What Is Solar Energy?
The sun does not only give light to the Earth during the daytime, but it also provides energy through each particle of sunlight called the photon. Solar energy is the one responsible for the Earth’s weather system as well as energy sources.
You might wonder where all of this solar power comes from, the sun is the answer. The sun is similar to the galaxy’s stars, but it is much larger. When we look inside the sun, we can observe nuclear fusion reactions in its core, which emit vast quantities of energy that radiates from the sun’s surface and flows into space in different ways, including heat and light.
The sun is the most prolific source of energy that can give approximately 173,000 terawatts at any given time. The amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s atmosphere per hour is enough to meet the world’s energy needs for a year.
Harnessing the sun’s energy and turning it into power for homes and other establishments could further reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuel, addressing the issue of climate change.
How does Solar Energy Work?
The sun is a natural nuclear reactor that emits packets of energy in the form of photons that travel 93 million miles to reach the Earth in 8.5 minutes. The number of photons that penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere per hour generates enough solar energy to sustain the Earth’s energy needs for a year.
The solar energy that the Earth receives can be harnessed and converted into a usable form using two ways: solar thermal capture and photovoltaics. Solar thermal capture is widely used for large-scale electricity generation, while photovoltaics is commonly used for small-scale electricity generation for residential or other smaller establishments.
Solar Thermal Capture
Solar thermal capture, from the word itself, means directly capturing the heat from the solar radiation and using it in a variety of ways. It has a much wider use than a photovoltaic system. Using this on a small scale may not be as ideal as using photovoltaics. Solar thermal capture comes in three system types: low-temperature, mid-temperature, and high-temperature.
Low-temperature systems are used to regulate the atmosphere, primarily to heat and cool the air. It can be seen in passive solar establishments, where the sun’s rays are allowed to penetrate to heat the surroundings and only blocked when the environment has to be cooled.
A mid-temperature system is designed to heat water. There is no need for conventional water heating systems in this system because the heat from the sun is absorbed and transferred to the pipe system where the water is flowing.
Lastly, a high-temperature system is intended for large-scale electrical power generation. It can be used in solar power plants, where mirrors are used to focus the sun’s rays into liquid-filled tubes that can store heat energy. The heated liquid is then converted to steam, which powers the turbine and generates electricity.
The photovoltaic solar energy system is common for property owners. The solar panels in this system use the photovoltaic effect to turn the sun’s rays into electricity. The produced electricity can be used right away or stored in a battery.
The sun’s rays are absorbed and penetrate the silicon inside the solar panel, causing the electrons to loosen and move. This will then produce direct current (DC) electricity, which can then be converted to alternating current (AC) with the help of a solar inverter. You might wonder why it has to be converted. Since most household appliances run only on AC electricity, conversion from DC to AC electricity is necessary.
Effect of Weather on Solar Energy
The amount of electricity that can be generated using solar energy is affected by several reasons, one of which is the weather. You may assume that solar panels can’t generate power on a cloudy day, but that isn’t the case. Of course, the best condition for generating power is on a sunny day, but solar panels work more efficiently in cold weather. As the temperature increases, the solar panels generate lesser voltage, producing lesser electricity. Solar panels, however, generate more energy while the sun is up, even if they are more efficient in colder months.
The amount of sunlight received by each area varies. In the event of a cloudy day, solar radiation still passes through the clouds, and for that, the solar panels can still generate electricity. It is important to remember, though, that this is dependent on cloud cover and the efficiency of the solar panels. So might as well invest in high-quality solar panels that can work in any weather condition.
Advantages of Solar Energy
Unlimited Resource and Clean Energy
The sun is an endless stream of energy that will not run out soon. It provides energy that is far more than enough of what the world needs. The only challenge for this resource is our capability to efficiently turn it into electricity in a cost-effective manner that will make it more accessible to people. Also, the use of solar panels does not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Low Operational and Maintenance Cost
Solar panels do not need to be maintained regularly; the user just needs to keep them clean. The majority of solar panel manufacturers give a 25-year warranty. Wear and tear are not an issue with a solar panel since there are no mechanical parts that may move. The inverter is the only component that needs to be replaced every 5-10 years. This is due to the inverter’s continuous operation in converting DC electricity to AC electricity.
Solar energy can be used in a variety of ways. It may be used to generate energy to power machines or heat or distill water. It may also be incorporated into structures like transparent windows or roofs.
Solar panels will become more efficient as technology advances in the field of solar energy. As researchers continue to research the technology behind solar panels, we should foresee them to be on a new stage in years to come.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Dependent on Weather
On a gloomy day, the solar energy system still operates, but the amount of electricity generated is smaller than on a sunny day.
The initial cost of installing a solar energy system can be high because it covers a wide range of components, including the panel itself, batteries, inverter, and services for wiring and installation. However, with the ongoing growth, it is reasonable to expect that the price will decrease in the future.
More solar panels are needed if you want to generate more electricity since you have to collect more sunlight. Solar panels take up a lot of space and some roofs are not fit for the number of solar panels you want to install. This may require a yard that has direct access to sunlight.
Final Thoughts on Solar Energy
Solar energy is ideal to use because it comes from a source that will last thousands of years before dying, and it is available every day. It will not only save us a lot of money, but it will also help to protect the Earth because it does not have a significant impact on the environment. There are obvious benefits and drawbacks to using this type of energy, but technological advancements may reduce the disadvantages in the future, making it more ideal to use and accessible to communities.
Something to ponder about…
“Once you got a solar panel on a roof, energy is free. Once we convert our entire electricity grid to green and renewable energy, cost of living goes down.” – Elizabeth May