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A Layperson's View of Future Technology and Society

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Solar Energy

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Renewable Energy Sources

Solar Energy and Solar Power

Solar energy is the radiant light and heat from the Sun that has been harnessed by humans. Solar power is the generation of electricity using solar energy.


Solar Power Technology

Sunlight can be converted directly into electricity using photovoltaics, or indirectly with concentrating solar power, which normally focuses the sun's energy to boil water which is then used to provide power.


Solar Cells and Solar Panels

solar cellA solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current. Solar cells produce direct current electricity from light, which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. Most solar cells available today require protection from the environment and are usually packaged tightly behind a glass sheet.


When more power is required than a single cell can deliver, cells are electrically connected together to form photovoltaic modules, or solar panels. A single module is enough to power an emergency telephone, but for a house or a power plant the modules must be arranged in multiples as arrays.

Concentrating solar power

Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated light is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant or is concentrated onto photovoltaic surfaces.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) systemImage: The PS10 solar power tower near Seville concentrates sunlight from a field of heliostats on a central tower.

Concentrating solar power systems are mainly divided into three categories- concentrating solar thermal, concentrating photovoltaics, and concentrating photovoltaics and thermal.

Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) is used to produce renewable heat or electricity (generally, in the latter case, through steam). CST systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated light is then used as heat or as a heat source for a conventional power plant (solar thermoelectricity). A wide range of concentrating technologies exist, including the parabolic trough, Dish Stirling, Concentrating Linear Fresnel Reflector, Solar chimney and solar power tower.

Concentrating photovoltaics (CPV) systems employ sunlight concentrated onto photovoltaic surfaces for the purpose of electrical power production. Solar concentrators of all varieties may be used, and these are often mounted on a solar tracker in order to keep the focal point upon the cell as the Sun moves across the sky.

Concentrating Photovoltaics and Thermal (CPT) technology produces both electricity and thermal heat in the same module. Thermal heat that can be employed for hot tap water, heating and heat-powered air conditioning (solar cooling), desalination or solar process heat.

Energy storage methods

Solar energy is not available at night, making energy storage an important issue in order to provide the continuous availability of energy. Solar power is an intermittent energy source, meaning that all available output must be taken when it is available and either stored for when it can be used, or transported, over transmission lines, to where it can be used.

Solar energy can be stored at high temperatures using molten salts. Salts are an effective storage medium because they are low-cost, have a high specific heat capacity and can deliver heat at temperatures compatible with conventional power systems.

Off-grid PV systems have traditionally used rechargeable batteries to store excess electricity. With grid-tied systems, excess electricity can be sent to the transmission grid. Net metering programs give these systems a credit for the electricity they deliver to the grid.

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity stores energy in the form of water pumped when surplus electricity is available, from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation one. The energy is recovered when demand is high by releasing the water: the pump becomes a turbine, and the motor a hydroelectric power generator.

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The Future of Solar Power

Solar power has the potential to solve much of the world's future energy needs.

The inflexible photovoltaics that exist today, could be replaced by spray-on solar cells, that can be painted on city buildings or any surface. The plastic case of your cell phone, might one day be made entirely of PV material, that can charge your phone in any light. Batteries of the future will charge faster and store more energy.

Advances in nanotechnology, chemistry and physics could soon make solar power the best choice in renewable energy.

solar panel

2.4-kW PV system manufactured by GE, installed at 11,000 foot elevation, on the roof of the Highlands Patrol HQ building at the Aspen Mountain Resort in Aspen, Colorado. Credit: Aspen Skiing Co.

Source: NREL

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solar concentrator

This solar concentrator is 109.4 M2 with a peak power of 15 kW, has a fixed-focus faceted dish with a concentration of ~250 suns. The reflective surface is flat, single-strength back-silvered glass tiles with 88% reflectivity. The power conversation units is a dense-array concentrating receiver. It is single crystal silicon solar cells that reach a temperature of < 65 Celsius. They are actively cooled with radiation-fan and pumped water loop. The electrical connection is a DC output from solar cells converted to AC by solid state inverters. The system can be used for large fields connected to the utility grid, hydrogen generation and water pumping. Credit: SAIC Source:


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Solar Energy Articles, Blogs and Web Sites

Links open in a new window. Bold = Recommended. Links do not imply endorsement.

Solar Power Articles
Title Source Date
Japan has floating solar power plants in Hyogo Prefecture Phys.org 04/15
New concept in solar energy poised to catch on across US Associated Press 03/15
8 crazy new solar research breakthroughs Yahoo! News 03/15
High efficiency concentrating solar cells move to the rooftop The Pennsylvania State University 02/15
2015 is UN's 'Year of Light' — What Role Will Solar Play? solarenergy.net 01/15
Decorative and flexible solar panels become part of interior design and the appearance of objects VTT 01/15
A solar cell that stores its own power Phys.Org 10/14
Panasonic's HIT solar cell hits record 25.6 percent conversion efficiency Gizmag 04/14
Ordered carbon-nanotube design may increase conductivity of solar cells by 100 million times KurzweilAi.net 04/14
Ivanpah solar electric generating system connects to grid KurzweilAi.net 10/13
World record solar cell with 44.7% efficiency Phys.Org 09/13
Solar Decathlon 2013: Five solar houses to watch Gizmag 07/13
A new world record for solar cell efficiency EMPA 03/13
Rice unveils super-efficient solar-energy technology KurzweilAi.net 11/12
LA opens rooftops for solar energy installations Gizmag 05/12
A limitless power source for the indefinite future KurzweilAi.net 11/11
New way to store sun's heat MIT 07/11
New solar product captures up to 95 percent of light energy Phys.Org 05/11
Solar funnel MIT News 09/10
Solar cell, heal thyself MIT News 09/10
New solar energy conversion process discovered by Stanford engineers could revamp solar power production Stanford University News 08/10
Transform the Moon into a giant solar power plant Phys.Org 06/10
A dazzling future for solar power? CNN 05/10
Origami Solar Cells Technology Review 11/09
Unprecedented growth seen for solar energy Phys.Org 02/09
How Does a Solar Plant Work NextEra Energy Resources 01/09
How do Photovoltaics Work? NASA 01/09
Solar Energy Basics NREL 11/08
Solar videos - How photovoltaics work NeREA 10/08
Scientists claim solar energy breakthrough Edie News 08/08
More-Efficient Solar Cells Technology Review 08/08
Saharan sun to power European supergrid Guardian News 07/08
World's biggest solar farm at centre of Portugal's ambitious energy plan Guardian News 06/08
Solar Power to Rule in 20 Years, Futurists Say Live Science 02/08
Large scale solar plants have a bright future GizMag 09/07
Space solar power Space Review 07/07
Easy process to produce solar panels Phys.Org 07/07
Power station harnesses Sun's rays BBC News 05/07


Solar Energy Web Sites and Blogs
Title Description
American Solar Energy Society Association of solar professionals & advocates
Eurosolar European Association for Renewable Energy
Florida Solar Energy Center University of Central Florida
How Solar Energy Works Union of Concerned Scientists
Passive Solar Research Group University of Nebraska at Omaha
Photovoltaics Solar Power Labs at ASU
Solar Energy NatGeo
Solar Today American Solar Energy Society Inc.
Texas Solar Energy Society Solar and renewable energy outreach and education
The Future of Solar Power Solar Panels – Green Power Blog
The Prometheus Institute Solar Energy Photo Gallery
Uses of Solar Energy SolarBuzz


Article Sources
Solar Energy and Power Wikipedia


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