Solar energy is considered to be one of the most promising sources of renewable energy due to its unlimited supply and its zero-emissions approach. These two features make it suitable for use in energy-saving applications, such as residential and commercial buildings. On the other hand, large-scale solar energy projects, such as solar farms, have the potential to provide baseload power.
Whether you’re looking to cut back on your reliance on non-renewable energy sources or you want to use solar energy to generate electricity, there are a number of great options available. Here are some of the most interesting facts about solar energy and why these options matter.
Where Does It Come From?
Most people are probably more familiar with fossil fuels when it comes to energy production, but those who include solar energy in their list of preferred options might be surprised to learn that it comes from something as common as the sun. This energy is available in the form of sunlight, which travels through space and hits the Earth, typically landing on the roof tops of commercial and residential buildings. It is then absorbed by solar panels, which convert the sunlight into usable electric energy.
You might be wondering where does the energy come from to run your home devices or power your cell phone. When sunlight is not available, the energy from the sun does not need to be stored, as there are always devices, such as solar panels, that can convert sunlight into electricity. This is a different approach compared to fossil fuels, where stored energy is always necessary for commercial and residential use. When the sun doesn’t shine, the lights have to be turned off or the devices, such as chillers and heat pumps, have to work harder to keep your house comfortable.
How Does It Work?
The main component of a solar panel is a semiconductor material, often made of silicon or copper-indium-galium, which is used to convert sunlight into electricity. When light from the sun strikes the surface of the panel, the electricity is generated through a process called photovoltaics. The panel’s semiconductor material becomes activated and produces an electrical current when exposed to light, heat, or any other form of radiant energy, such as infrared radiation. This energy is then transferred to an electrical conductor, which connects the panel to a device, such as a battery or a capacitor, to store the electricity for future use.
The electricity that is generated by a solar panel depends on the intensity of the sunlight and the angle at which it strikes the surface of the panel. The higher the percentage of sunlight that hits the panel between noon and four o’clock in the afternoon, the greater the potential to produce electricity. The panels also need to be on the north-facing side of a building to capture as much sunlight as possible.
Is It Readable?
Just like any other form of energy, sunlight can be measured and quantified in terms of SI units. The units for solar energy are Watts, and one Watt is equal to one volt x amp x seconds (or 1 volt x amp).
The total amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth each day is estimated to be about 500,000 million watts (500 megawatts). This means that for each square meter of the surface, a solar panel can convert about 0.05 kWh to 1 kWh of electricity. One kWh is the standard unit for electrical energy in Europe and many other parts of the world.
How Much Does It Cost?
The price of solar energy depends on a number of factors, such as the size of the panel and the location of the panel relative to the equator. The cost of solar energy can range from a few cents to hundreds of dollars or more per kilowatt-hour (kWh), with smaller installations and those closer to the equator costing less. The price per kWh decreases as the capacity of the solar panel increases.
Residential and commercial buildings, as well as certain types of equipment used in industrial settings, can be quite costly to purchase and operate. In some cases, the payback on investment can be as little as five years, depending on the energy usage and the cost of electricity. For large-scale solar energy projects, such as solar farms, the price can be up to four or five times the price of electricity from traditional power plants.
How Much Are We Looking At?
The amount of energy that can be generated by solar panels depends on two factors: the amount of sunlight and the area of the available panels. One kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by solar panels is equal to about 4.2 million Btu of heat energy (about 4,200 British Thermal Units). If we take into account that one Btu is equivalent to one watt x hour (or one volt x amp x one second), then we can see that one kilowatt-hour of solar energy is equal to about 4.2 million watts x hour x hour x one second (or 4.2 million volts x amp x one second). This is a massive amount of energy that is available to be used whenever and wherever desired. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this number can vary based on the intensity of the sunlight and the ambient temperature.
What Are The Limits?
Just like any other type of energy, solar energy cannot be stored indefinitely, and like any other form of energy, it is subject to physical and environmental limits. The amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth each day and the temperature at which it is absorbed by the solar panels also have an effect on the energy that can be produced. The efficiency of the solar panel, the cost of the material used to manufacture it, as well as the size of the panel also have an effect on the output of the system. In general, the higher the efficiency, the lower the cost and the greater the output, though this varies based on the type of device used and the available technologies.
There are also environmental limits that arise from the fact that solar energy is generated from a renewable resource. When the sun isn’t shining, there isn’t any energy production, and if the panels aren’t connected to an energy source, such as a battery or a capacitor, then the electricity that is generated is lost. This, in turn, can have an adverse effect on the environment if not properly managed. The production of solar panels uses a lot of electricity, which can also lead to increased energy consumption if not replaced with other forms of energy production. The global warming potential of solar energy is also significant and has a great deal to do with its renewability. If we look at it from a climate change perspective, it is preferable to use non-renewable forms of energy, such as fossil fuels, to generate electricity. Although natural gas produces less climate change than coal, it still contributes to the problem. When the sun doesn’t shine, there isn’t any energy production and we are relying on fossil fuels, which are a non-renewable form of energy, to keep our utilities running.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Right now, the primary options for generating electricity using solar energy are solar panels and solar farms. Those who want to use their rooftop or a nearby piece of ground for energy production will likely need to invest in one or more of these options. The cost of solar energy production is decreasing, thanks in part to economies of scale and improved technology, which makes it a more attractive option for future energy production. For those interested in this topic, more and more states and jurisdictions are providing financial support for solar energy and green tech, as it is known, with some places, such as Germany, offering financial incentives to purchase and install solar panels. The next step is to determine how much electricity you need at any given time and where you will store it, how much it will cost to store it, and whether or not it will be practical to store it (e.g., temperature and humidity considerations). Once these factors are figured out, you can begin to determine how much money you will need to invest in the different components of the system (e.g., panels, inverters, battery system, etc.).