Dec 30, 2009

Solar Power - Definition, How Does it Works & its Advantages

Put simply, ‘solar power is the generation of electricity from sunlight’, which is the most abundant energy source on the planet.

Since prehistoric times, we've relied on the Sun for a lot of things: light, warmth, vitamin D, rainbows, and the list goes on and on. But this article goes on to talk about our dependence on the Sun for electricity, i.e. solar power, its benefits, solar cells, how solar energy is harnessed and where it’s used.

On a sunny day, this form of alternative energy can generate enough electricity through solar cells (called photovoltaics or photoelectrics) to power our homes and store the excess if needed.

Tell me about solar cells

Solar cells were originally developed to power satellites in space, but during the 1970s a lot of homes started using them too. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t advanced enough to sell at low prices so the common man preferred energy made from power plants that relied on fossil fuels. However! While the prices of fossil fuels rise, the cost of solar power systems has fallen around 90% since then, and now you and I see solar cells everywhere – even our calculators use them.

How is solar energy harnessed to make power?

I’ve already mentioned one method of producing solar power, i.e. through photovoltaics or PV (solar cells). The amount of energy created by PV cells simply depends on the amount of sunlight, the tempearature and the type of solar cell (to read more about how PV cells create electricity, click here). The other is simply by concentrating solar power (CSP), like the experiments we carried out as kids trying boil a glass of water by focusing sunbeams through a magnifying glass. In real life, huge concave structures can create enough heat to boil water for power plants.

What is solar power used for?

Even with the obvious drawback that solar power is an intermittent power source, its quickly gaining popularity. Not only are tropical countries using their ample supply of sunlight to generate power in areas inaccessible by power grids, but commercial buildings, residences, street lamps, water heating systems, hybrid cars, and remote telephone booths all over the world also rely on solar energy to function.

But why bother?

Solar power comes with a few drawbacks but I’ll give you three good reasons why its becoming popular: solar power is very economical, it’s environmentally friendly and it’ll never run out like oil and coal (read about other advantages of alternative sources of energy here). Even cloudy days aren’t a problem. Thanks to the met office, the weather is fairly predictable so we simply use stored solar power on rainy days, or revert to other sources of energy.

It’s amazing how powerful the Sun is considering its distance from Earth (140 million kilometers). Only a fraction of its original solar energy reaches us, yet this is enough to sustain us in numerous ways forever. The Sun is only one of many gifts of nature.

Source: BBCWikipedia, Solar Power Answers, Get Solar (Image)
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