoltaic cells, which are put into modules that can be linked to produce an entirely new system.

Modules tend to come in various sizes, which can determine the amount of generated electricity. The larger the module, the more power is produced. Larger photovoltaic solar panels cost more, naturally.

Though solar energy can reach the equator’s surface at 1,000 watts per square meter, the solar energy is not entirely usable. Solar energy can be lost due to atmosphere, dust, latitude, and other natural factors, so the modules can only convert with up to 15% effectiveness.

As a production method of practical energy, the growth of solar power relies greatly on increasing this effectiveness, as well as lowering production expenses. To an extent, this effectiveness is linked by particular physical constraints that are hard to get around, so a lot of the research efforts come with attempts to lower the expenses in manufacturing.

When this happens, solar power applications could easily turn into a common occurrence in both business and homes in the near future.

All about Solar Water Heaters

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

When people hear the term ‘solar power’, the first thing that comes to mind is huge dark blue solar panels that can generate electricity for businesses or homes. This is indeed a very well-known application. However, there are other ways to get solar power, such as solar heating. Solar heating dates way further back compared to photovoltaic solar panels.

Using solar power for solar heating has been done for thousands of years now, beginning with the use of crude lenses and mirrors back in ancient Greece for solar water heaters. During the 1920s, several municipalities came with usable solar systems that could use solar water heaters to supply homes.

Nowadays, these applications have made use of advanced technology.

One well-known form is the use of collector solar panels that can be placed on rooftops. Unlike photovoltaic modules, however, these arrays do not make use of layered wafers of silicon to produce solar power. Instead, they are more similar to big, thin, double-paned windows which come with water that is oftentimes mixed with various kinds of salt. Sunlight then sends solar heat for solar heating through the greenhouse effect and water then moves through various channels, pipes and tunes to make their way into businesses and homes.

The majority of people have heard about the greenhouse effect through its connections with global warming. This happens when solar power shines into a see-through medium and part of it is stored within it. This happens with glass to a higher level since the material lets particular wavelengths enter the spectrum of light with more efficiency, like infrared. Although some solar energy is released again, the majority of solar power is retained inside.

Solar water heaters obviously have more direct uses. Solar heat can be used for washing dishes or showering and all that needs to be done is create water that can be used and is readily available. This is typically done by storing solar heat in solar water heaters the way they are stored in normal water heaters.

With regular hot water systems, water heater storage units can also heat water. With solar water heaters, there is simply no need to do so because the water that finds itself into the tank is already around 95F-150F (35C-66C). The storage tank is there to act like a huge thermos bottle. It is double-lined and made of well-insulated material, in order to prevent heat from dissipating outside of the tank walls.

The temperatures in which these systems range are perfect for cleaning clothes and showering. The only problems that may occur is that not enough solar energy is produced to produce adequate solar heat and there may not be enough solar heat lost through pipes and panels.

Also, expenses can go all the way up to $50,000. Plus, the conditions in the local climate may lessen the system’s usefulness. However, with the cost of gas and electricity skyrocketing, business or home solar water heaters will definitely pay off within the next decade.

All about Solar Power and its Cost

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

Solar power technology has been present around the world for thousands of years now in various forms. In fact most of the modern solar systems today have been around for decades. However, solar power has not really fulfilled any of the promises that most people have hoped from then due its cost and efficiency.

Out of the thousand watts per square meter of solar power that falls onto the earth, only a very small part of it can actually be turned into usable electricity. This is due to internal losses that tend to happen. Only some of the photons that hit solar panels are capable of knocking electrons loose. And of those photons, only several will travel into the module and into the device before it is captured again.

This effect is also known as carrier lifetime. The longer the time that electrons are loose, the higher the likelihood that they come out of the module and into wires of an outlet. The majority of these modules are only up to 15% efficient. However, some companies have been able to raise their device’s efficiency to up to 20% in carrier lifetime.

On the other hand, solar heating devices use salt water solar panels that are heated by sunlight in order to generate steam that becomes electricity with an efficiency of up to 30%. These solar heating devices come at a high cost and a high risk, though. The high pressure and temperature of the water can be very harmful in the event where it escapes.

Aside from this low efficiency, the cost of solar power is also still quite high.

The majority of solar panels are quite costly. 30-watt modules, for instance, could cost up to as much as $250, while 195-watt solar panels could cost around a thousand. To be able to install solar panel systems in regular homes, solar panels could cost up to $16,000. Plus, there will be need for a solar battery along with other components and this could double or triple the price easily.

Thankfully, due to the rise in natural gas and oil prices, manufacturers have decided to take action. The market is now maturing to accept solar power technology and money is being spent on research to find new ways of making solar power more efficient and less expensive. Even despite the high price in solar panels, the cost is now much lower than back in the day, due to inflation.

Even the price of photovoltaic solar panels has fallen by 15% per year for a decade now. And since they can last for around two decades, you will be able to get back the initial investment cost while getting clean solar power.

To this day, improvements are continuing. ST Microelectronics in Europe, for example, has now come up with prototype solar cells that are achieving to be much cheaper than existing solar panels today.

Organic compound solar panels are also being used in particular applications, such as computer monitors and keyboards. With their flexible plastics, computers can now be rolled or folded up like magazines. Although they are still quite costly, the prices are starting to go down as technology improves. One French-Italian company hopes to make organic solar cells that can generate electricity at around 20 cents per watt, a significant difference to the $8 per watt of solar power today.

Solar water heaters with solar power have different prices now, as well.

Back in the 1920s, municipalities would use big storage tanks for solar heat and to keep hot water to supply homes. As prices of oil and electricity that were used for solar water heaters decreased, they no longer proved to be cost-effective.

As time has gone by, progress has achieved and old ideas are becoming innovative ones yet again. Such methods are starting to prove to become competitive yet again, if today’s research comes into fruition. With the increase of electricity and oil prices in the past decade from coal and gas-fired plants, we now only need a little bit of improvement to turn applications more economic.

Solar Power-The Perfect Renewable Energy?

April 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

When it comes to renewable energy, solar power would seem to have it all. It is the choice of many who have gone “off grid” because it is completely sustainable, clean, and greenhouse gas free. This energy source can never run out, as the sun generates more energy each day than could ever be used, even if everyone in the world went solar.

Solar energy can be harnessed more efficiently than ever before thanks to photovoltaic, or PV technology. Through PV technology, silicon is used as a base for photovoltaic cells that collect light and convert it to voltage to power homes. Solar power has been in use for centuries, even as far back as in the Greco-Roman culture when solar energy was used to heat bath houses and villas. The first solar collector was invented in 1767 by Horace-Benedict de Saussure.

As the years passed, the discovery of selenium in 1817 improved solar collecting technology. It was studied by Albert Einstein with his team of scientists in the early 20th century, which led to more efficient use of sunlight as an energy source. The use of silicon added to solar power’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when NASA used solar power to operate spacecrafts.

Home use of solar energy began mostly with small light-powered devices and home energy systems for mostly remote off grid areas. In the last quarter century, solar technology has advanced to the point that it can power almost anything and can be used as a power source both off and on grid.

Modern solar power doesn’t just use the sun’s heat, as with solar water heaters. It actually uses the light photons in sunlight and converts it to energy. When sunlight hits the silicon on PV modules, electrons are freed to produce power. They are collected off of the silicon wafers into direct current (DC) wires that can be converted and used to power a home.

Solar energy systems require planning for installation, as adaptations to your home may be needed. With the installation of enough solar panels and a battery back up system, an entire home can be powered on solar energy alone. Large batteries are needed to store power for use during cloudy or overcast weather when sunlight can’t be collected.

Homes that have solar energy systems can also be connected to a local power utility as a backup. When more energy is collected than is needed to power the home, sometimes some of the electricity can be sold back to the utility company. The end result is that the home is mostly run on clean and renewable energy, the homeowners don’t have to worry about a shortage during inclement weather, and money is saved on energy bills and can even be purchased back to offset other usage.

Solar power is a clean, renewable energy source with many benefits for home use. Off grid or on, there are many advantages to using our planet’s limitless, economical, and efficient light energy source in any way possible, from powering small items to entire homes.

Solar Power: Sustainable Energy for Your Home

March 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

Have you ever gone outside when it was so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk? The sun is a potent source of heat energy. If we could harness and store that energy to heat and even run our homes, we could save money on utility bills while reducing our carbon footprint and doing our part to contribute to a clean environment.

Use of solar power is nothing new. Even ancient cultures have been aware of the power of solar energy. Today in the U.S., as many as 10,000 homes rely on the sun as their main source of power. Use of solar power technology is becoming more and more pervasive. You may even own electronics equipped with solar power and didn’t even realize it.

As the costs of traditional fossil fuels rise along with the demand for alternative renewable energy sources, the expense of solar panel systems will continue to decrease. Though they were once only affordable for the very rich, these systems are quickly becoming available to the middle class. In fact, in the past two decades, the price of solar energy systems has decreased by about 80%.

If you’ve considered a solar energy system for your home, but had no idea where to begin, it really isn’t complicated. You start with a set of panels that are exposed to sunlight, either on the roof, the ground or a pole-mounted system. Solar panels contain photovoltaic cells which collect sunlight and convert it into energy. The converted energy can be used to meet your home’s energy needs or stored in batteries. The most important thing is to have a location for your panels that have maximum, unobstructed southern exposure to sunlight. There are even rotating mount systems that help to ensure your panels have maximum exposure to the sun all day long.

There are two different kinds of systems to consider, off-grid or grid-tied. If you want to make your home completely energy independent and sever your ties with the local utility company, you can go off grid. Of course, there are significant challenges involved, including needing ample room for battery storage. You also have to be willing to conserve and sacrifice when there are long periods of inclement weather and energy supplies run low.

A more middle-of-the road approach is to have a grid-tied system. With this system, you can use solar power for some of your home’s needs and have the balance covered by your local electric utility. One great advantage of this is that your electric company might offer net metering, or the ability to sell back any excess solar power for credit towards your energy bill. It also eliminates the need to store large batteries.

Whether you run all of some of your home on solar power, you will be living a greener lifestyle that helps to reduce pollution and conserve resources. Though the initial expense of installation may be a big investment, you will save significantly on energy bills for as long as your system lasts. Also remember that as solar energy systems become more popular and technology makes them easier to use and more accessible, demand will increase and they may soon become the new standard in home construction and remodeling.

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