Solar Energy

Solar Energy

Introduction to solar energy
What is solar energy?
Is solar energy renewable?
What are the different types of solar energy?
What are examples of solar energy?
How does solar energy work?
How can solar energy be stored?
What are the advantages of solar energy?
What are the disadvantages of solar energy?
The future of solar energy
Conclusions

Introduction to solar

Solar energy is an exciting solution to the world’s energy crisis. Energy from the sun is a source of clean energy and, unlike the fossil fuel industries of coal, petroleum and gas, it does not harm the environment and cause climate change.

Do you want to find out more about energy from our nearest star? In this article we’re going to explore all aspects of solar energy and answer as many of your questions as we can.

Let’s get right into it!

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is energy that comes from the Sun. The Sun, a nuclear reactor located in space about 150 MILLION KM away from planet Earth, constantly emits radiant energy in the form of heat and light.

A tiny percentage of this energy enters the atmosphere and reaches the Earth’s surface. We can use and store this energy in the form of solar heating and solar photovoltaic systems to generate electricity.

Is solar power renewable?

Renewable energy is energy that is constantly replaced as it is used. Since the Sun is a constant and steady form of energy, solar energy is 100% renewable.

What are the different types of solar power?

Energy from the sun can be used to generate heat and electricity. These two types of energy are known as solar heating and solar photovoltaic (or PV) energy.

Solar heating is used to heat water in black containers and pipes for washing, showering or bathing and heating.

Solar PV is used to generate electricity which can be used directly or stored in a battery. Solar panels convert light energy from the Sun into electric energy and then this energy is transmitted to charge or power devices or stored in batteries for later use.

What are examples of solar energy?

Solar heating is used in various ways:

  • Solar cookers
  • Solar geysers
  • Heating swimming pools
  • Room air heaters
  • Transpired air heaters that uses metal plates placed along a building to heat the air entering the building

These types of active and passive solar heating systems can save you loads of money in fuel and heating. If your house or business is designed to take advantage of the natural heat from the Sun and is well insulated, you can be much more efficient with how you use energy and your energy expenses will come down.

Solar PV is used to generate electricity from sunlight. Light strikes the surface of the solar panels and generates an electrical charge. This charge can be stored in a battery, converted from DC to AC through an inverter or can directly power DC appliances and lights, or charge your devices.

Some examples of solar power includes:

  • Some hospitals have solar panels as a source of backup electricity in case of power failures
  • Large factories and commercial ventures use solar power to offset their electrical costs and as a backup system
  • Homes and small businesses can go completely off-grid and rely 100% on solar power for their electricity needs
  • Farmers use solar panels to power borehole pumps and other systems that need electricity in remote locations
  • The military uses solar power for electricity generation in remote locations
  • Cars, electro-cycles, camper vans and even some airplanes use solar power
  • Solar panels are used in space to power satellites and the International Space Station
  • Solar panels are used by hikers and campers to charge devices using solar backpacks
  • Small-scale, portable solar panels can be used by anyone to power small devices and charge smart phones on the go

The opportunities with solar energy are limitless. Solar power has become much cheaper over the past decade and prices of solar panels and solar equipment are falling as more competitors enter the market.

This is a great time for solar and the world needs it!

How does solar power work?

Solar heating systems use the heat energy from the Sun to heat water or air. Solar water heating systems usually have black pipes or containers filled with circulating water. The black colour of the pipes absorbs heat (white and lighter colours reflect heat) and this water heating effect can be used for solar water geysers, radiators and other water heating systems.

Solar heating can also be used for cooking. Solar ovens and cookers concentrate the rays of light from the Sun and heat up a cooking surface. This method is very effective in remote areas where there is sufficient sunlight.

Solar panels generate electricity through the solar photovoltaic effect. Light from the Sun enters the atmosphere and excites electrons in a solar panel. This causes an electric charge to develop and this creates electricity. Electricity from a solar panel is DC (direct current) and can be stored in a battery or converted to AC (alternating current) with an inverter.

Energy from the Sun is therefore incredible because it has both thermal heating properties and can create an electric effect – a double whammy!

How can solar energy be stored?

This type of energy is typically stored in batteries.

There are many types of batteries including lead acid batteries and lithium ion batteries.

Lithium ion batteries are more expensive but have a much greater lifespan compared to other batteries and are therefore the preferred choice in solar power systems.

Batteries and inverters
Solar panels, batteries and inverters are the key components of a solar power system

Why does energy from the sun need to be stored? The sun does not shine constantly because day becomes night. Cloud cover and the season of the year can also affect the strength of solar energy to generate electricity and as a result it is necessary to store electrical solar power in batteries. The batteries then become a reliable source of energy even if the Sun is not shining.

Thermal energy from the Sun can also be stored in water or molten salt. The heat is stored in an insulated container and then used when needed.

Solar power can be converted to potential mechanical energy by compressing air or pumping water uphill. When the Sun stops shining the potential mechanical energy can be used to turn electrical generator turbines so that electricity is constantly produced.

When it comes to home and small business storage solutions, lithium ion batteries are the best choice currently and can be used to store energy from the grid, wind power and solar power so that energy is always available when needed.

Government utilities and energy companies also use next-generation battery systems to store electrical energy until needed.

What are the advantages of solar power?

It’s clear that energy from the Sun has numerous advantages which makes it a great choice over the fossil fuels that are polluting the Earth and creating climate change.

  • It is a clean source of energy: it does not produce pollutants or by-products when energy is generated
  • It is renewable: it is constantly replenished by the Sun as it is used
  • Solar energy is good for the environment and reduces our reliance on fossil fuels
  • It is becoming cheaper each day as more competitors enter the market
  • It is becoming more efficient as solar technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds
  • In some countries solar energy can be SOLD BACK to the grid in the form of solar power credits

What are the disadvantages of solar power?

Solar power can be intermittent if there are many cloudy days and if you live in an area with poor sunlight. This problem can be solved by storing energy in batteries.

The initial start-up costs of a solar power system may be high. Thankfully the costs of solar panels and equipment is constantly decreasing and significantly cheaper than a decade ago.

The future of renewable energy from the Sun

The future of solar energy looks bright! There are current trends which are likely to continue in the future:

  • Costs of energy systems will continue to decrease
  • Energy systems will become more efficient as technology keeps improving
  • Governments will rely more on renewable energy thanks to public pressure
  • Storage systems will become more effective

You can read an interesting study on the future of solar energy from MIT here (downloadable PDF).

Conclusions

We are very excited about the way renewable energy is becoming more and more popular and the many ways people are using solar for their energy needs. This is a fantastic solution for future energy needs since it is both clean and renewable.

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