The space race generated an associated technology race, as so many new technical breakthroughs needed to be invented to enable space travel in the first place. Thus we have modern technologies like non-stick cooking surfaces and microwave ovens. Solar power is another one of those advances, and without question, the most game-changing technological breakthrough emerging from those endeavors.
Solar power itself has several key core technologies that enable it to operate and act as such a powerful and versatile source of clean energy around the world.
Here at Context Solar, we believe that as essential as information and insights are, context is also vital. So our aim is to always provide you with the context for the content we provide – and that includes this introduction to this section. With that said, if you need to dive right in to find a particular article, we understand. Simply click here to skip down the bottom of this page for our full contents list for this section.
If solar panels are the heart of a solar power system, solar cells are the molecules that form the basic building blocks of that heart. Without these little powerhouses, no solar energy production could take place, and the renewable energy movement would be losing a major part of its foundations.
Put simply, solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, due to photosensitive chips inside them that create a small amount of voltage when exposed to sunlight.
Solar cells are grouped together into solar panels (known technically as solar modules) to form the basis (or heart, to stay with our analogy) of a solar power system. Solar cells vary in materials, having been made originally with silicon chips, in the same manner as the original computer microchips.
Efficiency also varies in solar cells, with the quality end of the spectrum for mass produced solar cells now rated at around 22.5%. On the other hand, significantly higher rates of efficiency are achieved in high-end solar cells (for example, those used in space missions), although they come at a cost that is prohibitive for normal commercial use.
Solar panels are the heart of any solar energy system. Whether that system has comprises just a few solar panels, or many groups (known as arrays), even thousands of panels (as in a solar generator plant), the basic principle is the same:
- For photovoltaic (PV) systems of all sizes, from hand-held gadgets to power plants, sunlight is converted into electricity via the solar panels in the solar power system
- For solar water heaters, sunlight is converted into heat via the solar panels.
Solar generators capture sunlight via solar panels, convert it into electricity, and store that electricity in one or more solar batteries. This electricity is then available for later use. When it is required, the electricity is first passed through an inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), which is the required type for normal home and business use.
The electricity produced by solar panels is in the form of direct current (DC). However, since normal home and business use requires alternating current (AC), the electricity from solar panels must be converted from DC to AC before it can be used. That is the role of a solar inverter. Therefore, this component is a lynchpin in the entire system.
A solar controller regulates the amount of electricity delivered at any point in time from solar panels to connected solar batteries so that the batteries aren’t overloaded. Solar controllers also control the amount of electricity delivered from solar batteries.
Solar Power System
Solar power systems have increasingly transformed the energy landscape and lives around the globe for decades now, and their growth is on an increasingly rapid and steep ascending curve.
From the initial use of very small-scale solar systems in the early space race, to their commonplace emergence in hand-held gadgets, to the more recent boom in home, business and utility-scale solar power production, solar power systems have grown increasingly powerful, widespread and viable as significant contributors to the clean energy needs of the planet.
Solar power systems come in the following variants:
- Photovoltaic (PV) systems, which convert sunlight into electricity for immediate and later use, either on-site or via contribution into the wider electricity grid
- Solar heater systems, which convert sunlight into heat for heating hot water
- Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems, which use solar energy to heat transfer liquids and thus convert it into steam, driving electricity generators, passing this electricity to the grid
What they all have in common are the powerful benefits of solar energy:
- Very clean, infinitely renewable energy source
- Viable literally anywhere on the Earth’s surface
- Scalable across the entire spectrum, from powering small hand-held devices, to utility-scale electricity generation in a solar power plant
- Endlessly adaptable to applications of all kinds and sizes, from charging stations to building cladding to robotics and remote vehicles
- Rapidly advancing technological efficiencies driving plummeting prices in solar energy prices
Solar power systems are being used in a wide variety of settings, including:
- To warm and cool homes, pairing solar panels with heat pumps that absorb heat at one place and release it in another
- Solar hot water systems
- Public lighting for roads, streets and bicycle paths
- Providing power for an increasing number of cars, buses, and even small aircraft
- Providing innovative, transformational solutions in rural and remote areas, such as micro solar-powered water pumps enabling crop irrigation in India, and, solar-powered cook stoves and lamps replacing traditional kerosene and wood counterparts in Nigeria.
For these reasons, solar power systems and the adoption of solar energy are booming. This extends to the number of jobs being created every year in the solar industry (1.8 million globally in 2015). Crucially, most of these jobs are well paid and rely on local skilled labor, so therefore do not lend themselves to being outsourced abroad.
Increasingly, solar power systems are being woven into the fabric of our daily lives, and increasingly will not even be noticed by the public. Sometimes this will be because the solar panels do not even stand out as solar panels (as is the case with ‘active facades’, which are building facades with solar panels incorporated so seamlessly that they blend in unnoticed). In other cases, this will be because the systems are so omnipresent that the general public will simply no longer notice them as anything out of the ordinary. We are fast approaching this ‘tipping point’ where solar power systems ‘just are’. These developments, driven by the technical and financial viability of solar power, mean that solar power systems will play an increasingly significant role in providing electricity to meet the ever growing demand worldwide, and especially for clean energy that breaks the dependency on traditional fossil fuel generated electricity.
Articles in this section
Now that you have a feel for the overall content in this part of Context Solar, here is our current list of articles in this section:
- Solar Panel and Solar Cell Performance Versus Cost Improvements
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Cells and Solar Panels
- Photovoltaic Cells – The Foundation of a Revolution
- Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Energy Explained
- Solar Battery Key Facts
- Solar Panels for Sale – Key Considerations
- Solar System Typical and Minimum Site Requirements