WHAT TYPES OF SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEMS ARE USED TO GENERATE ELECTRICITY?
There are two main types of solar power systems: photovoltaic (PV) and thermal. PV is the most common and widely deployed type of solar power system, producing electricity on a large scale for both commercial and residential use.
Essentially, photovoltaic solar panels use the “photovoltaic effect” to convert sunlight directly into usable electricity. The effect is caused by the way that photons of light interact with the surface of a semiconductor, causing the atoms of the semiconductor to release electrons. These electrons then flow through wiring in the panel and out to a solar inverter, which is used to convert the electrical current into usable alternating current (AC) electricity that can be plugged into standard wall sockets.
Photovoltaic cells consist of a thin layer of silicon surrounded by a metal frame and glass casing. When light strikes the top of a photovoltaic cell, the photons impact the silicon atoms and cause them to release their electrons.
Electricity generated from solar cells is typically only two watts per cell, but it can be produced in very large numbers by connecting many individual photovoltaic cells. This process is called solar-cell arrays and can produce hundreds or even thousands of kilowatts of electricity per solar panel system, a powerful technology for producing renewable energy on a large scale.
One of the most promising newer forms of solar energy is thin-film solar cells. Thin-film cells are made from a variety of lightweight and flexible materials that are about 350 times thinner than traditional silicon-based cells.
They have a much higher conversion efficiency, which means that they can produce more power than traditional silicon-based cells. They are also lighter and easier to transport than conventional silicon-based cells.
Some newer types of solar cell technology use alternative materials like cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), and gallium arsenide (GaAs). These newer kinds of solar cells can be more cost-effective than conventional solar cells and are increasingly being adopted by the residential market for home energy production.
Man worker in the firld by the solar panels
Another type of solar power is concentrated solar, which uses mirrors or lenses to focus sunlight to extreme heat, transforming the light into steam that can be used to drive an electric generator. This type of solar power plant is less popular for large-scale applications than photovoltaic systems, but it still produces substantial amounts of electricity on a small to medium scale, especially in hot climates such as the southwestern United States.
IN THE UNITED STATES, PHOTOVOLTAIC AND CONCENTRATED SOLAR POWER IS CURRENTLY THE LEADING TECHNOLOGIES FOR GENERATING RENEWABLE ENERGY. DESPITE THIS, SOLAR ELECTRICITY IS ONLY 0.4 PERCENT OF THE COUNTRY’S TOTAL ENERGY SUPPLY IN 2014. THIS LACK OF AVAILABILITY OF UTILITY-SCALE PHOTOVOLTAIC PLANTS IN THE UNITED STATES MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR SOLAR POWER TO BECOME A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR TO OUR NATION’S ENERGY NEEDS, THOUGH RENEWABLES HAVE SEEN AN UPTICK IN DEVELOPMENT IN RECENT YEARS AS GLOBAL WARMING CONCERNS INCREASE AND POLICY MECHANISMS SUCH AS FEED-IN TARIFFS ARE IMPLEMENTED TO ENCOURAGE THE USE OF SOLAR AND OTHER RENEWABLE SOURCES OF ENERGY.