Solar Power - Is It the Best in Green Technology?

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    Nov 15, 2012
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We've all seen, probably even used calculators with solar cells that need no batteries, we've seen outdoor lights with solar cells that get charged during the day and work at night for a few hours.  We see homes with solar panels on their roofs, parking lots with solar panel covers, or  panels on highways by power emergency road signs or by call boxes. 

These cells use solar power, one of the best methods to generate electricity.  I am calling it one of the best methods because we can never run out of sunlight, and even though the cells need to be manufactured and put together, which may lead to some pollution, that seems like a minimal amount compared to any other technology.

Unlike any fossil fuel based technology, solar power does not emit anything harmful into the atmosphere, and even that fact alone should be enough to use solar power on a regular basis. As the name suggests, solar power is a way of converting sunlight into electricity. 

Many of us have played with magnifying glasses as children and realized that if we focused the sunlight long enough onto a small spot, we could heat things and even set a fire.  We were using concentrated solar power (CPS).  On a larger scale, CPS systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam.  The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant.  We have quite a few of these kind of solar thermal power plants around the globe, the largest one being in the Mojave Desert in California. This is one way to convert solar light into energy. 

Another way is through the solar cells that we see on calculators and other devices.  They are also called photovoltaic (PV) cells, photo meaning light, voltaic meaning electricity.  As its name suggests, this cell converts sunlight directly into electricity.  Since the resulted power fluctuates, it needs a converter.  The PV system is made up of one or more solar cells, a power converter, a system that holds together the panels and electrical interconnections.  A small PV system could be used to provide electricity to a single device, like a lamp, or water heater for a single house.  Larger systems may be built that can provide electricity to many customers.  The electricity generated may be used directly, stored or fed into a large electricity grid. 

The first photovoltaic was constructed way back in 1880, but that prototype was only able to convert 1% of solar light into energy, so at that time it wasn't too much use.  However, scientists recognized the importance of the new technology and were working on improving it since.  In the late 1950s solar panels were used in space, powering satellites' electrical systems.  As this technology evolves, we see these devices powering more and more things from everyday life, and more and more companies offering solar panels to use for residential homes.  This would be a dream come true on many different levels for consumers, as well as companies. 

Since scientists, as well as consumers are realizing the potential of this technology, we are getting closer every day to using it on large scale.  Although at this point even the newest solar cells still only have an efficiency level of barely over 40% (which is far better than the original 1%), it is still improving and soon it can reach a good enough efficiency to be used every day. 

For example, solar panels may be enough to power a residential house.  There are also quite a few photovoltaic power stations around the globe and there are more being built.  At the moment, solar power still has some difficulty competing with utilities, mainly because of habit, and because it still is costly to install everything necessary to build a good PV system, but this fact is rapidly changing. 

As module efficiency grows, and people are aware of the environmental concerns involving conventional power sources, solar power has a very promising future.  In fact it may be the best in green technology at this time.

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