• Solar Energy Know How

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Clean solar energy is the future

Clean Energy from the Sun
The use of clean solar energy has soared since the millennium. According to figures from the International Energy Agency, the global of amount of solar PV (photovoltaic) energy was 1.4 GW (GW – Gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts = 1,000,000,000 watts) in 2000. By 2011 this had grown to roughly 67 GW, which is a 47,857% increase in only eleven years! More and more people are starting to understand that our reliance on fossil fuels cannot continue on at the current pace. Current predictions estimate that we will exhaust our planet's supply of oil by 2052, gas by 2060 and coal by 2088 – and once the supplies have gone, they have gone forever.

We are also starting to understand that our over-reliance on fossil fuels has caused irrevocable damage to our planet's environment. There was a “balance” created when, millions of years ago, lifeforms died, and the carbon they contained became buried deep underground. By digging up and burning the remains of those lifeforms in the form of fossil fuels, we've upset that balance by releasing carbon back into the atmosphere. As a result, we've seen the average global and sea surface temperature of the Earth rise by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1900, with two thirds of that rise occurring over last thirty years. That may not sound like much, but every tiny rise in temperature has profound effects on our planet, such as the reduction in snow and ice, the rising of sea levels and more frequent extreme climate events.

Solar energy = Clean energy

Solar energy is a clean energy source, as it releases almost no greenhouse gases – gases such as carbon dioxide that help cause global warming – and produces very little in the way of waste. The sun's energy is sufficient to provide enough energy for the whole of mankind for an entire year, and not just once over, but over 8,000 times over! That's the equivalent of over 10 billions tons of oil!

Solar energy is also a versatile source of energy. The traditional method of collecting energy using PV or photovoltaic cells is expensive, as those cells contain a lot of silicon, and a single PV cell will need to collect light for between 8 and 10 years before it has collected the equivalent monetary value of energy as it cost to manufacture it. An alternative is high-temperature thermal solar technology, which works in the same way as thermal power, concentrating heat energy (the sun's rays) to heat water to very high temperatures, creating steam which is then used to power turbines.

Solar energy power plants

An increasing number of countries are waking up to the potential of solar energy as a clean, environmentally-friendly method of energy generation, and are building full-sized industrial solar energy power plants. France, Switzerland, Germany and the United States all now have several solar power plants, while the Amareleja plant in Portugal generates enough power to supply energy for 30,000 homes, and the Victoria concentrated solar power plant in Australia powers 45,000!

We may have done too much damage to our environment already, but at least if we further move towards the cleaner, emission-free energy solutions provided by solar, we may prevent the damage we have done from becoming any worse.

How do I choose the best solar PV system for me?

Choose the best solar PV system for your home If you go back twenty years, then choosing the best solar PV system would not have been difficult – because you wouldn't have had many options! Domestic solar panel manufacturers were few and far between, and companies willing to install a solar PV system for you would have been even harder to find.

Thankfully, the world has begun to wake up to the potential of solar as a clean, renewable source of energy, and both solar panel manufacturers and installers are much easier to find. Both of these factors have meant that the price of panels and installation has fallen sharply, particularly in the last five years or so, as the market has become much more competitive. Previously, German panels were seen as the PV panel of choice, but more and more Asian companies (particularly Chinese companies) are starting to produce panels that are just as efficient as their German counterparts.

When it comes to choosing the best solar PV system for you, there are three things you need to consider: how much energy you will be using, how much appropriate roof space you have, and how far your budget can stretch.

Factoring it all together

For a family of two adults and two children, if you want to generate enough power so you are in effect, “off the grid”, you are going to need a system worth between 5kWh and 10kWh. For a 5kWh system you're going to be looking at spending between $14,000 and $20,000 – a 10kWh system will put you closer to $30,000. As for the roof-space, for a 5kWh system you are looking at room for 10 panels, and of course 20 panels for a 10kWh system.

If this all sounds a bit too much for you, then don't worry as you can still install a 4kWh system for between $10,000 and $12,000, which will generate between half and two-thirds of the electricity your family uses on a daily basis. You will not be “off the grid” but you will at least be reducing your utilities bill by partially powering your home with solar power.

Why do quotes differ so much?

If you manage to arrange quotes from two different solar energy system providers, then you may be surprised that the figures they quote for the supply and installation of a solar PV system differ significantly.

The reason for this is likely to be the standard of the PV panels that they use – the more expensive the installation, the more efficient the panels. However, you need to make sure this is the case, and that the company with the higher price tag are simply not just trying to overcharge you. Ask each installer how much energy their system is expected to produce in the first year, and then divide the total cost that you have been quoted by the amount of energy produced. Whichever system gives the greater amount, then that is the system you should be going for, as – if the promises made by the installer are correct – that will provide you with the best value.

By making a careful choice, you'll end up with the most effective solar PV system for you, and you'll soon be benefiting from cleaner, greener solar energy.

The State of Solar Power in California Today

Photovoltaic Field in California
If there's one thing that California has an abundance of, its sunshine. It could easily have laid claim to the state motto 'The Sunshine State' if Florida hadn't gotten there first. Instead, Californians have to be content with 'The Golden State', and the 3,000 hours or so of sunshine per year that the people of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego have to put up with.

Naturally, there's potentially a massive amount of energy that could be tapped within those 3,000 annual hours of sunshine, and moves have been made in California to do just that. In a joint venture between the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission, a campaign named 'Go Solar California!' has been instigated. The campaign has been set up to educate the people of California on the benefits of using solar power, as well as creating a central resource of information for any Californians who want to consider making solar power part of their lives, but don't really know where to begin.

The Go Solar California! Campaign has set itself two goals:

• To encourage Californians to install at least 3,000 megawatts of solar energy systems in their homes and businesses by the start of 2017.

• To install 585 millions therms of gas-displacing solar water heating systems by the start of 2018.

As part of this campaign, Go Solar California! has created the California Solar Initiative, which is a solar rebate program for investor-owned utilities customers, namely the customers of Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. The CSI program funds solar energy installations on existing homes, and existing or new agricultural, commercial, governmental and not-for-profit business premises. People who install and use solar energy within their homes will qualify to receive money-saving rebates.

California has something of a trail-blazing reputation when it comes to solar power. In 1978, the US Congress passed the Energy Tax Act which encouraged home-owners to invest in solar and wind energy technologies, as a reaction to the energy crises of the 1970s. In 1979 ARCO Solar commenced construction of the world's large photovoltaic (the means of generating power from sunlight) manufacturing plant in Camarillo, California, and in 1981 opened Solar One in Daggett California, the world's first large-scale thermal solar power plant. As of 2014, no less than four major solar power plants were under construction within the state of California:

• The 550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County

• The 550MW Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County

• The 500MW Blythe Solar Power Project, also in Riverside County

• The 250MW California Valley Solar Roach in the Carrizo Plain

With global warming now being an undeniable factor in everyone's lives, and with traditional fuel sources such as fossil fuels rapidly diminishing, the time has really come when everyone ought to take responsibility for our planet's future, so it remains habitable for our future generations. Campaigns such as Go Solar California! and incentives such as the California Solar Initiative are one real leap forward in hoping to encourage as many people as possible to do just that.

So what are the components of a solar power system ?

Solar power components
When you see solar panels on someone's roof, you know that that person has invested in a solar power system, but have you ever stopped to think what extra components are needed for a system to work? Here is a complete guide to all the elements you need for a solar power system.

The Panels

PV (photovoltaic) panels are the most common type of panel, especially for residential installations. They are made from three layers:

* The N-Layer – silicon that is mixed with phosphorus

* The P/N Junction – pure silicon

* The P-Layer – silicon that is mixed with boron

When sunlight strikes the N-Layer, it knocks electrons loose. These electrons pass through the P/N junction (which is a one-way junction) into the P-Layer. This creates an electrical field that then drives the electrons that have been “knocked off” from the silicon, creating an electric current.

The Inverter

If you know your physics, then you will know that the electric current that is generated in this way is direct current (DC), which is like the electricity stored in batteries. However, mains electricity is alternating current (AC) where the flow of electricity changes direction 50 times a second. To make the electricity supplied by solar power suitable for use in domestic homes, a device is needed that converts DC current to AC current, and this device is called an inverter.

An inverter works in a very simple way, using a series of switches which are known as “solid state switches” that “flips” the DC current backwards and forwards 50 times a second, to create the AC current.

The Battery

Not all solar power systems have a battery, but some systems that produce more electricity than is needed for the building they are powering have a battery connected to store this excess energy. The stored energy can then be used when the solar panels are not providing enough energy, such as dark and rainy days.

The Distributor

The distributor is the device that distributes the AC power created by the inverter to the grid, and sometimes to both the home in which the solar power system has been installed and the grid. The output from the inverter is fed to a dedicated breaker in your house's electric panel, and then through to your home. If you are creating more power then you are using, then some of the power flows backwards and into the grid, and you receive a credit from your utilities company. If your system is not supplying enough energy for your home, then the shortfall is made up as usual by your utilities company.

These are the basic components of any solar energy system and as you can see, solar power is not a complex energy system – the cells create DC current, the inverter changes it to AC current, and the distributor controls the way in which power is distributed between your home and your utilities supplier.

Now you understand the components that make up a solar energy system, why not consider making the switch to the money-saving, cleaner and more environmentally-friendly source of energy that is solar energy ?

What Are The Differences Between Residential and Commercial Solar Power Systems?

Commercial solar power plant
It is not only individuals who are increasingly likely to embrace solar energy these days. More and more commercial enterprises are making the leap to power their buildings with electricity created via the free energy received from the sun. Not only does making the switch save money, but such companies are hoping they will be viewed more favorably if they are seen to be displaying a commitment to more environmentally-friendly energy sources.
The question though is, what's the difference between residential and commercial solar power systems?

The most obvious answer is the scope. While a home has only a small number of people using electricity, the amount of people at a commercial premises can easily number into the hundreds. Solar panels for residences are usually smaller, and generate less power. This is because the roof space of residential buildings is less than the roof space of commercial buildings, so while a residential solar panel typically has 72 cells, a commercial solar panel will be about twelve inches wider, and have 96 cells.

Solar energy is a black and white issue

Commercial solar panels are also like the Model T Ford – you can have any color you like, as long as it's white. While most residential homes who go for solar are happy to accept white panels, if you do not want your panels to be so apparent, you can go for black ones instead.

As commercial panels are also likely to be needed to generate more power, they are usually more expensive per panel, although the actual price for solar energy is calculated by the power that they produce, and not the size or efficiency of the panel. Therefore, a 4kW system for a residential system will cost exactly the same as a 4kW system for a commercial system.

Because commercial panels are larger than residential ones, they are more efficient at producing electricity. Commercial panels have an efficiency of just under 20 percent, making them two percent more efficient than residential panels.

A non-stalling installation

In the case of both residential panels and commercial panels, they are installed using a bolted racking system, but as the roof of a commercial building is more more likely to be flat than the roof of a residence, a mounting system using non-penetrating ballast can be used, making installation easier. This makes a commercial installation easier than a residential one, although because many commercial installations can involve upwards of one hundred panels, as opposed to between eight and sixteen panels for a residential system, a full installation at a commercial premises can take longer than a week, or even as long as a month.

It's worth noting that if you are a residential customer who has decided to install a solar panel system, there is nothing to stop you from installing commercial-standard solar panels, especially if you have plenty of roof space, and you are not too bothered about how your panels will look on your roof. These are just some of the slight but important differences between a commercial and residential solar energy system installation. There is one thing that both types of system will have in common though – they allow the owners of the system to save money by using the free energy supplied by the sun, and they will both help to prevent global warming from becoming any worse.

More Articles...

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  2. Can Switching to Solar Panels Save Me Money ?
  3. Why Use Solar Power These Days ?
  4. Solar Panels Industry Review and the Future

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