What is Solar Energy - Renewable EnergyThink about solar energy for a second. What is solar energy? This is both simple and complex. Let’s break it down for you. Find everything about solar energy here.
Solar Energy Explained
Simply put, solar energy is the energy that comes from the sun. Power emanates from the sun in small packets called photons. The sun emits these photons into the earth. Absorption of heat from the sun then occurs. Many different materials and masses absorb sunlight. Sunlight is a source of clean energy. To many people around the world, solar energy sounds relatively recent.
Solar energy today undergoes various processes. These steps convert the energy into usable power. The result of this is that solar energy is now an excellent alternative energy source. The world power security is better thanks to the harnessing of solar power.
Get More from Your Roof
A solar system traps the heat and light from the sun. It later converts sunlight into the solar power. It is prudent to install solar panels on the roofs. Such installation helps in maximizing exposure to direct sun rays at all times. This increases the solar power output of the system.
Types of Solar Energy Technology
There are currently two leading solar energy conversion technologies. A growing need for improved solar functions fuels research into more advanced techniques. These aim to make solar energy reliable and superior to other energy sources.
Now, the uses of solar energy are much more significant. Solar electricity is an excellent source of power for homes. Rural areas, especially in Africa rely on solar electricity. Solar energy is now taking over coal and oil energy sources. It is the most common renewable energy source today.
The earliest demonstration of solar energy capabilities was in 1897. Frank Shuman built a solar engine. He reflected solar energy using the engine onto ether boxes with black pipes. These pipes connected to a steam engine. The resulting heat emitted enough power to power the motor.
After this success, Shuman built the sun power company in 1908. It was through this company that the use of mirrors to reflect solar energy to collector boxes began. With the use of mirrors, the boxes now contained water. The boiling point of water is higher than that of ether.
A low-pressure water powered steam engine. This was the excellent product and pride of Shuman. He got a patent for solar engine systems in 1912.
Uses of Solar Energy
As time goes by, more uses arise. Advances in technology are revolutionizing solar energy and its use. Some of its popular uses include:
Drying is one of the oldest functions of energy from the sun. Heat from the sun dries produce and helps preserve them. Drying clothes after washing them also utilizes solar energy.
Sunlight is significant for photosynthesis to take place. Light from the sun is an essential ingredient to the life of plants.
Heat from the sun provides warmth. The sun can heat buildings to provide warmth when it’s cold. Heat is also vital for cooking. Many water heating systems in homes source their power from solar energy.
Conversion of solar energy into electricity requires solar systems. Solar cells, photovoltaic PV cells, and heat engines are crucial to this process.
Solar Energy Harnessing
Technology continues to catapult the uses and benefits of solar power. Solar energy is not electricity. For solar energy to become electricity, it requires conversion. The process first begins with harnessing this energy.
Many growing technologies harness sunlight. The most common is the use of photovoltaic cells. These cells are standard in various solar panel models. The cells absorb the sun rays and convert them into electricity.
Other technologies deployed include:
• Solar heating
• Molten slat power plants
• Artificial photosynthesis
• Solar thermal energy
• Solar architecture
Depending on how they function, these technologies can either be passive or active. Active solar techniques harness energy through solar heating, photovoltaic and concentrated solar power. Passive solar incorporates materials with right thermal mass and light dispersing capabilities.
Solar cells are a fundamental feature in producing solar power. They are the devices responsible for converting sunlight into electricity. Solar cells have silicon alloys that act as semiconductors. Solar cells are available in tiny sizes. Some of these are on phones and calculators.
The more substantial sizes of solar cells have more power. They can power satellites and even road signs. The most common name for solar cells is photovoltaic cells.
Solar panels. These are devices that are useful in harnessing and converting solar energy. They are unlike solar cells. They do not directly convert solar energy to electricity. They can, however, heat water directly. Solar water heating systems mainly utilize solar panels.
Cold water passes through the solar panel. After heating, the water returns to the tank. For maximum exposure, installation of solar panels is on rooftops. This is where they can absorb the most heat from the sun.
How solar panels work
Solar panels contain solar cells. They also have a negative and positive energy field. They, therefore, function like batteries. When the photons hit the solar cells, they undergo a breakdown. The atoms release electrons. The conductors on the positive and negative energy fields form an electric circuit. The electrons flow through the channel creating electricity.
There are multiple solar cells in each solar panel. Multiple solar panel connection forms a solar array. This produces more energy than a lone panel would. Solar panels that use photovoltaic cells generate Direct Current (DC) electricity. However, Alternating Current (AC) electricity is preferable to DC. AC is economical which makes it an excellent choice. DC electricity from solar panels becomes AC electricity through the use of an inverter.
A solar inverter uses the DC electricity from solar panels to create AC electricity. They are also responsible for ground fault protection. Other functions of solar inverters are:
• Provide system statistics
• Monitor energy production
• Regulate the voltage and current of the circuits
• Track the maximum power point
The most common inverters were central inverters until micro inverters. Micro-inverters are easy to incorporate into individual solar panels. This has led to a significant boost in solar panels efficiency. Solar energy conversion process in a solar panel
First, the photons hit the solar panels which then absorb the light and heat. The solar cells convert these photons into a DC. The current flows along the circuit into the inverter. In the inverter, the conversion of DC into AC occurs. AC is then ready for use in household appliances.
Solar Energy and Architecture
What is the relationship between solar energy and construction? Well, solar energy influences building designs. It has been for decades. Many Chinese and Greeks built their houses facing the south. This was instrumental in providing sufficient light and heating for the home.
Passive solar incorporates the use of light dispersing and favorable thermal mass materials. Taking into account features like:
• Selective shading
• Thermal mass
• Low surface area to volume ratio
• Local environment and climate
You can easily construct a well-lit, warm and sufficiently ventilated home.
Computer modeling is the latest approach to building designs. It factors solar lighting, ventilation, and heating. When the house design adopts a passive solar architecture, active solar devices like fans complement the house.
A building or area can have higher temperatures than the immediate environment. This is the Urban Heat Islands, (UHI). Using concrete and materials like asphalt contributes to this. These materials absorb more solar energy than the surrounding environment. In such areas, the choice of paint can help regulate the temperatures. Painting buildings and roads white are one such solution.
Solar energy and agriculture
Sunlight is a crucial ingredient to plant life. The use of solar energy to optimize plant productivity is on the rise. Many techniques to facilitate this are developing. They are:
• Planning row orientations
• Tracking and timing planting cycles
• Mixing plant varieties
Solar energy can speed up the ripening of fruits. This method proved successful to French and English farmers during cold seasons. Incorporating solar powered walls in plantations keeps the plants warm. Solar energy in plantations is also essential for:
• Watering the plants by pumping water
• Drying animal manure
• Drying crops for preservation
Greenhouses are a great example of solar energy use in agriculture. They convert sunlight into heat. This facilitates crop growth regardless of the season.
Solar Energy and Transportation
Solar engines are becoming competitive. Some vehicles use solar panels as an auxiliary power source. Solar panels in cars mainly provide air conditioning and decrease fuel consumption. The first solar-powered steam engine with Shuman paved the way for many inventors. A solar boat successfully set sail in 1975. This paved the way for many more solar power boats.
Solar engines for vehicles continue to improve with technological advances. The invention of a solar balloon is very prideful. The solar balloon is black and contains ordinary air. The balloon depends on heating from the sun. Once the air in the balloon heats, it expands and allows the balloon to rise upwards.
Advantages of Solar Energy
There are many reasons why the universality of solar energy keeps rising. The world is looking towards solar energy for the future. As technology advances, solar energy dependability increases. Some of its benefits include:
• It is renewable energy
As long as the sun shines, solar energy will always be available. Sunlight occurs naturally and has no expiry date. The suns energy never runs low during the day.
• Lessens electric bills
Many homes are knee deep in bills. Using solar energy is a great way to reduce the cost of paying for electricity. This can significantly improve many families’ living standards.
Harnessing and converting sunlight into electricity is harmless. There are no resulting harmful gases. There is no threat to human life or the surrounding environment. This makes it a clean and reliable energy source.
• Favorable to remote areas
Many rural areas benefit from solar energy. Through solar power, cooking, lighting, heating, and drying are possible.
• Easy to install
Solar panels do not have complicated installation processes. All you need is to place the panel on the rooftop. Ensure that the panel can receive the most exposure to the sun. This improves efficiency.
• Low maintenance
You will have minimal worries when using solar energy. Solar panels do not require regular maintenance.
• Durable solar cells
One solar panel can serve you for decades. The solar cells have a long life. They work as efficiently as the first day even ten years later.
• Improves home value
The future of world power is leaning towards solar energy. In this case, a solar-powered home is an investment. Solar technologies in your house can increase its market value.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Despite the high praises, there are downsides to solar energy. These are:
• Solar energy is not 24 hours dependable
The sun shines down on the earth during the day. When the sun sets, photons do not reach the solar panels. This means that electricity production at night is not possible. When the sun is not shining, solar energy is low. If for example, your home depends 100% on solar energy, you will have no power at night. It is the same case when it rains, and it’s cloudy.
• Technology is still lacking
Efforts to improve solar energy technology are ongoing. It is however still lacking at the moment. There is no easy and cheap way to store solar power. Solar power is also not capable of powering a country’s economy at the moment.