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.
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.
The infrared, visible, and UV waves that reach the Earth take part in a process of warming the planet and making life possible—the so-called “greenhouse effect.”
About 30% of the solar energy that reaches Earth is reflected back into space. The rest is absorbed into Earth’s atmosphere. The radiation warms the Earth’s surface, and the surface radiates some of the energy back out in the form of infrared waves. As they rise through the atmosphere, they are intercepted by greenhouse gases, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide.
Greenhouse gases trap the heat that reflects back up into the atmosphere. In this way, they act like the glass walls of a greenhouse. This greenhouse effect keeps the Earth warm enough to sustain life.
Almost all life on Earth relies on solar energy for food, either directly or indirectly.
Producers rely directly on solar energy. They absorb sunlight and convert it into nutrients through a process called photosynthesis. Producers, also called autotrophs, include plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi. Autotrophs are the foundation of the food web.
Consumers rely on producers for nutrients. Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and detritivores rely on solar energy indirectly. Herbivores eat plants and other producers. Carnivores and omnivores eat both producers and herbivores. Detritivores decompose plant and animal matter by consuming it.
Photosynthesis is also responsible for all of the fossil fuels on Earth. Scientists estimate that about 3 billion years ago, the first autotrophs evolved in aquatic settings. Sunlight allowed plant life to thrive and evolve. After the autotrophs died, they decomposed and shifted deeper into the Earth, sometimes thousands of meters. This process continued for millions of years.
Under intense pressure and high temperatures, these remains became what we know as fossil fuels. Microorganisms became petroleum, natural gas, and coal.
People have developed processes for extracting these fossil fuels and using them for energy. However, fossil fuels are a nonrenewable resource. They take millions of years to form.
There are different ways of capturing solar radiation and converting it into usable energy. The methods use either active solar energy or passive solar energy.
Active solar technologies use electrical or mechanical devices to actively convert solar energy into another form of energy, most often heat or electricity. Passive solar technologies do not use any external devices. Instead, they take advantage of the local climate to heat structures during the winter, and reflect heat during the summer.
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.
Photovoltaic (PV) devices generate electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process that occurs naturally in certain types of material, called semiconductors. Electrons in these materials are freed by solar energy and can be induced to travel through an electrical circuit, powering electrical devices or sending electricity to the grid.
PV devices 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) technologies collect the thermal energy from the sun and use this heat to provide hot water, space heating, cooling, and pool heating for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. These technologies displace the need to use electricity or natural gas.
Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity when it is needed, day or night.
Ancient Civilizations from the 7th century B.C realized that they could use solar energy and glass to light fires. While this is a million miles from turning solar energy into electricity, it shows that we have long had a fascination with the sun and its power.
This energy heated homes and bathhouses as windows were strategically placed so that the sunlight would heat the water or water tanks. This is where our love for and ability to harness the sun’s energy really began.
The Photovoltaic Effect in the 19th Century
Scientist, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. During this era that the first patents for solar collectors became apparent. The scientist continued the process of experimenting with electrolytic cells.
In 1876, science made great strides in solar energy. From here, he discovered exposing more cells to light produced more electricity. Crucially, scientists discovered that selenium could convert sunlight into electricity without needing heat.
Following this, just 7 years later in 1883, they developed the first solar cell with selenium. This paved the way for further progress. In 1891, inventors patented the first commercial solar water heater. Herewith, laying the real foundations of solar power and energy that we see today.
The Creation of the Solar Cell
Inventors produced the very first solar collector In 1908, bearing a resemblance to the current solar collectors. The world experienced a shortage of energy during World War 2. In turn, leading to an increase in passive solar buildings in the USA.
This eventually led to the creation of the first silicon photovoltaic cell in 1954. In contrast to the previous use of Selenium, this had the ability to generate enough power to run electrical equipment.
In 1958 the Vanguard I satellite powered its radio communication with a single watt solar panel – which ultimately led the way to broader use of solar panels in space.
At this early stage of use, the solar efficiency was only 4%. Far lower than the 20%+ we see today. However, this proved the catalyst for more solar-powered devices becoming readily available on the market.
Additionally, solar technologies began heating water in commercial properties.
At this point, solar cells started to become an integral aspect of the design of satellites. Solar still powers satellites today.
Silicon solar cells
In 1970, things began to change again. Engineers developed silicon solar cells, a cheaper alternative. Around this time, the US created the Solar Energy Research Institute to further the development of solar energy production. Other countries followed suit, and the developments resulted in the commercialization of solar panels, ultimately making them suitable for domestic use.
In 1999 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory partnered with SpectroLab Inc. to create a solar cell with 33.3% energy efficiency. Later, in 206, the University of South Wales beat it, claiming the world’s most efficient solar cell with 34.5% efficiency.
As the technology continued to gather momentum, the widespread and possibilities of using solar across many different applications became more feasible. In turn. creating a whole new level of possibilities. Solar cell technology could now provide energy to power cars and even airplanes.
Meanwhile, solar farms and large-scale photovoltaic systems began to increase in popularity as a result of the capacity to generate electricity on a larger scale.
Today several different types of solar energy make up the solar landscape.
Governmental incentives for solar generation
In 2005 the U.S. passed the Energy Policy Act that, for the first time, provided incentives in the form of 30% tax credits for solar energy installations.
The UK government paid solar producers for their energy up until 2019. This initiative, called the Feed-in Tariff, reimbursed electricity generation shared back to the grid.
A Solar Generation
As non-renewable fossil fuels and other forms of energy are causing problems for our planet, solar power has become more important than ever before.
Since the turn of the 21st century, when the first commercial applications in the history of solar energy were seen scientists have been continuously developing solar technology1 so it offers more efficiency, convenience and can meet the energy needs of communities, homeowners, and businesses.
Countries such as Australia are now making it their goal to become reliant on solar power with the country becoming 50% reliant on renewables by 2025, proving just how far solar technology has come.
On the whole, the aim is to lower solar costs and make solar power affordable and as accessible as other energy sources so everyone has the opportunity to use energy that is greener, safer, and renewable.
The initial cost of purchasing a solar system is fairly high. This includes paying for solar panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and the installation. Nevertheless, solar technologies are constantly developing, so it is safe to assume that prices will go down in the future.
Although solar energy can still be collected during cloudy and rainy days, the efficiency of the solar system drops. Solar panels are dependent on sunlight to effectively gather solar energy. Therefore, a few cloudy, rainy days can have a noticeable effect on the energy system. You should also take into account that solar energy cannot be collected during the night.
On the other hand, if you also require your water heating solution to work at night or during wintertime, thermodynamic panels are an alternative to consider.
3.Solar energy storage is expensive
Solar energy has to be used right away, or it can be stored in large batteries. These batteries, used in off-the-grid solar systems, can be charged during the day so that the energy is used at night. This is a good solution for using solar energy all day long but it is also quite expensive.
In most cases, it is smarter to just use solar energy during the day and take energy from the grid during the night (you can only do this if your system is connected to the grid). Luckily your energy demand is usually higher during the day so you can meet most of it with solar energy.
4.Uses a lot of space
The more electricity you want to produce, the more solar panels you will need, as you want to collect as much sunlight as possible. Solar PV panels require a lot of space and some roofs are not big enough to fit the number of solar panels that you would like to have.
An alternative is to install some of the panels in your yard but they need to have access to sunlight. If you don’t have the space for all the panels that you wanted, you can opt for installing fewer to still satisfy some of your energy needs.
5.Associated with pollution
Although pollution related to solar energy systems is far less compared to other sources of energy, solar energy can be associated with pollution. Transportation and installation of solar systems have been associated with the emission of greenhouse gases.
There are also some toxic materials and hazardous products used during the manufacturing process of solar photovoltaic systems, which can indirectly affect the environment.
Nevertheless, solar energy pollutes far less than other alternative energy sources.
1.Renewable energy source
Among all the benefits of solar panels, the most important thing is that solar energy is a truly renewable energy source. It can be harnessed in all areas of the world and is available every day. We cannot run out of solar energy, unlike some of the other sources of energy.
Solar energy will be accessible as long as we have the sun, therefore sunlight will be available to us for at least 5 billion years when according to scientists the sun is going to die.
2.Reduces electricity bills
Since you will be meeting some of your energy needs with the electricity your solar system has generated, your energy bills will drop. How much you save on your bill will be dependent on the size of the solar system and your electricity or heat usage.
For example, if you are a business using commercial solar panels this switch can have huge benefits because the large system size can cover large chunks of your energy bills.
Moreover, not only will you be saving on the electricity bill, but there is also a possibility to receive payments for the surplus energy that you export back to the grid through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). If you generate more electricity than you use (considering that your solar panel system is connected to the grid).
Solar energy can be used for diverse purposes. You can generate electricity (photovoltaics) or heat (solar thermal). Solar energy can be used to produce electricity in areas without access to the energy grid, to distil water in regions with limited clean water supplies and to power satellites in space.
Solar energy can also be integrated into the materials used for buildings. Not long ago Sharp introduced transparent solar energy windows.
4.Low maintenance costs
Solar energy systems generally don’t require a lot of maintenance. You only need to keep them relatively clean, so cleaning them a couple of times per year will do the job. If in doubt, you can always rely on specialised cleaning companies, which offer this service from around £25-£35.
Most reliable solar panel manufacturers offer 20-25 years warranty.
Also, as there are no moving parts, there is no wear and tear. The inverter is usually the only part that needs to be changed after 5-10 years because it is continuously working to convert solar energy into electricity and heat (solar PV vs. solar thermal). Apart from the inverter, the cables also need maintenance to ensure your solar power system runs at maximum efficiency.
So, after covering the initial cost of the solar system, you can expect very little spending on maintenance and repair work.
Technology in the solar power industry is constantly advancing and improvements will intensify in the future. Innovations in quantum physics and nanotechnology can potentially increase the effectiveness of solar panels and double, or even triple, the electrical input of the solar power systems.
1.JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd. (JKS)
_Revenue (TTM): $4.6 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $163.1 million
_Market Cap: $909.9 million
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 6.9%
_Exchange: New York Stock Exchange
JinkoSolar is a Chinese holding company that produces solar cells, modules and other materials related to solar energy. It is among the top producers of solar panels globally by gigawatts (GW) delivered. The company serves customers in China, the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and South America.
2.Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ)
_Revenue (TTM): $3.2 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $257.3 million
_Market Cap: $1.6 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 30.5%
Canadian Solar Inc. is a solar product developer that designs, builds, and sells modules with residential, commercial, and industrial applications. The company’s products include solar modules, inverters, and system kits.
3.First Solar Inc. (FSLR)
_Revenue (TTM): $3.1 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $98.8 million
_Market Cap: $7.4 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 12.0%
First Solar provides solar panels, photovoltaic power plants, and related services such as construction, maintenance, and recycling of these products. The company utilizes a thin film semiconductor technology to achieve enhanced efficiency and sustainability in its solar modules.
4.GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. (GCPEF)
_Revenue (TTM): $2.8 billion
_Net Income (TTM): -$32.6 million
_Market Cap: $756.9 million
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: -10.5%2
GCL-Poly Energy Holdings is a Hong Kong-based company that manufactues polysilicon for use in solar power products. The company also operates cogeneration plants in China.
5.SunPower Corp. (SPWR)
_Revenue (TTM): $1.9 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $8.4 million
_Market Cap: $1.8 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 32.5%
SunPower designs and builds silicon photovoltaic cells and related solar materials. The company offers solar power products as well as services relating to those products to customers worldwide.
6.SolarEdge Technologies Inc. (SEDG)
_Revenue (TTM): $1.6 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $173.3 million
_Market Cap: $9.4 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 148.9%
SolarEdge Technologies builds and distributes equipment and technology for photovoltaic arrays. The company provides optimization services as well as monitoring solutions for photovoltaic systems. SolarEdge’s products include monitoring equipment, optimizers, and inverters. The company is based in Israel.
7.Xinyi Solar Holdings Ltd. (968)
_Revenue (TTM): $1.2 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $368.5 million
_Market Cap: $10.5 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 92.1%4
_Exchange: Hong Kong Stock Exchange3
Chinese Xinyi Solar Holdings manufactures solar glass. The company engages in R&D, manufacturing, technical sales, and similar services. Xinyi is a holding company that provides its products and services through subsidiaries, serving customers worldwide.
8.Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd. (YGEHY)
_Revenue (TTM): $1.2 billion
_Net Income (TTM): -$496.1 million
_Market Cap: $2.4 million
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: -22.1%5
Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. is a holding company that conducts research, designs, builds, and sells photovoltaic modules through its subsidiaries. The company is based in China.
9.SMA Solar Technology AG (S92)
_Revenue (TTM): $1.2 billion
_Net Income (TTM): $9.2 million
_Market Cap: $1.5 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 55.3%3
German company SMA Solar Technology manufactures a variety of solar energy equipment, including solar inverters and alternating current converters. The company serves customers around the world.
10.Atlantica Sustainable Infrastructure PLC (AY)
_Revenue (TTM): $972.4 million
_Net Income (TTM): $17.0 million
_Market Cap: $2.8 billion
_1-Year Trailing Total Return: 20.4%
Atlantica Sustainable Infrastructure sells solar power products, in addition to transportation and transmission systems for a variety of power sources. Atlantica also owns and operates natural gas fields.
Source: seia.org– nationalgeographic.org– researchgate.net– trvst.world– science.org– edx.org– Youtu.be– greenmatch.co.uk– investopedia.com– jinkosolar.com– canadiansolar.com– firstsolar.com– sunpower.com– solaredge.com– xinyisolar.com– atlantica.com– slideplayer.com– bartleby.com
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