Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun’s energy and make it useable, the technology produced less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand.
Many are familiar with so-called photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, found on things like spacecraft, rooftops, and handheld calculators. The cells are made of semiconductor materials like those found in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity.
On a much larger scale, solar-thermal power plants employ various techniques to concentrate the sun’s energy as a heat source. The heat is then used to boil water to drive a steam turbine that generates electricity in much the same fashion as coal and nuclear power plants, supplying electricity for thousands of people.
running a mini fridge on solar power
How to Harness Solar Power
In one technique, long troughs of U-shaped mirrors focus sunlight on a pipe of oil that runs through the middle. The hot oil then boils water for electricity generation. Another technique uses moveable mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a collector tower, where a receiver sits. Molten salt flowing through the receiver is heated to run a generator.
Other solar technologies are passive. For example, big windows placed on the sunny side of a building allow sunlight to heat-absorbent materials on the floor and walls. These surfaces then release the heat at night to keep the building warm. Similarly, absorbent plates on a roof can heat liquid in tubes that supply a house with hot water.
Solar energy is lauded as an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution- and often noise-free. The technology is also versatile. For example, solar cells generate energy for far-out places like satellites in Earth orbit and cabins deep in the Rocky Mountains as easily as they can power downtown buildings and futuristic cars.
Solar energy doesn’t work at night without a storage device such as a battery, and cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable during the day. Solar technologies are also very expensive and require a lot of land area to collect the sun’s energy at rates useful to lots of people.
solar attic fan pros and cons
Despite the drawbacks, solar energy use has surged at about 20 percent a year over the past 15 years, thanks to rapidly falling prices and gains in efficiency. Japan, Germany, and the United States are major markets for solar cells. With tax incentives, and efficient coordination with energy companies, solar electricity can often pay for itself in five to ten years.
Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, and the U.S. has some of the richest solar resources in the world. Solar technologies can harness this energy for a variety of uses, including generating electricity, providing light or a comfortable interior environment, and heating water for domestic, commercial, or industrial use.
There are three main ways to harness solar energy: photovoltaics, solar heating & cooling, and concentrating solar power. Photovoltaics generate electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process and can be used to power anything from small electronics such as calculators and road signs up to homes and large commercial businesses. Solar heating & cooling (SHC) and concentrating solar power (CSP) applications both use the heat generated by the sun to provide space or water heating in the case of SHC systems, or to run traditional electricity-generating turbines in the case of CSP power plants.
solar panel kit for shed
How solar is used
Solar energy is a very flexible energy technology: it can be built as distributed generation (located at or near the point of use) or as a central-station, utility-scale solar power plant (similar to traditional power plants). Both of these methods can also store the energy they produce for distribution after the sun sets, using cutting edge solar + storage technologies. Solar exists within a complex and interrelated electricity system in the U.S., working alongside other technologies like wind power to transition the U.S. to a clean energy economy.
All of these applications depend on supportive policy frameworks at the local, state and federal level to ensure consumers and businesses have fair access to clean energy technologies like solar.
The solar market today
There are more than 71 gigawatts (GW) of solar installed in the U.S., enough to power more than 13.5 million homes. Over the last decade, the solar market in the United States has grown at an average rate of 50% each year. There are more than 2 million individual solar installations in the U.S., ranging from small home rooftop systems to large utility-scale systems that add hundreds of megawatts of clean electricity to the power grid.
Solar Power Systems
A photovoltaic solar power system (or ‘PV System’) includes solar panels as the main component, and includes all of the Balance Of System (BOS) components needed to make your own energy. We work with top quality solar panel brands such as SolarWorld, Canadian Solar, Seraphim, and our own altE solar panels. The majority of solar power systems include an inverter, which takes the energy that the photovoltaic system produces in direct current (DC) form and converts it to alternating current (AC), so you can run appliances in your home.
Our solar power kits are complete systems, and include the racking and any equipment or Balance Of System components needed to generate power. Whether you’re considering staying connected to the grid to save money, or living off grid for freedom and independence, we have the solar system for you!
Want a custom-designed solar system for your home?
best direction for solar panels
Watch our introduction to solar power systems video, and learn which type of solar power kit is right for you and your specific situation. We offer a variety of solutions—not a one-size fits all approach—because no two homes, individuals or families are alike. Get introduced to the various types of solar power systems so you can identify the best solution for you, and start generating energy with the sun today!
Types of Solar Power Systems
• Grid-Tie Solar Systems – Best for those who already have electric utility service, but wish to significantly reduce their electric bill.
• Grid-Tie Solar Systems with Battery Backup – This is for those who already have electric utility service, but want the security of uninterrupted power in outage-prone locations.
• Off-Grid Cabin Solar Systems – Perfect for the scaled-down power needs of small homes and remote cabins, going off the grid.
• Off-Grid Solar Systems – Don’t want an electric bill? An off-grid system is designed for the power needs of mid-to-large size homes, going off the grid.