Solar Energy Facts
Solar energy is one of the sources of renewable energy that can be used to generate electricity for our usage. As the name suggests, it is energy harnessed from sun’s rays. The energy from the sun’s rays is then converted to usable electricity via solar panels.
In this article I have summarised solar energy facts which included its advantages and why it is considered as a potential source of energy to replace fossil fuels.
Why Solar Energy? What are the Advantages?
Renewable Energy Source
As the name “renewable” suggests, solar energy is continually replenished and is present everywhere in virtually unlimited supplies.
Solar Energy is Free
You do not need to pay for solar energy.
Generates Zero Pollutants
There is no burning and so no emission of fumes is involved when solar energy is utilised to generate electricity.
Plethora of Usages for Solar Energy
Solar energy powered heater for showers and swimming pool/spa, cooking and also landscape lighting; power facilities that are not connected to the grid; pumps for irrigation purposes; road signs and remote gates; navigational systems, buoys; DC (direct current) electrical motors.
In an economical point of view, installation of solar systems in properties will also add to its value as developers can advertise it as being green housing. This industry will also create jobs and add to economic growth especially for countries like China that contributes to 70% of the world’s solar hot water collectors.
Active government support is also one important advantage. The Californian government gave out tax incentives and credits to citizens supporting the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and PV cells on their rooftops through the Million Roof Initiative.
Readily Available Solar Energy Kits
DIY projects for the enthusiasts involving solar technology are also available online in the form of ready-made kits and e-books like Earth for Energy that teaches you to assemble your own solar panel with clear diagrams. Such projects are perfect for family bonding and this is one such green project that you can also involve your kids!
Therefore since the advantages of solar energy are many, it is a worthwhile effort for you to install solar energy technology in your homes for you to start saving money and the Earth.
Uses of Solar Energy
Via solar panels there have been various uses of solar energy in a variety of operations as mentioned below.
Solar Power Plants
Via thousands of solar panels, harnessed solar enegy is converted to electricity to power homes. Solar power plants are green alternatives to the conventional coal-fired power plants which release a lot of harmful gases and pollutants into the atmosphere.
Due to government incentives and enhancing of property value, there have been increasing number of homeowners installing solar panels on their rooftops. Among the US states, California is the leader in the amount of solar-generated electricity due to initiatives like the Million Roof Initiative.
Besides US, solar panels have also been used in other countries like Singapore to generate electricity to power the lifts, corridor and staircase lightings for their housing estates. A total of about 3.6 mega-watt-peak (MWp) of solar PV systems have been installed in different precincts under the Greenprint framework.
Other related advances in technology as a result of installation of solar panels in Singapore is the concurrent implementation of the Elevator Energy Regeneration System (EERS) to further reduce energy consumption.
Solar panels have been used for powering satellites, space crafts, cars and boats. A good example is the Sun21 team from Spain that sailed across the Atlantic from Sevilla to the Carribean island of Martinique. This feat allow them to set a Guinness Book Record of being the world’s first transatlantic solar-powered journey.
This idea was mooted in an effort to reduce the load carried by soldiers for the generation of electricity in the field that involves lugging heavy generators and fuel. This proposal was put into practise by the US and possibly the Australian Army.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy.. Some Facts
Despite the advantages and uses mentioned, there are also disadvantages to using solar energy which I must mention.
A lot of money has to be pumped in the initial start-up of a solar power plant. This involves the manufacture and setting up of enough solar panels to generate enough power for the plant. However technological advances below have greatly increased the efficiency and production costs of the PV cells.
The most recent advance3 made by Dr Jon Major of University of Liverpool had led to a possible further price reduction and a less toxic process. This was carried out by the replacement of cadmium chloride to magnesium chloride in the manufacturing process of the PV cells.
The thickness of the conventional solar panels would be reduced as a result of this study, as it was demonstrated that instead of silicon semiconductors, the individual PV cells would be based on a thinner coating of cadmium telluride due to its much better absorption ability for sunlight. This layer is only one-hundredth of a much thicker layer of silicon semiconductor based PV cells.
Solar power cannot be generated at night and storms and is also reduced during cloudy days. Nevertheless a way to counter this will be use a larger capacity battery to store the generated power during day time or when there is sunshine.
Solar panels with an area that are suitable for usage for generating electricity have an efficiency of 20.4%2. These are hardly impressive numbers but this figure will improve with improving technology.
Therefore in view of the above few but critical disadvantages, there have been advances in the technology of harnessing solar energy summarised below. These advances have improved the capability of the PV cells in collecting solar energy and also lowered the average cost per module making solar energy a more attractive option to be considered.
Advances in Solar Energy Technology
There have been advances made in the development of PV cells technology that will improve their capability in harnessing solar energy.
PV cells that can generate electricity from UV and IR light
Kyoto Institute of Technology researchers have introduced a new photovoltaic cell that is capable of generating electricity not just from visible light, but also from ultraviolet and infrared. The research group, led by associate professor Saki Sonoda, hopes that it wil result in a more efficient single-junction PV cell with the capability to absorb the entire light spectrum with no requirement for the cell to be multi-junction–GizMag (April 14, 2010).
This technology if successful will reduce the production costs of the PV cell.
Highly transparent solar cells for windows that generate electricity
Researchers from UCLA have developed a new transparent solar cell that can potentially allow the generation of electricity by windows in homes and buildings while still allowing a view outside. This advance also paves the way for such solar cells as add-on components for portable electronics, smart windows and other applications–ScienceDaily (July 20, 2012).
Usage of concentrators to capture more sunlight1
Concentrators are essentially mirrors or lenses used to gather and focus sunlight into a small area with PV cells to generate electricity. These concentrators will also follow the sun in a automatic manner throughout its traverse through the sky maximisng the amount of sunlight being collected for generating electricity1.
This form of technology is called concentrated photovoltaic technology (CPV). This form of technology allow savings as lower amount of PV cells are required.
1. R Fridell Earth-friendly energy 72pp. Lerner Publications Company Minneapolis USA 2009.
2. http://www.pveducation.org/pvcdrom/appendices/solar-cell-efficiency-results2 (last accessed 05/04/2015)
3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/breakthrough-in-solar-panel-manufacture-promises-cheap-energy-within-a-decade-9563136.html (last accessed 11/04/2015)
Published: 10th October 2010
Last Updated 12th April 2015