Solar power

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Solar power

Solar power is usable energy generated from the sun in the form of electric or thermal energy. Aside from using photovoltaics to generate electricity, solar energy is commonly used in thermal applications to heat indoor spaces or fluids. Residential and commercial property owners can install solar hot water systems and design their buildings with passive solar heating in mind to fully take advantage of the sun's energy with solar technology.

Interested in benefiting from solar power? Solar panels are installed at three main scales: residential, commercial, and utility. Residential-scale solar is typically installed on rooftops of homes or in open land ground-mounted and is generally between 5 and 20 kilowatts kWdepending on the size of a property.

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Commercial solar energy projects are generally installed at a greater scale than residential solar. Though individual installations can vary greatly in size, commercial-scale solar serves a consistent purpose: to provide on-site solar power to businesses and non-profits. Finally, utility-scale solar projects are typically large, several megawatt MW installations that provide solar energy to a large number of utility customers.

For some solar shoppers who may not be able to install solar on their property, community solar is a viable solar option that more directly connects utility-scale solar energy projects to residential consumers. Residential consumers can subscribe to a community solar project to receive many of the benefits of solar power without installing solar panels on their property.

A solar panel also known as a solar module consists of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass casing unit, and wiring to transfer electric current from the silicon. Silicon atomic 14 on the periodic table is a nonmetal with conductive properties that allow it to absorb and convert sunlight into usable electricity. When light hits a silicon cell, the light causes electrons in the silicon to be set in motion, initiating a flow of electric current.

The science of generating electricity with solar panels boils down to this photovoltaic effect. It was first discovered in by Edmond Becquerel and can be thought of as a property of specific materials known as semiconductors that allows them to create an electric current when they are exposed to sunlight.

InBell Labs developed the first silicon photovoltaic cell. Although solar energy had previously been captured and converted into usable energy through various methods,only after did solar power begin to become a viable source of electricity to power devices over extended periods of time.

The first solar cells converted solar radiation to electricity at an efficiency of 4 percent - for reference, many widely available solar panels today can convert sunlight to solar power at above 20 percent efficiency, a number constantly on the rise.

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Although adoption of solar energy was slow at first, a number of state and federal incentives and policies contributed to driving down the cost of solar panels far enough to become more widely adopted.

At this point, solar power accounts for enough capacity to power 11 million of the million households in the country. Concurrent with an increase in solar panel efficiency, the cost of solar energy has fallen substantially. In the last decade alone, the cost of a solar panel installation fell over 60 percent, and many industry experts predict that prices will continue to fall in the years to come:.Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricityeither directly using photovoltaics PVindirectly using concentrated solar poweror a combination.

Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and solar tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaic cells convert light into an electric current using the photovoltaic effect.

Solar power

Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the s. As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale photovoltaic power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built.

Solar PV is rapidly becoming an inexpensive, low-carbon technology to harness renewable energy from the Sun. The current largest photovoltaic power station in the world is the Pavagada Solar ParkKarnataka, India with a generation capacity of MW.

The International Energy Agency projected in that under its "high renewables" scenario, bysolar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power would contribute about 16 and 11 percent, respectively, of the worldwide electricity consumptionand solar would be the world's largest source of electricity.

Most solar installations would be in China and India. Many industrialized nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources while an increasing number of less developed nations have turned to solar to reduce dependence on expensive imported fuels see solar power by country.

Long distance transmission allows remote renewable energy resources to displace fossil fuel consumption. Solar power plants use one of two technologies:. A solar cellor photovoltaic cell PVis a device that converts light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the s.

Atalla developed the process of silicon surface passivation by thermal oxidation at Bell Labs. The array of a photovoltaic power systemor PV system, produces direct current DC power which fluctuates with the sunlight's intensity.

For practical use this usually requires conversion to certain desired voltages or alternating current ACthrough the use of inverters. Many residential PV systems are connected to the grid wherever available, especially in developed countries with large markets. In certain applications such as satellites, lighthouses, or in developing countries, batteries or additional power generators are often added as back-ups. Such stand-alone power systems permit operations at night and at other times of limited sunlight.

Concentrated solar power CSPalso called "concentrated solar thermal", uses lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to concentrate sunlight, then use the resulting heat to generate electricity from conventional steam-driven turbines. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists: among the best known are the parabolic troughthe compact linear Fresnel reflectorthe dish Stirling and the solar power tower.

Various techniques are used to track the sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage. A parabolic trough consists of a linear parabolic reflector that concentrates light onto a receiver positioned along the reflector's focal line. The receiver is a tube positioned along the focal points of the linear parabolic mirror and is filled with a working fluid. The reflector is made to follow the sun during daylight hours by tracking along a single axis.

Parabolic trough systems provide the best land-use factor of any solar technology. Compact Linear Fresnel Reflectors are CSP-plants which use many thin mirror strips instead of parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto two tubes with working fluid. This has the advantage that flat mirrors can be used which are much cheaper than parabolic mirrors, and that more reflectors can be placed in the same amount of space, allowing more of the available sunlight to be used.

Concentrating linear fresnel reflectors can be used in either large or more compact plants. The Stirling solar dish combines a parabolic concentrating dish with a Stirling engine which normally drives an electric generator.

The advantages of Stirling solar over photovoltaic cells are higher efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity and longer lifetime. Parabolic dish systems give the highest efficiency among CSP technologies. A solar power tower uses an array of tracking reflectors heliostats to concentrate light on a central receiver atop a tower.

Solar energy

Power towers can achieve higher thermal-to-electricity conversion efficiency than linear tracking CSP schemes and better energy storage capability than dish stirling technologies. A hybrid system combines C PV and CSP with one another or with other forms of generation such as diesel, wind and biogas.Photovoltaics generate electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process and can be used to power anything from small electronics such as calculators and road signs up to homes and large commercial businesses.

Solar exists within a complex and interrelated electricity system in the U. All of these applications depend on supportive policy frameworks at the local, state and federal level to ensure consumers and businesses have fair access to clean energy technologies like solar. There are more than 2. If you're looking to install solar on your home or business, SEIA has a variety of resources to guide you through the process.

Browse our customer portal to learn more about your options, what to look for in an offer, questions to ask a solar company, your rights as a consumer, and more.

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Also visit our partners SolarReviews and Solar-Estimate. Learn more about solar technologies and their applications Explore. Understand the policies that drive solar growth in the U. Get more solar data: browse our research archive Explore. Featured Resources. Want to go solar? Check out the Portal. Need more answers on solar energy? Read our FAQ.Solar power in the United States includes utility-scale solar power plants as well as local distributed generationmostly from rooftop photovoltaics.

As of the end ofthe United States had over During the same time period total solar generation, including estimated small scale photovoltaic generation, was The United States conducted much early research in photovoltaics and concentrated solar power.

It is among the top countries in the world in electricity generated by the Sun and several of the world's largest utility-scale installations are located in the desert Southwest.

When commissioned it was the largest parabolic trough plant in the world and the first U. There are plans to build many other large solar plants in the United States. Many states have set individual renewable energy goals with solar power being included in various proportions.

The panels must be paired with batteries to function during power loss on the grid.

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This is a new area for panel manufacturers. Sunrun, the largest panel manufacturer, provides some units with batteries, but they are numbered in the hundreds. Solar energy deployment increased at a record pace in the United States and throughout the world inaccording to industry reports.

Solar Industry Year in Review " found that U. As a result, the report projects that solar power was expected to reach cost parity with conventional power sources in many U. Energy Information Administrationas of September utility-scale solar had sent 12, gigawatt-hours of electricity to the U. Department of Energy predicting the figure could reach 3.

In an article reported that Utilities in the United States have led a largely unsuccessful campaign to slow the growth of solar. During22 states added at least MW of capacity. The U. Through the end ofa majority of photovoltaics in the United States was off-grid. The amount of electricity a unit is capable of producing over an extended period of time is determined by multiplying the capacity by the capacity factor.

The capacity factor for solar photovoltaic units is largely a function of climate and latitude and so varies significantly from state to state. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has calculated that the highest statewide average solar voltaic capacity factors are in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada each The lowest statewide average capacity factor in the contiguous 48 states is in West Virginia The table above gives an indication of the spread of solar PV between the different types at the end of Capacity figures may seem smaller than those quoted by other sources and it is likely that the capacities are measured in MW AC rather than MW DC, the former of which gives a lower reading due to conversion losses during the process by which power is transformed by inverters from direct current to alternating current.

Utility scale PV accounted for the largest figure at Next came small scale PV with The proportion of residential and commercial solar to utility scale solar varies greatly between states see distributed generation section below.

Finally solar thermal generation was the smallest deployment by power rating at 1. Typically these units are co-located in the vicinity of the same high-capacity transmission substationand may also feed that substation with other large PV plants which are adjacently sited but separately developed. SolarCity plans to work with the country's leading privatized military housing developers to install, own and operate rooftop solar installations and provide solar electricity at a lower cost than utility power.

SolarStrong is ultimately expected to create up to megawatts of solar generation capacity that could provide power to as many asmilitary housing units, making it the largest residential photovoltaic project in American history.All rights reserved. Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun's energy and make it useable. As ofthe technology produced less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand. Many are familiar with so-called photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, found on things like spacecraft, rooftops, and handheld calculators.

The cells are made of semiconductor materials like those found in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity.

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On a much larger scale, solar-thermal power plants employ various techniques to concentrate the sun's energy as a heat source.

The heat is then used to boil water to drive a steam turbine that generates electricity in much the same fashion as coal and nuclear power plants, supplying electricity for thousands of people.

The sun has produced energy for billions of years. Every hour the sun beams more energy onto Earth than it needs to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. In one technique, long troughs of U-shaped mirrors focus sunlight on a pipe of oil that runs through the middle. The hot oil then boils water for electricity generation. Another technique uses moveable mirrors to focus the sun's rays on a collector tower, where a receiver sits.

Molten salt flowing through the receiver is heated to run a generator. Other solar technologies are passive.

solar power

For example, big windows placed on the sunny side of a building allow sunlight to heat-absorbent materials on the floor and walls. These surfaces then release the heat at night to keep the building warm. Similarly, absorbent plates on a roof can heat liquid in tubes that supply a house with hot water.

Solar power in the United States

Solar energy is lauded as an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution- and often noise-free. The technology is also versatile. For example, solar cells generate energy for far-out places like satellites in Earth orbit and cabins deep in the Rocky Mountains as easily as they can power downtown buildings and futuristic cars.

Solar energy doesn't work at night without a storage device such as a battery, and cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable during the day.Solar energyradiation from the Sun capable of producing heatcausing chemical reactionsor generating electricity. If suitably harnessed, this highly diffused source has the potential to satisfy all future energy needs. In the 21st century solar energy is expected to become increasingly attractive as a renewable energy source because of its inexhaustible supply and its nonpolluting character, in stark contrast to the finite fossil fuels coalpetroleumand natural gas.

This is essentially because of the enormous radial spreading of radiation from the distant Sun. The sunlight that reaches the ground consists of nearly 50 percent visible light45 percent infrared radiationand smaller amounts of ultraviolet and other forms of electromagnetic radiation. Unfortunately, though solar energy itself is free, the high cost of its collection, conversion, and storage still limits its exploitation in many places.

Solar radiation can be converted either into thermal energy heat or into electrical energythough the former is easier to accomplish. Among the most common devices used to capture solar energy and convert it to thermal energy are flat-plate collectorswhich are used for solar heating applications.

The most widely used flat-plate collectors consist of a blackened metal plate, covered with one or two sheets of glass, that is heated by the sunlight falling on it. This heat is then transferred to air or watercalled carrier fluids, that flow past the back of the plate. The heat may be used directly, or it may be transferred to another medium for storage. Flat-plate collectors are commonly used for solar water heaters and house heating. The storage of heat for use at night or on cloudy days is commonly accomplished by using insulated tanks to store the water heated during sunny periods.

Such a system can supply a home with hot water drawn from the storage tank, or, with the warmed water flowing through tubes in floors and ceilings, it can provide space heating. The efficiency of such collectors i. Another method of thermal energy conversion is found in solar ponds, which are bodies of salt water designed to collect and store solar energy. The heat extracted from such ponds enables the production of chemicals, foodtextiles, and other industrial products and can also be used to warm greenhousesswimming pools, and livestock buildings.

Solar ponds are sometimes used to produce electricity through the use of the organic Rankine cycle engine, a relatively efficient and economical means of solar energy conversion, which is especially useful in remote locations. Solar ponds are fairly expensive to install and maintain and are generally limited to warm rural areas.

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Solar ovens typically concentrate sunlight from over a wide area to a central point, where a black-surfaced vessel converts the sunlight into heat. The ovens are typically portable and require no other fuel inputs. Solar energy. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback.

solar power

Thank you for your feedback. Introduction Thermal energy Electricity generation Other applications. Home Science Astronomy. See Article History.

Britannica Quiz. Astronomy and Space Quiz. Get exclusive access to content from our First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today. Load Next Page. More About. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.There are a number of steps to follow when planning to power your home with solar energy. After choosing which option is best for you to use solar see step 3follow the steps afterward that apply to you.

Your solar energy installer and local utility company can provide more information on the exact steps you will need to take to power your home with solar energy.

Before starting the process of powering your home with solar energy, homeowners should investigate their energy use and consider potential efficiency upgrades. Homeowners should be well aware of their total electricity usage, and consider low-cost and easy-to-implement efficiency measures before choosing solar. Before deciding on the best way to use solar electricity at home, assess the potential solar energy that can be produced at your address.

Because PV technologies use both direct and scattered sunlight to create electricity, the solar resource across the United States is ample for home solar electric systems. However, the amount of power generated by a solar energy system at a particular site depends on how much of the sun's energy reaches it, and the size of the system itself. Some of the services also offer information on the estimated system size, potential costs and savings, and local contractors.

These tools are an excellent starting point and can help you determine whether your home is suitable for solar, and if not, the best path forward for still benefiting from solar.

solar power

While these tools are helpful, they don't account for all of the variables that need to be considered for your particular system. For that, you will need to work directly with a solar installer who can provide an accurate assessment of your solar potential as well as detailed recommendations, estimates, and equipment expertise. Purchasing and installing a system that you fully own and maintain is no longer the only option if you want to go solar. Even if you rent your home or don't want to purchase a rooftop system, there are many programs will enable you to still benefit from solar electricity.

Below are some of the options available for using solar energy at home; check with local installers and your utility for programs available in your area. The solar installer will connect the system to the grid, and receive an interconnection permit from the utility. Almost half of all U.

These programs enable a group of participants to pool their purchasing power to buy solar into a solar system at a level that fits their needs and budget. The system can be on- or off-site and may be owned by utilities, a solar developer, non-profit entities, or multiple community members.

The consumer then pays to lease the equipment. Solar leases often involve limited upfront investment and fixed monthly payments over a set period of time. Under a leasing arrangement, homeowners typically pay the developer a flat monthly fee for the equipment that is based on the estimated amount of electricity that the system will produce.

This amount is often less expensive than their original electricity bill. PPAs allow consumers to host solar energy systems owned by solar companies and purchase back the electricity generated.


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