Understanding Solar Electricity

The abundance of sun’s power makes it an ideal power source of the future. Given the constant rise of power bills, petroleum products and the conventional means by which we power our lives, looking ahead to other means of energy is a prudent choice.

Solar electricity is made by using solar panels or photovoltaics (PV). These cells are silicon-based. Once exposed to the sun’s rays they react by generating electrical charges. This is the fundamental component of this technology. In the 1880s, an American inventor by the name of Charles Fritts conceived a way of transforming sunlight to electric current. He created the prototype for the first solar panel. He used selenium cells in this prototype. Although not as efficient as the silicon cells we use now, converting less than 1% of light to electricity as compared to 12% for the latest PVs, it broadened man’s imagination in producing energy.

Today, photovoltaics are ever changing, becoming more efficient, more effective and more affordable. The only cost you have when deciding on getting a solar power system is the equipment and installation. After that the raw materials being sunlight is free. There are 3 main types of systems:

Portable type – producing less electricity than the other types but compensating with its compactness and ease of transporting to where you need it.

Stand-alone type – this makes use of a number of PV cells depending on the amount of energy you are planning to use. Solar panels are installed usually on the roof or ground-mounted. These are used where the electricity grid is unreliable, places isolated or if you simply want to be independent from power companies.

Grid-connected type – similar to stand-alone type with the setup but with a key feature of standing side by side with the local power company. In this setup, it either lessens the power you get from the power company by supplying you with solar electricity or if you are consuming less than what you produce you sell the excess to the power company and just buy it back in times where you are in need of power, like at night.

The core of this technology lies in the photovoltaic cells. Advancements are made making them more effective in harvesting sunlight. Monocrystalline silicone cells are by fare the most efficient material used in PVs but the complexity in its production makes it expensive. Multicrystalline silicone cells are the next best thing when weighing price and efficiency ratio; it is less pricy but the efficiency of producing energy from sunlight also drops a bit. Amorphous silicone cells are the thinnest cells and easiest to produce. Although they lack the great effectiveness of crystalline silicones, these cannot be disregarded. They are cost-effective and can be used in more surfaces.

Once the photovoltaics are set up and receive sunshine, they react by producing electric current. These electric current are guided by metallic contacts attached to the panel. They are collected as direct current (DC). These now go to a charge controller to moderate the flow of incoming DC. An Inverter is then the next stop to transform DC to AC which is commonly used by appliances. Another charge controller is placed to guide the power to several stops. It can go directly to household sockets for use, it can go to a battery for storage (batteries are not always necessary especially with grid-connected type) or to a meter then to the AC main supply which is the local power company. This is the basic model of a solar electricity system.

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Posted under Renewable Energy

This post was written by assistant on November 17, 2010

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