what is solar power

Breakdown Of Solar Power And Its Working Principle

You’ve definitely heard of solar power by now and, of course, you know it has something to do with energy generated from the sun. And that much is common knowledge. You might not know exactly how this power works and related details, which are probably what you are looking to find out. You will find all you need in the following write-up.

solar panels for solar power production on tops of a house roof
solar panels on top of a roof providing solar power

What is Solar Power?

Solar power is when you use the heat and the light in the sun’s rays to produce energy. And humanity has made use of the sun with this regard for the longest time. From the above definition, it is clear while the term solar power has become quite popular in recent years, the availability and use of solar energy have been around for a while.

The modern use of the sun as an energy source came with solar panels, also known are photovoltaic (PV) cells harnessing solar energy from the sun. This is the most common way of capturing the sun’s rays in a useable form. The first announcement of the discovery of solar panels was made on April 25, 1954, by Bell Labs, the inventor.

Man’s interest in tap sun energy from the time they used it to dry their meat as hunters, berries as gatherers, and crops in prehistoric farming and beyond has come a long way. Despite all this history, there appears to be a renewed interest in solar energy in the past two decades. Why? You might wonder.

Solar power has come to the center of public discourse on energy due to a better understanding of what non-renewable energy sources do to the environment. This has caused corporates and governments to put in more efforts to discover new ways of harnessing solar energy more efficiently to promote wider usage of it.

Advantages of Solar Energy

Besides the quest for a cleaner environment. There are reasons to go for solar energy at a household level. The following are some of these reasons:

  • Solar power reduces your power bill.
  • It enhances energy dependence.
  • Solar energy is sustainable.
  • It is low maintenance.

1. Solar Power Reduces Your Power Bill

The energy bill is one of the most constant and significant expenditures in any home. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average monthly power bill in an American home is $117.60, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA).

When you are connected to the national grid, you have to pay for the power for lighting and running your household appliances every day. Harnessing energy from the sun for some or all of your household uses will help you reduce the amount you spend on household energy.

You save money because of the initial investment in equipment and its maintenance. In the long run, solar power doesn’t require you to pay bills to anyone. Many governments have even started initiatives to ensure you not only save money from your solar energy, but you can also earn from it.

These incentives from both state and federal governments come in tax rebates. The idea is to encourage more people to take up the cleaner solar energy option instead of relying on power from the grid that is often generated using more harmful ways to the environment.

Some state governments have a system that allows people who generate more solar power than they can use to sell it off at retail rates. The energy they sell to other users on the national grid is credited to them and reduced from the power bill they have to pay when using power from the grid.

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It becomes necessary for them to draw from the grid when the weather doesn’t allow the solar systems to generate enough energy. This is known as the net metering system; it will enable you to keep earning from your solar power even when you aren’t generating as much energy.

2. It Enhances Energy Independence

Reliance on non-renewable energy over the years has left the planet susceptible to a lack of energy sources due to the possibility of these energy sources getting depleted. The sun will always be here, and if, for some reason, it isn’t, no one will be around to need energy.

Using solar power ensures that the world reduces reliance on these non-renewable forms of energy, increasing independence. Solar technology is becoming more efficient daily, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes one of the most common sources of energy. We now have solar-powered cars that, despite being good for the environment, don’t rely on the geopolitical position of different countries to determine their cost of operation.

3. It is Sustainable

The amount of energy produced by the sun is phenomenal. It remains the most powerful energy source on earth as it produces over 173000 terawatts of energy daily. This amount of power is over 10,000 times the energy the world needs at the moment. This means that besides being an inexhaustible source of energy, the sun can cater to all our increasing energy needs into the future.

Solar panel technician working on solar panels

4. Solar Power is low Maintenance

The energy systems you invest in have extended warranties at the domestic level. Sometimes the warranty can be of up to 25 years. The panels and other parts are also relatively easy to maintain. You need to clean them annually to keep them receptive to the sun’s rays.

Thermal components in the system need to be changed once every decade or so. Solar power is also constant; it is almost unheard of to have a solar energy surge that destroys household appliances and other equipment powered by solar energy.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy Compared to the Grid

Disadvantages of solar energy are as follows;

  • It’s viability depends on season and location.
  • Storage of energy is a big challenge and one of the most expensive components of the system.
  • Heavy initial investment.
  • It is bulky.

1. Viability of Solar Energy Depends on Season and Location

The sun’s intensity is not the same globally and throughout the year. There are places where the sun isn’t intense enough to meet your energy needs. Other places have enough sun to generate energy at certain times of the year and little or none in other seasons. This makes it hard to rely entirely on solar power, especially regarding the following disadvantage.

2. Storage of Energy

As we will see when discussing how solar power works, you need batteries to store the energy generated during the day. You use this energy from the battery to the appliances, light bulbs, etc. These batteries can consume a lot of space to store enough power for all your needs. Researchers are, however, mitigating this challenge progressively by developing more efficient energy storage systems.

3. Heavy Initial Investment

Solar energy saves you money in the long run, but it requires a substantial capital outlay in the beginning. The total cost depends on how much power you want to generate. Installing the systems requires specialists who usually don’t come cheap. Many families need to go into debt to install these solar systems.

Many sellers have payment plans to reduce the brunt of the financial burden, and governments offer tax incentives. This way, they make it easier for you to use solar energy, the economic benefits we outlined under advantages come in handy to balance this out. You can use the savings you make in utility bills to pay off the debt and continue enjoying the benefits of your solar system after you complete your payments.

It is also worth mentioning that resources are being put into research in this field. All new equipment is cheaper than the previous, and therefore we can expect the cost of going solar to keep reducing as we move into the future.

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Solar panels being placed on a roof. The bulkiness of the solar panels is apparent in this photo.
Workers placing solar panels on a roof. The bulkiness of the solar panels is apparent in this photo.

4. It is Bulky

The amount of energy you generate depends on the number of solar panels installed. These panels are pretty big. And so the more you have, the bigger the roof you will need to have since that is the space most typically used for solar panels. Having a small roof may, therefore, constrain how much energy you generate.

You can mitigate this challenge by installing some panes in the yard. The yard shouldn’t have trees because they block the sun’s rays.

How Does Solar Power Work?

The distance from the sun to the earth is a whopping 93 million miles (150 million kilometers), but it still gets 10,000 times the earth’s energy needs down here! To make this easier to understand, the amount of energy the sun produces its rays that hit the earth in one hour has enough power to meet its energy needs for a whole year.

Of course, this energy needs to be harnessed for this to happen, but we can only harness a tiny fraction of it so far. Be that as it may, the sun is clearly, the original and most powerful nuclear reactor ever.

How Does Solar Energy Travel to the Earth?

Solar energy travels the distance from the sun to the earth in small pockets called photons which can be trapped using panels made explicitly for that. The following is how the trapping, storage, and usage works.

Your home solar system is made of the following parts; solar panels, storage battery, inverter, switchboard, utility meter, and finally, the grid. Solar panels are the trapper of energy. They are made of silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. These PV cells absorb the photons when the sun’s rays hit it, producing electricity through an effect known as the photovoltaic effect.

Solar panel inverter works to convert DC to AC power among other conversions.
Solar panel inverter

How is Solar Energy Produced?

The energy is produced through the interaction between the transferred into a storage battery. The energy generated through these panels is known as Direct Current, which is unsuitable for running your appliances. This is why the energy isn’t directed from the battery to the devices. It has to go through the inverter.

The inverter’s role is to convert direct current to the alternate current that you can use with your home appliances. The switchboard, the next part of the system, transfers power to your devices. The switchboard is usually also connected to power from the grid.

It switches to power from the grid automatically. If the solar energy stored in the batteries gets depleted, the switchboard switches to the mains automatically. It, however, ensures that you use solar power first.

Illustration of how solar energy is produced.
Simple illustration of how solar power is produced.

What is Net Metering?

The company that supplies you with power from the grid will install a bidirectional meter. This meter records all the energy that comes into your house from the grid. It also meters the solar energy from your domestic system back to the grid. The meter is necessary to facilitate net metering.

When meter readings are made the next time, the utility company will take note of the power you have used vis a vis the power you have exported to the grid. The exported power will be credited to you as part of your bill in a tariff known as Feed-in-Tariff. This tariff helps you offset the losses you might have incurred from the difficulties in sorting power currently associated with solar power systems.

A complete solar power system doesn’t require you to switch on the charging system in the morning and switch it off at night. It has sensors that enable it to do that automatically. It is also unnecessary for you to switch to the grid and vice versa when you need to. The system is programmed to do that.

 It knows when best to make the switch. Its decision is based on the power in storage and the rate of consumption in your home. This makes the solar system highly convenient because it doesn’t interrupt your energy supply. The only way you will even know it is when you receive your power bill and see it reduced.

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How Long Will a Solar System Last?

The solar system has virtually no moving parts, requiring minimal maintenance. A good solar system will last you years, only having to replace a few elements once every ten years or so. Due to their stability, many solar panel manufacturers offer warranties for as long as 25 years. They know their products rarely fail.

You can monitor your system’s performance by checking the inverter, which stores information on how much power the system is generating at any given time. It can also tell you how much of the system has generated for that day and the cumulatively since you installed it.

The advancement of technology has made it possible to monitor your inverter remotely from wherever you are. However, this remote monitoring facility is not in all inverters, there are still some you have to watch physically, but they work just as well in every other sense.

What is Peak Power in Solar Panel?

The peak power of the photovoltaic solar panel refers to the maximum power it can generate under the following conditions:

  • 25 Celsius/77 F temperature
  • 1,000 W/M2 irradiance: The term irradiance refers to the amount of power of electromagnetic radiation per unit area of the panel surface.
  • 1.5 air mass: Air mass refers to the distance traveled by the sun’s rays through the atmosphere. The angle of the solar panel vis a vis the sun determines air mass.

Peak power is one of the manufacturer’s specifications of the solar panel. If, for example, the peak power is said to be 4kWh, the solar panel will produce that much power in an hour when the conditions are ideal, as described above.

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What Determines the Amount of Energy Produced by a Solar Sytem?

As described above, the conditions under which the solar panel works are rarely ideal, and peak power is used mainly to indicate the system’s performance as a percentage of its ideal. The following factors determine the amount of power produced by your solar system. You might consider them the factors that keep the solar system from producing its peak energy.

  1. Geographical Location: Location determines how much sunlight gets to the panel. This affects both the temperature and the irradiance, which affects the output.
  2. Degree of available sunlight: The general climate of the area and the season affect the sun’s degree. It also affects the temperature conditions of the area.
  3. Solar panel orientation: Solar panels tap the most energy from sunlight when oriented at 4 towards the sun. You can have them oriented at different sides of the roof to tap power in the morning and the afternoon.

Peak performance is essential because you use it to determine whether the power supply unit in the solar system can handle the power when it spikes. If it cannot take the maximum capacity, the power can damage it if it surges.

What is the Best Time to use Solar Power?

As we noted earlier, the solar system switches between solar power and grid power through the switchboard. It does it by monitoring the amount of energy in storage. The best time to use solar power in the day is when the batteries are fully charged.

On average solar panels generate power between 8.00 am and 5.00 pm. The best output occurs between 10.00 am and 3.00 pm. During this period (10.00 am – 3.00 pm), you get the most power, and it is the best time to use solar energy.

The direction your solar panels face is a determining factor in the best output time for your solar energy. They are as follows:

North10 am – 3 pm
East8 am – 11 am
West3 pm – 6 pm
Table showing the best output time for your solar energy.

Some people install their panels on the whole roof, and their panels allow them to get good output throughout the day.

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