Over the last decade, governments have taken firm steps towards environmental sustainability. And harnessing the sun’s natural energy is a big part of that. As a result, we have seen more solar power systems increasing in the market.
While they are great for the environment as a renewable energy source to replace traditional energy production, what really constitutes a solar system?
What is Solar Energy?
Let’s start from the basics and define solar energy, shall we? In essence, solar energy is the radiant energy (in form of heat and light) produced by the sun.
As a renewable energy source whose use does not affect its future supply, this radiant energy can be employed to produce electricity, or heat via the use of solar collectors.
For example, a closed car can be a solar collector. This is because the light energy that passes through the window glass is absorbed by the car’s interior and converted into heat energy. For better context, the amount of solar energy on an area the size of a basketball field is the equivalent of 650 barrels of oil a year.
Uses of Solar Energy
Solar energy is used in various aspects of our daily lives, namely:
- To generate electricity using photovoltaic solar cells.
- To generate electricity using concentrated solar power.
- Heating water or air for domestic needs.
- For solar air conditioning
- To generate electricity in geosynchronous orbit using solar-powered satellites.
- To generate electricity by heating trapped air by rotating turbines in a solar updraft tower.
- Heating buildings directly through passive solar building design.
- To heat foodstuffs via solar ovens
- To heat and cool air via the use of solar chimneys.
Overall, solar energy can reduce countries’ dependence on oil and fossil fuels. Therefore, dramatically reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
What Is Solar Electricity?
As we have established, solar electricity is energy created from the conversion of sunlight into electricity. In practice, concentrated solar power systems utilize lenses or mirrors to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. As a result, they deliver clean, renewable energy solar electricity that reduces reliance on oil, coal, and natural gas for electricity production.
Sunlight is typically converted directly into electricity via photovoltaics (PV). Or indirectly through concentrated solar power (CSP), which focuses the sun’s energy to boil water which, in turn, is used to generate power.
As a result, solar electricity is delivered mainly by two technologies:
- Photovoltaic power (PV)
- Concentrated solar power (CSP) or solar thermal
What Is a Photovoltaic System?
The word “photovoltaic” originates from the Greek language to mean light. While “volt” is the unit of electro-motive force, which originates from the last name of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electrochemical cell (the battery).
That being said, photovoltaic (PV) systems are devices that use solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. A typical PV system consists of one or more photovoltaic (PV) panels, a DC/AC power converter (an inverter), a tracking system to hold the solar panels, and electrical interconnections.
In practice, photovoltaic (PV) cells made of semiconducting materials convert sunlight directly into electricity. Essentially, when sunlight strikes the PV cells, it liberates electrons within the material, which move to create a direct electrical current (DC).
PV systems make up the other part of home solar systems which typically include a module, battery, energy management software, solar concentrators, and a charge controller.
Generally, a small PV system can provide adequate energy to a single consumer and power a device like a lamp or a radio. While the average size PV system can meet all of a home’s electricity needs, basically offsetting 25% to 50% of most homeowners’ power requirements.
Advantages of Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Systems
PV systems offer significant advantages over traditional power sources, for example:
- Energy independence: Solar energy reduces reliance on electric utility, which is helpful, in case of electric outages. It basically means you’ll never leave a TV show half-watched or cake half-baked.
- Dependability and Reliability: Even in the harshest of weather conditions, PV systems are reliable and are not prone to costly power failures. Especially in situations where continuous operation is mission-critical.
- Durability: Most PV modules do not show any degradation after 10 years of use.
- Low Maintenance Cost: PV systems are affordable in terms of maintainability as they require only periodic inspection and occasional maintenance. Which is still cheaper than conventionally fueled systems.
- No Fuel Cost: There are no costs associated with purchasing, storing, or transporting fuel.
- High Altitude Performance: PV systems are dependable at high altitudes, especially with increased insulation. In comparison, diesel generators at higher altitudes must be ‘de-rated’. This is due to losses in efficiency and power output.
- Less Sound Pollution: PV systems operate silently, with minimal movement.
- Modularity: PV systems are easier to scale and upgrade than bulky conventional systems. PV modules can be added incrementally to increase available power. This modularity also means that they are perfect for off-the-grid locations.
- Safety: since PV systems don’t use combustible fuels, they are very safe when properly designed and installed.
- Incentives: Governments are offering solar incentives, which can translate to bill savings. For example, the USA gives Solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) and net metering to allow people to earn bill credits (or even extra cash) for solar installations.
In summary, rising traditional energy prices and growing environmental concerns are making solar systems more attractive to many homeowners. As we have seen, solar electric systems reduce high energy costs while keeping your home up and running during power outages.
The advantages of buying a solar energy system include savings on electric bills, accessing reliable, clean, free power for 25 to 30 years, and even increasing your home’s appraisal value.
Remember that most solar electric systems last up to 30 years, and typically pay for themselves within 4 to 5 years(after tax credits and rebates). This means homeowners can enjoy free electricity for years. Furthermore, solar systems provide emergency power in areas with regular storms, hurricanes. So, consider reaching out for a solar quote or advice on installation if you are still uncertain about how a PV system can help you.