While there are still places where the sun doesn’t shine, technological advances mean that we can harness its power even when the sun does hide behind clouds. And let’s face it – our world is a lot brighter now than it was even a few decades ago.
Since the 1970s, solar power has doubled in cost-efficiency, enabling homeowners to harness this renewable energy source to light up their homes.
With solar power comes another form of energy – solar thermal energy – which heats up water for use in homes and businesses alike. And while we often hear about the benefits of clean energy, we need to remember that it can still produce harmful gas when exposed to the sun’s rays.
But while the technology behind solar has improved, the process of transforming sunlight into usable energy has not. So let’s dive into the basics of solar energy and how it works.
The Basics Of Solar Energy
Whether you’ve got a sunny south-facing backyard or an office window that gets plenty of natural light, you can use the power of the sun to light your home or business. All you need is sunshine and a few panels (solar panels).
Solar energy is one of the most sustainable energy sources available and, as a bonus, you don’t have to buy any fuel to generate it. Plus, since it can’t be destroyed, it’s considered green energy.
Unlike some other forms of energy, such as nuclear and fossil fuels, which are currently in abundance and relatively inexpensive, solar energy is still considered a luxury good. The cost of solar energy has come down in recent years, but it’s still more expensive than conventional forms of power. Nevertheless, as the cost continues to decline and more people look towards sustainable energy sources, demand for solar power will increase.
How Does It Work?
When sunlight shines on solar panels, it triggers photovoltaic cells inside the panels. These cells are wired together to create an electric current which powers an external circuit. When current reaches a certain threshold, it triggers an electronic device which makes a clicking noise and lights up a light bulb or LED strip.
This external device, often referred to as a concentrating photovoltaic receiver (or just receiver), can either be autonomous (stand-alone) or connected to a conventional power source.
In the first case, when the electronic device on your roof triggers, it will immediately start generating electricity and this energy will flow uninterrupted to the grid.
In the second case, your electronic device will receive power from the grid and continue to operate as usual.
The electricity that’s produced is either stored in a battery or used directly to drive electrical appliances such as air-conditioners, heat pumps, or water heaters.
Once electricity is generated, it can be transported wherever you need it via inverters. These devices change AC voltage to DC voltage which is required by most electrical appliances.
The Various Types Of Solar Panels
A solar panel is simply a collection of solar cells wired together to form a single unit (a panel is one complete arrangement of solar cells). You can use any number of solar panels to generate the electricity you need for your home or business. In most instances, you will connect multiple panels in series to increase the voltage and reduce the current.
Since solar energy is constantly and reliably available, wherever the sun shines, there will be electricity available.
You have two options when it comes to storing electricity generated by solar panels:
- Worse case scenario: If you have a deep-rooted fear of technology, you can opt to store electricity in a battery for use at a later date. Batteries have a finite life and require regular maintenance and charging.
- Best case scenario: For those with a more techno-savvy outlook, you can choose to connect additional devices and circuits that enable the flow of electricity directly to your home or business without needing to be stored in a battery. These direct-current (DC) circuits can be used to power any electrical device directly.
No matter which option you choose, solar energy can be a reliable and affordable source of energy for your home.
When To Use It
The best time to generate electricity with solar panels is during the day, when the sun is shining and you have the advantage of access to free electricity. If you live in a place where the sun shines bright most of the year, such as Australia or Southern California, you can generate all of your electricity needs using solar panels without needing to purchase extra fuel.
However, if you live in a place with uncertain weather patterns, such as Iceland, it is best to store some of the energy generated during the day in a battery so you can use it when the sun doesn’t shine and the electricity grid goes down.
Where Will My Solar Energy Go?
When connected to the power grid, the electricity generated by your solar panels will be distributed via transformers and underground cables to surrounding areas. This is how electricity gets connected and available to everyone. When connected to the grid, your solar panels will not only provide you with electricity but also contribute to the charging infrastructure of the power company.
Since power lines are already in place, carrying electricity to every home and business, laying more cables is fairly straightforward. In most places, once the infrastructure is in place, there will be no more obstacles to connecting additional households and/or businesses to the grid. It’s a fairly convenient and a quick way to get power without having to install extra wires in your home or business.
Is It Safe?
Yes, solar energy is totally safe and there are no known health effects associated with it. In fact, some studies have concluded that excessive exposure to solar radiation can even be good for your health.
As with any new technology, there will always be those who don’t adhere to safety standards. While it’s extremely unlikely that you will get severely burned or injured from solar energy exposure, you should still take safety precautions. Use protective gear (such as a helmet, gloves, and eye protection) when working with solar panels and clean up all accumulators (such as batteries and circuit boards) when done.
Even when stored in a safe manner, electricity generated by solar energy can still produce solar flares which are intense flashes of light and radiation. While this doesn’t pose any sort of danger to you or anyone around you, it can still be disruptive to those working directly with the equipment (especially at night or during a power outage). Be sure to shut off all unnecessary devices and appliances before starting work and remove them when done. Disconnecting all electrical points when not in use reduces the risk of a solar flare.
Benefits Of Solar Energy
Apart from being affordable, sustainable, and green, solar energy can also provide you with some eco benefits: