What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is one of the most bountiful sources of energy on our planet. It is also considered one of the most clean sources of energy available. Solar energy does not need to be extracted, transported to and fro, nor is any costly exploration required to find it. On top of that, solar energy is completely sustainable because as long as we have the sun, we'll have electricity. That is unless the sun gives out, but then we'll have much larger issues to worry about!
There are various kinds of solar energy and ways to harness it. However, photovoltaic (or PV) modules are quickly becoming more and more popular due to their increased efficiency and ease of use. As of now, they are the number one way to collect light and turn it into energy. Also widely known as "solar panels", PV modules come in a huge variety of types and sizes and are used as the power solution for many different applications including residential and commercial grid-tie solar power systems as well as off-grid and industrial systems.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Basically, photovoltaic solar panels create electricity by converting sunlight into energy. The process by which this happen is known as the photovoltaic effect. "Photovoltaic" essentially means light electricity. You may have noticed that certain small devices like a solar-powered calculator won't work in the dark, but when exposed to light it will work just fine. This is an example of a tiny electric power generator built right into an everyday item with which that everyone is familiar. Many people are now lighting up their yard or landscaping with solar-powered garden lights. And perhaps you've seen traffic control signage and lighting powered by solar panels.
Made most commonly using the mineral silicon, solar cells essentially create electricity by converting photons of light into electrons. The "photovoltaic effect" occurs when photons of light from the sun strikes these cells, a portion of the energy is absorbed into the silicon, displacing electrons which then begin to flow. In order to harness this flow, the electrons are drawn into a magnetic field generated by positively- and negatively-charged metal contacts on the top and bottom of the cell. producing direct current, or DC, electricity. Using a DC to AC inverter, the DC current is converted to alternating current, or AC, which can then be used to power electrical appliances.
The History of Solar Panels
Many people mistakenly assume that solar panels and solar power have a relatively new history. Did you know that in reality, the search for alternative energy sources relating to solar power dates back to the 1830's? In fact, Leonardo da Vinci even had sketches and ideas of how to harness the sun's energy.
In 1839, a young man named Alexandre-Edmond Bequerel became the first to discover the photovoltaic effect. Nearly forty years later, William Grylls Adams in 1876 developed a more sophisticated solar sell. He discovered that a solid material called selenium produced electrical currents when exposed to the light of the sun. This might sound simple, but it was a huge step towards the advanced solar panels we use today. It wasn't until 1953 when solar energy was able to be put to practical use. Gerald Pearson of Bell Laboratories developed a solar cell using silicon instead of selenium. Unfortunately, like most new technologies, Pearson's solar cells were way out of most anyone's price range. However, the U.S. military bought into Pearson's invention and that's when solar energy really took off! In the early 1970s the development of solar panels became less expensive and was used for other applications besides military use, particularly interesting is their use in space and aeronautics as well as telecommunications, remote sensing, and marine navigation and research.
Recently with technological improvements mounting price of solar panels has dropped and continues to drop as their popularity and production increases precipitously.
Advantages of Solar Panels
Private home owners are discovering the benefits to our environment and a way to live happily off the grid or are considering installing a grid-tied solar power system to offset their electric bill or due to a belief in reducing their carbon emissions. These are great reasons to "go solar"...
For obvious reasons, the use of solar panels is Eco-friendly and considered one of the most "green" electricity resources. Because solar panels rely on a renewable energy source, there is no fear of depleting yet another natural resource.
By switching to solar energy, you will save money on your electrical bills every month. Even if electricity bills continue raising in the next few months you will have the peace of mind knowing that your energy source is based on solar power.
solar panels have no moveable parts and are very simple to use. After being set up properly, they do not need to be tinkered with and will continuing working for many years. In fact, many solar panel manufacturers have 25 year warranties on their panels.
No matter where you live, the chances are that you can successfully use solar panels for you electrical needs. They are rugged and are very adaptable to climate conditions and the latest panel models are efficient enough to work well without facing directly south and some will even produce electricity under cloud cover.
Regardless of who you are or what type of home you have, solar power is one of the best ways to provide you and your family with electricity without causing more damage to our planet. Buuutt...
How Much Does It Cost?
Many people make the mistake of prematurely writing off solar panels as a primary or secondary source of electricity due the perceived high costs. True, they are fairly expensive for most people's budgets. However, there are tax rebates and other state, local, and utility company incentives for which you may qualify, significantly reducing the cost of an installed solar power system. We choose to look at it another way, never-minding incentives: instead of buying that next SUV, invest in a residential solar power system. After all, the cost is roughly the same before incentives and rebates. But doing so would do two very important things: 1) Insead of an SUV that's going to spew harmful green-house gases for several years you'll have a power generating plant installed and generating clean, renewable electricity for your home, and 2) You'll either reduce or eliminate your monthly electric bill, depending on the size of system you invest in. If you install and large enough system and you use less electricity than your system produces, you may even get paid for that unused electricity through and arrangement commonly referred to as "net metering". Imagine, instead of sending your electric power company a check each month, you get a check from them!
Today's Solar Panel Technology
Solar panel technology improves seemingly by the day thanks to agressive research and development efforts. We have gone from an extremely expensive and relatively inefficient solar panel in the 1970s that only our government could afford to a fairly priced, highly efficient panel today that most anyone can afford.
Regardless of our technological advances, photovoltaic panels will remain the primary component of photovoltaic systems for the foreseeable future. There are various different types of photovoltaic cells that are currently being developed to improve efficiency and production costs.
Another very interesting and promising field of research is in the development of photovoltaic concentration technology. This technology uses specialized equipment to focus great amounts of sunlight rather than just what happens to be shining down on the solar panel.
Every day sees new breakthroughs in PV technology as researchers strive to create cheaper and more efficient products. Even with all the activity in the solar industry, one thing is for certain, solar panels are one of the best ways to create electricity simply and efficiently while reducing carbon emissions and making life better for all of us.
What Are You Waiting For?
For many home owners there is no longer any excuse for not giving solar power a try. Indeed, after calculating applicable state and federal tax and utility company rebates and incentives, and with historically low prices on quality solar panels, more people than ever can afford the luxury of producing clean, renewable energy for their home!