What Is Solar Energy and How Does It Work?

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that is harnessed using a number of constantly evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants, and artificial photosynthesis.

It is an essential source of renewable energy, and its technologies are broadly characterized as either passive or active solar energy, depending on how they capture and distribute solar energy or convert it to solar power.

Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar energy, and solar water heating to harness the energy. Passive solar technologies include aligning a building with the sun, choosing materials with favorable thermal mass or light-diffusing properties, and designing rooms in which air circulates naturally.

The large amount of available solar energy makes it an extremely attractive power source.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Solar power works by converting light from the sun into electricity. This electricity can then be used in your home or exported to the grid when it’s not needed. This is then fed into a solar inverter which converts the DC electricity from your solar panels into AC (Alternating Current) electricity.

There are various ways to utilize energy from the Sun. The two main ways of using energy from the Sun are photovoltaic and solar thermal capture. Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This energy can be used to generate electricity or stored in batteries or heat storage systems.

  • Your solar panels consist of silicon photovoltaic cells. When sunlight hits your solar panels, the solar cells absorb the sun’s rays and electricity is generated via the photovoltaic effect. The power produced by your panels is known as direct current and is not suitable for use in your home by your devices. Instead, the direct current is sent to your central inverter.
  • Your inverter can convert the direct current to an alternating current that can be used in your home. From here the alternating current is fed to your switchboard.
  • A switchboard can send your usable AC power to the devices in your home. Your switchboard always ensures that your solar energy is used to power your home first and only then accesses additional energy from the grid when your solar production is insufficient.
  • All households with solar energy must have a bidirectional meter that your electricity dealer will install for you. A bidirectional meter can record all the electricity that is drawn from the house, but also the amount of solar energy that is exported back into the grid. This is known as a network measurement.
  • Unused solar power is then fed back into the grid. If you export solar energy back into the grid, you will receive a credit on your electricity bill, which is known as the feed in tariff. Your electricity bills then take into account the electricity that you get from the grid, as well as credits for the electricity that is generated by your solar system and that you do not use.

With solar energy, you don’t have to turn it on in the morning or at night the system does this seamlessly and automatically. There is also no need to switch between solar and grid power as your solar system can determine when it is best to use the amount of energy used in your home.

In fact, a solar system requires very little maintenance, which means you hardly ever know it is there. This also means that a good quality solar system has a long lifespan.

Types of Solar Energy

The most common types of solar energy:

  • Photovoltaic System
  • Solar Thermal System

Both types of Solar Energy Explain are as under:

Photovoltaic System:

A photovoltaic system (PV) consists of one or more solar panel in combination with an inverter and other electrical and mechanical hardware that use solar energy to generate electricity. PV systems can vary widely in size, from small rooftop or portable systems to massive utility-scale generation systems.

Solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are widely used to power pocket calculators and watches. They are made of semiconducting materials that are similar to those used in computer chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy loosens electrons from their atoms and allows the electrons to flow through the material to create electricity. This process of converting light (photons) into electricity (voltage) is known as the photovoltaic (PV) effect.

Solar cells are usually combined into modules that hold up to 72 cells. Some of these modules are mounted in PV arrays that can measure up to several meters laterally. These flat panel PV arrays can be mounted at a fixed angle facing south or on a tracking device that follows the sun so they can catch most of the sunlight over the course of a day. Several connected PV systems can provide enough electricity for a household. For large power or industrial applications, hundreds of arrays can be connected into a single large PV system.

Thin-film solar cells use layers of semiconductor materials that are only a few micrometers thick. Thin-film technology has made it possible for solar cells to function as roof shingles, roof tiles, building facades or as glazing for skylights or forecourts. The solar cell version of items such as shingles provide the same protection and durability as ordinary asphalt shingles.

Photovoltaic Technology

Solar Thermal System:

A solar thermal system works by harnessing is the sun’s energy and converting it into heat which is then transferred into your home or businesses heating system as hot water or space heating.

Solar thermal panels are used in conjunction with a boiler, collector or immersion heater.

The basic principle of solar thermal heating is to utilize the sun’s energy and convert it into heat which is then transferred into your home or business heating system in the form of hot water and space heating.

The main source of heat generation is through roof mounted solar panels which are used in conjunction with a boiler, collector or immersion heater. The solar collector will use the sun’s rays to heat a transfer fluid which is usually a mixture of water and glycol (antifreeze) which prevents the water from freezing.

The heated water from the collectors is pumped to a heat exchanger which would be inside the water tank in your home. The heat from the exchanger will then heat the water inside the tank. After the liquid releases its heat, the water will flow back to the collectors for reheating. A controller will ensure that the fluid will circulate to the collector when there is sufficient heat available.

Solar Thermal Technology

Solar power plants

The Solar power plant that we can use the solar energy of the sun for energy commonly used in industrial applications. As we all know that most power plants use non-renewable fossil fuels to boil water.

The steam from boiling water rotates a large turbine which in turn activates the generator to produce electricity. This method of generating electricity is bad for both the environment and our health as the burning of fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

However, the good news is that a new generation of power plants is being launch which relies on solar Energy.

These plants use the sun as a heat source, and they can do this in three different ways:

  • Parabolic-trough systems capture the sun’s energy throughout long rectangular, curved mirrors that tip toward the sun. In this way, they help to concentrate sunlight on a pipe that contains oil. Oil is heated and used and used to boil water in a conventional steam generator to generate electricity.
  • A dish/engine system uses a mirrored dish the size of a very large satellite dish that receives and focuses the sun’s heat on a receiver. This receiver consumes heat and transfers it to the fluid within an engine. The heat causes the fluid to circulate against the piston or turbine and produces mechanical strength. This electricity is used to run a generator or alternator to generate electricity.
  • A power tower system uses a large area of mirrors to focus sunlight on top of a tower, where a receiver containing molten salt sits. Salt heat is used to generate electricity through conventional steam generators. The molten salt efficiently retains heat, so it can be stored for days before being converted into electricity. This means that electricity can be produced even on cloudy days or several hours after sunset.

Solar Water Heating System

The idea behind the Solar water system comes directly from nature: the shallow water of a lake or the water at the shallow end of a beach is generally warmer than deep water. This is because sunlight can heat the lake or seafloor in shallow areas, which in turn heats the water.

Therefore, a system has been developing to mimic this: the solar water heating system for buildings compose of two parts, a solar collector and a storage tank.

The most common collector is calling a flat-plate collector mount on the roof and facing the sun. Small tubes run through the box and carry fluid – either water or other liquids, such as an anti freezer solution – to heat. As the heat increases in the collector, it heats the fluid passing through the tubes. The storage tank then contains the hot liquid.

A similar technique is often use to heat swimming pools.

Passive Solar Heating

Another method that solar energy can be used is through passive solar heating and the daylight method. This is not a new concept – in fact, ancient civilizations such as the Anasazi Indians in Colorado developed the passive solar design in their habitats.

It is easy to understand the effect of the sun: step outside on a hot sunny day and you can feel the sun. With a decent design, buildings can also “feel” the sun’s energy.

For example, south-facing windows will receive more sunlight, while buildings can also contain the heat and absorbing materials of the sun, such as sun floors and walls.

These materials heat up during the day and gradually release heat at night when the heat is most needed. Other design features, such as a sunspace that resembles a greenhouse, concentrate too much heat that can use to heat an entire building with the right ventilation. Such features maximize the direct benefit from the sun’s heat, but also the sunlight itself. The even better news is that especially on hot days, there are ways to ensure that these facilities do not overheat buildings.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Advantages of Solar Energy

  • Renewable source of energy: One of the most important benefits of solar energy is that it is one of the renewable sources of energy. Its availability is worldwide. As long as there is the sun, solar energy is accessible.
  • Generate electricity: Solar energy can be used to make cheap electricity. Since the raw material used is available free and inexpensively, electricity can be produced at a low cost. This ultimately reduces the electricity bills being paid by society.
  • Can be installed anywhere: One of the main advantages of solar energy is that it can be installed anywhere. The only criterion for installing solar panels is that there should be sufficient sunlight. Therefore, this solar panel can be installed in homes, buildings, offices, rural and urban areas, and even in deserts where the sunshine and its heat are maximized.
  • Environmentally friendly: The use of solar energy is a sure shot measure to reduce pollution. The use of solar energy does not emit any greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide, or nitrogen oxide, which protect the ozone layer. Thus, this renewable source of energy is non-polluting, clean, and reliable.
  • Maintenance costs are low: These solar Energy systems typically have lower maintenance costs than other forms of energy. Solar panels required for the absorption of sunlight are quite cost-effective and require very little maintenance. The installation of solar panels is comparatively easy without too many wires and cables.
  • Government incentives: The government is providing incentives for setting up solar plants considering its benefits. It is easily, inexpensively available, abundant, and is a clean energy source.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

  • No Electric If the Grid Goes Down: If the electric grid goes down, your solar system will shut down.
  • The Initial Cost Can be Intimidating: Solar is a significant investment that requires up-front capital or access to financing in order to save over the long-term.
  • Sunshine Is Required: Your solar panels won’t produce electricity if it’s very cloudy or at night.
  • Uses a Lot of Space: Whether a roof mount or ground mount, space is needed to install the panels.
  • Can Reduce Curb Appeal:  Depending on your tastes and where the system is installed, it can stand out.
  • Power generation is weather-dependent
  • Solar Energy Storage Is Expensive.

To conclude, the use of solar energy should promote worldwide so that its benefits can be considered. There should be more incentives from the government. That attracts people to use solar Energy and setup panels in every house. Using this resource wisely resolves environmental issues.

Overall solar energy is an excellent alternative resource compare to fossil fuels and other forms of energy. Technology should develop in such a way that more solar Energy or power should be used. For daily needs such as solar cars, solar escalators, solar vehicles, and scooters.

This will reduce the use of oil and petroleum, which is a nonrenewable resource. More studies and experiments should be done on making solar energy cheaper and easily usable. This, in turn, increases availability. Thus, solar energy has immense power and renewable resources.

FAQ

What is solar energy energy?

Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that is harnessed using several constantly evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants, and artificial photosynthesis.

What is Definition of solar energy?

Solar energy is radiant energy emitted by the sun that is used with a number of evolving technologies such as photovoltaics, solar heating, solar thermal, solar architecture of molten salt power plants, plant photosynthesis and artificial photosynthesis.

How does solar energy work?

Solar power works by converting light from the sun into electricity. This electricity can then be used in your home or exported to the grid when it’s not needed. This is done by installing solar panels on your roof which generate DC (Direct Current) electricity.

Who invented solar energy?

In 1839, French physicist Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with a cell made of metal electrodes in a conducting solution. He noted that the cell produced more electricity when it was exposed to light.

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