The Basics of Solar Energy: How Solar Energy Panels Work

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Solar energy is a sustainable and non-polluting source of energy that has been used for centuries. However, it wasn’t until recently that the technology to harness solar power efficiently and affordably became available. Solar energy is one of the most abundant renewable resources on this planet. It’s found in the sunlight and heat from the sun, as well as from other sources such as geothermal, hydropower, wind, biomass, and even ocean waves. Solar energy can be converted into heat or light, or be used to generate electricity directly. There are several ways to use solar power, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. The three primary methods of utilizing solar energy are photovoltaic panels, concentrated solar power systems and thermal collectors. Let’s take a closer look at how solar panel technology works…

What are Photovoltaic Panels?

Photovoltaic panels, also known as solar panels, are the most cost-effective and widely used method of harnessing solar energy. These panels are made from semi-conductive materials that absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. Panels are mounted on rooftops or installed on the ground, and wired together to form an “array.” The amount of energy generated depends on the amount of sunlight that hits the panels, their efficiency, size of the installation, and the climate. Solar energy is considered a renewable energy source because the sun will always be around, and the amount of energy it produces is constant. Today, there are a variety of solar panel models available such as crystalline silicon, thin film, and cadmium telluride.

Concentrated Solar Power

Concentrated solar power, or CSP, uses mirrors to focus sunlight on solar collectors. The heat from the collectors is used to generate steam to drive turbines that generate electricity. As with photovoltaic panels, the sun’s intensity and available surface area are critical factors in the amount of energy that can be produced. CSP plants are most efficient in areas where sunlight is abundant and temperatures are high. The technology is often used to generate electricity for large industrial operations, such as mining and water desalination. CSP is a relatively new type of solar power that has greater generating capacity than photovoltaic systems.

Thermal Collectors

Another type of solar energy is thermal collectors, which use the sun’s heat to drive a process that generates electricity. Thermal collectors are used in solar water heating systems, and in solar thermal power plants, also known as concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. Solar thermal energy is another method of harnessing solar power, separate from photovoltaic systems. But like photovoltaic systems, solar thermal collectors use sunlight to generate energy. Solar thermal collectors can be installed on rooftops or used at larger scales to generate electricity. Large-scale solar thermal plant operations, however, are rare in the U.S.

How Solar Panels Work

Solar panels have photovoltaic cells that collect the sun’s energy and transform it into electricity. Each photovoltaic cell is made up of two layers: an electron-rich layer that is positively charged, and a negatively charged electron-deficient layer. When light hits the top layer, it knocks loose electrons from the bottom layer. As the electrons move from one layer to the other, they create a current, which can then be used to power appliances, charge batteries, or connect to the electricity grid. The amount of energy a solar panel can produce depends on a number of factors, including: The amount of sunlight available in the area The number of hours of sunlight a day The efficiency of the solar panels The voltage of the system Solar power is a sustainable source of energy, but one that is dependent on sunlight. If there is no sunlight, the panels do not produce power even though they do not pollute or contribute to climate change. For more information see: https://www.dragonsbreathsolar.co.uk

Pros of Using Solar Energy

Sustainability – Solar energy is derived from a naturally occurring resource. It’s a renewable energy source so it doesn’t run out like fossil fuels do. There is also no risk of depletion like there is with natural resources like water and minerals.

No greenhouse gases – Like other forms of renewable energy like hydropower, geothermal and wind, solar power doesn’t produce any greenhouse gases.

No pollution – When solar panels are used indoors or in urban settings, they can produce energy without producing any pollution.

No fuel costs – Solar panels are powered by sunlight, not by a fuel. This means that you don’t have to worry about buying or storing fuel, or any associated costs.

Use of existing infrastructure – You can use the existing electrical wiring in your home to power your solar panel system.

Grid-tied systems – Unlike other alternative energy sources, you can connect your solar panels to the grid. This allows you to sell your excess energy to your local utility company.

No water use – Hydropower is one of the largest contributors to renewable energy sources, but it requires a lot of water. Solar panels don’t require any water, which is especially important in arid regions.

No land use – Unlike wind turbines, solar panels don’t require any land for installation.

No wildlife impact – Solar panels don’t kill birds and other wildlife like other energy sources do.

 

Cons of Using Solar Energy

Seasonal variability – Solar energy is dependent on the amount of sunlight available in a region at a given time. In general, the amount of sunlight is higher in the summer than in the winter. However, the amount of sunlight received in the winter is often enough to meet the energy needs of a household.

Sufficient sunlight – Solar panels need to be situated in a way that they can receive direct sunlight, at least six hours a day. If they don’t get enough sunlight, they can’t generate electricity.

Fewer hours of sunlight in winter – Because sunlight is lower in winter, it takes longer for solar panels to generate the same amount of energy as in summer.

Atmospheric conditions – Clouds can block the sun and reduce the amount of energy reaching solar panels.

Conclusion

Solar energy has been around for centuries, but only in the past few decades has technology advanced to the point where it can be utilized effectively. The three primary methods of utilizing solar power are photovoltaic panels, concentrated solar power systems and thermal collectors. Solar panels are the most cost-effective and widely used method of harnessing solar energy, while CSP uses mirrors to focus sunlight on collectors.

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