What are the Basics of Solar Energy?


Starting with the basics will help you deeply understand solar energy. The basics of solar energy come from the sun. This stellar body is an abundant source of energy with minimal environmental impacts.

The sun’s light is harnessed through photovoltaic technology to produce green electricity. Photovoltaic technology makes solar harnessing possible. Photovoltaic cells use sunlight to turn electricity into harmless light photons. Scientists at Bell Laboratories first used PV cells in the early 1950s to power small devices.

Since then, PV technology has become more cost-effective and widespread. Statisticians expect that solar power will become the world’s number-one source of electricity by 2050.

About Photovoltaic Cells

Most solar PV panels have an efficiency rating ranging from 15 to 25%, which is low compared to other energy sources. The efficiency rating of a solar panel measures how much of the sun’s power it can convert into usable solar energy. A 100-watt panel with a 20% efficiency rating can absorb 20% of the 500-watt continuous power from the sun.

Solar panels are generally very reliable, with a study by NREL showing that over 75% of PV panels still produce more than the warranty stipulated. Most manufacturers guarantee that their panels will be at least 80% efficient for 25 years, even after warranty expiration. After warranty expiration, the solar panels may continue to work but at a reduced output.

But there is no wrong answer when building an energy system – you can choose a simple setup to a complex array. The latter option typically reduces the overall cost of the system.

Solar PV Cells Variations

Silicon Solar Cells. Silicon is the most widely used, most affordable, and most efficient kind of solar cell. These cells are ‌incorporated into larger modules for residential or commercial building rooftops or on ground-mounted racks to generate utility-scale systems.

Thin-Film Solar Cells. Thin-film solar cells are thin layers of semiconductor material. They are more flexible and lighter than traditional solar cell materials, great for portable applications and easy transport. Thin-film solar cells are quicker to scale since they need less manufacturing energy than most solar cells.

III-V Solar Cells. The third variation of solar technology is III-V solar cells made from elements in Groups III and V of the periodic table. These are the most expensive to longer to produce solar cells. They are, however, significantly more effective in converting sunlight into energy.

Next-Generation Solar Cells. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are working on advanced photovoltaic technologies, some of which may offer advantages over traditional solar cells. Additional research is needed to see if these technologies can be successful.

Why does Solar Energy matter?

Solar energy is currently providing about 4 Gigawatts of Canada’s electricity, but growth will dominate the market in the future. Solar PV is going strong, accounting for 10% of renewable energy generation in 2021.

However, modern solar cells and advanced battery storage require Earth’s rarest materials. NREL is working to address concerns about solar energy reliability and cleanliness and ensure solar PV is a reliable and environmentally friendly energy source.

Reputable contractractors are leading the way forward to help Canada move to renewable energy, like Gridworks Energy, a trusted solar company in Edmonton for over 20 years.

Basic Principles of Solar Energy

The basics of solar energy are that it is created by capturing sunlight and converting it into usable energy. A solar power system captures sunlight and generates renewable energy during peak periods.

But to do this, you need a solar power system with all the essential components. The solar panels collect energy from the sun, an inverter turns direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), and the racking establishes the foundation on which you mount your solar panel system. Through this, you can power buildings, tools, and machines.

You can also dump excess solar energy for later use, such as during the winter months or at night. You can add monitoring devices to your system to help troubleshoot defective equipment.

If your power system generates more power than you need, you may still need to be connected to the utility grid to get additional power. Alternatively, you can sell any excess energy you generate to the grid or net metering.

Basic of Solar Energy Net Metering

Net metering allows solar power users to give excess electricity onto the grid. In some states, this is mandatory; in some, it is a choice made by utilities. This difference in policy affects the cost to an individual homeowner or business owner, depending on the state.

Net metering is a billing technique that compensates solar energy system owners for the electricity they contribute to the grid but do not consume. If a customer’s house or company is net-metered, the energy meter will run backward to offer a credit against the electricity consumed, meaning, customers will only receive bills for their “net” energy use.

Grid-tie, Off-grid, and Energy Storage Systems (ESS)

Grid-tied systems use less electricity than buying electricity from a utility company and are often for people who can connect to the utility grid. If you have access to power lines, always install a grid-tied system.

Off-grid solar systems are more expensive than grid-based systems, but they are particularly well-suited for supplying power to remote locations.

An energy storage system can provide peace of mind by storing electricity generated from your solar or wind power system. It’s your decision whether the added flexibility is worth the cost.

Ground, Roof, and Pole mount

Rooftop solar is cheaper to install because you don’t need to build a foundation for the mounting hardware, which saves materials and labor. Ground mounts are standalone metal or aluminum frameworks built on your property to hold your solar array. They are more expensive than rooftop mounts but easier to access for maintenance and repairs.

A pole mount is a type of solar array installation that uses a tall pole to elevate the solar array higher off the ground than a traditional ground mount. It is helpful in snowy climates, as the elevation gives the setup extra clearance from the snow. The tilted positioning helps snow buildup slide off the face of the panels.

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