Solar power has been one of the most progressive inventions of our time. The amount of sunlight that the planet receives in 90 minutes is enough to provide one year’s global supply of electricity. The advanced technology of solar power makes the conversion of sunlight into electricity possible.
Sunlight is converted to energy either through photovoltaic (PV) solar panels or mirrors that reflect and concentrate solar radiation. This harnessed electricity can be stored in batteries or kept in thermal storage to power all of our electrical needs.
The Basics of Solar Energy
Solar radiation is also called electromagnetic radiation, or simply, solar light. Different areas of the planet receive different amounts of sunlight throughout the year. Sunlight can be captured and converted into electricity with the use of two main technologies: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP).
When we think of solar power, we are more likely familiar with PV, which is the solar power type that is seen on residential structures. With the installation of solar panels, PV technology is able to absorb sunlight through the panels’ cells. It creates an electrical charge that works with the electrical field inside the cells, which then generate electricity.
CSP is a technology mostly seen in commercial and industrial spaces. It uses mirrors that reflect and concentrate sunlight that is transmitted to receivers that collect the energy and turn it into heat. It can then go through a process to generate electricity that can also be stored for usage in the future. This type of technology is mostly seen in large power plants responsible for supplying communities.
An inverter regulates the flow of electrical power and is a key component within a solar power system. The inverter converts direct current (DC) electric power generated by solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity, which can be used by electrical grids.
In a residential solar power system, the inverter has multiple functions. Not only does it convert solar power into AC energy, but it also monitors the whole system while providing a communication portal. It links to computer networks for a variety of functions.
Advanced inverters are necessary for solar power storage systems that provide energy without relying on the grid. This technology allows you to receive electrical energy even during power outages.
The generation of energy by PV and CSP systems is only the beginning of solar power technology. The next step is to integrate solar-generated electricity into electrical grids that feed homes, commercial properties, and other structures. With a rise in solar power systems, there also has been an increased need for more inverters connected to the grid.
The Importance of Energy Storage
Solar energy can only be harnessed when the sun shines. There are parts of the world that don’t receive as much sunshine as others. Other factors that create a variation in the amount of captured solar energy include dust, rain, shadows, dirt, and the time of day. For these reasons, solar energy storage is key in maintaining a balance between the generation of solar power and consumption. Batteries and thermal storage function to store this energy for future use.
Energy storage facilities have different levels of capacity measured in kilowatt-hours or megawatt-hours. Various tasks require different amounts of power. Storage helps even out the normal energy fluctuations that occur while providing enough power to carry on normal daily activities for the end consumer. There are a few different types of energy storage.
With pumped-storage hydropower technology, water is pumped uphill into a reservoir when the electricity demand is low. As the demand for electrical power rises, the water is allowed to flow downhill turning a turbine, and motion generates the necessary electricity.
There’s also electrochemical storage, like computer and phone batteries. A chemical reaction occurs when electricity is stored in a battery. Then, the reverse chemical reaction occurs as the battery discharges to power electrical devices.
CSP plants are most likely to use thermal energy storage. This type of storage technology concentrates solar power onto a receiver, which heats a working fluid such as water, molten salt, or other materials that can store heat.
In flywheel storage, a heavy wheel rotates around a shaft. As the wheel turns faster, it spends energy that is extracted into an electrical generator. This mechanism utilizes electromagnetism to slow down the wheel, which causes electricity to be produced. Flywheel storage only holds a small amount of energy.
Solar energy can create other types of fuels that can be combusted, consumed, or burned to generate energy. This technology stores solar power in the form of chemical compounds such as methane, which is a major component of natural gas and can be used to fuel the electrical needs of homes.
Benefits of Balancing Solar Power and Power Storage
The benefits of combining solar and storage are plentiful. Combining solar and storage help balance electricity loads and creates resilience.
If electricity storage didn’t exist, any electricity that is generated at a particular time would have to immediately be consumed when it’s produced. This would translate into grid operators having to perform generation offline to prevent excessive generation and issues with grid reliability.
On the other hand, there could be different times when solar production drops but demand remains high such as after the sun sets or when it’s cloudy outside. Excess power can be stored when solar generation is plentiful and electrical consumption is low. Storage is a way to create consistency in the flow of electricity so that there is enough when needed and recharged when not, which is key in balancing electricity loads.
Using both solar and storage provides the necessary power backup during disruptions to the electrical supply. It is a way to keep the continuous flow of energy essential to critical facilities such as communications infrastructures. Additionally, solar and storage are used for microgrids and small-scale applications like portable power units to provide power to anyone when they need it.
To explore the utility of solar power and adapt existing infrastructures, solar energy research and development agencies have been created to fund and drive the advancements of solar energy technologies. The need for solar energy will continue to grow as costs drop, new technologies emerge, and assistance programs and supportive policies are created. The solar industry is likely to develop quickly as the demand for this new, efficient, environmentally friendly power source grows.
Friar's Heating and Air Makes Going Solar Easy
At Friar's Heating and Air, we provide all the resources you need to choose the best solar power system for your home. Since 2018, we have been on a mission to provide the best quality services for residents in San Diego and surrounding communities. Our solar expert team will perform a comprehensive assessment of your home to provide the best options for your solar installation. In addition to solar, Friar's Heating and Air also provides cooling, heating, and indoor air quality (IAQ) services. We are proudly a veteran-owned company with more than 40 years of combined experience. To get started on a solar system installation, call us today for a consultation!