Solar energy is energy that comes from the sun. It can be used to generate electricity for individual homes, businesses and even entire communities. Solar energy systems work by converting solar energy into electricity with the help of solar collectors.
How does solar energy work?
The sun produces enormous amounts of energy that reaches the earth as light and is converted into heat whenever it hits an object. Solar energy systems consist of solar panels designed to convert sunlight into usable energy.
There are two main types of panels used to collect solar energy: solar photovoltaics (solar panels - solar panels) and solar thermal systems.
Photovoltaic (PV) panels account for more than 80% of solar energy systems. They are used when the type of energy required is electricity. Solar panels consist of several solar cells or photovoltaic (PV) cells. Every solar panel or PV panel uses a semiconductor material containing silicon cells that react with photons of the sun's rays. When light hits the cell, some of it is absorbed in the semiconductor material and ejects electrons, allowing them to flow. The result is the creation of direct current (DC), which is then converted to alternating current (AC). Alternating current can be transmitted to local power distribution networks to power homes and commercial buildings. If more electricity than needed is produced and the system is connected to the local grid, the surplus can be fed back into the national grid.
PV cells can work even when they are not connected to the grid. Stand-alone PV systems can collect and store solar energy with internal mechanisms for direct emission of this energy without the use of a power grid. These systems can range in size from small solar powered calculators to high performance power systems for disaster shelters.
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Solar thermal panels are used when the required type of energy is heat. Solar thermal panels work by absorbing sunlight and converting it into usable thermal energy, which is used primarily to heat water tanks. A solar thermal panel can be called a solar water heater, solar water panel or solar thermal collector.
Limitations of solar energy
Although solar energy has some advantages over alternative energy sources, it still has some limitations. Without a storage system, solar energy is limited because it is an intermittent energy source: access to direct sunlight is only available at certain times, and weather conditions are variable.
Solar energy storageA key parallel technology to solar cells is energy storage, with development focused on lithium-ion batteries. The increase in demand for electric vehicles has led to significant improvements in battery size and range.
Battery packs have been developed for home and commercial use so that consumers can collect energy during the day and use that stored energy later at night. For inspired homeowners, a combination of solar panels and batteries can even help them go completely off the grid.
Impact on the environment
Although solar energy is a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, we can still be concerned about the environment. Chemicals are used to make solar panels, and the manufacturing process emits greenhouse gases. Solar energy also often requires batteries to store the energy, which requires responsible production.
The future of solar energy
Not only is solar energy efficient for everyday use in residential and commercial spaces, it is a reliable source in crisis situations when alternative methods of generating electricity are unavailable. In these cases, solar power can provide a consistent power source for emergency shelters and evacuation facilities, giving evacuees peace of mind, comfort and the ability to stay connected. PV efficiency is expected to continue to grow as the economics of solar power continue to change.