About Solar Power Generation - Is it a Practical Energy Alternative?
After learning about solar power
, you may wonder why such a promising technology hasn't become
more widely used in our society. This clean energy source does not pollute
the air nor release any carbon dioxide (CO2). There are disadvantages such as
reliability and high initial costs, but for small scale applications such
as residential solar home heating
it may be the right alternative energy source for you.
Solar power generation has many options
that cost from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars. From simple battery
rechargers to large, rooftop installations, the sun's energy can be
converted to electricity and stored for later use. One of the main
reasons people consider turning to the sun for energy is that it
reduces the CO2 footprint, encourages reduction in energy
consumption and, in some cases, may actually be cheaper than paying
for an electrical hookup from the local utility company.
Stand-Alone DC Systems
Boats, RVs and small household applications
can use a stand-alone DC system. Typical costs range from $700 - $5,000 and
consist of rigid photovoltaic
that can provide more electrical
current. The DC energy is stored in deep cycle rechargeable batteries
with the use of a charge controller.
The typical application is for
and to power small DC appliances. These are only supplemental
power systems and do not replace the primary electrical source.
Stand-Alone AC Systems
When powering an entire house, the
energy from the solar panels is stored in the batteries for later use.
Cottages and homes that are off-grid -
that is, not connected to the electrical grid - may
find this installation practical ($5,000 - $50,000). However, conservation
is required since overcast days may prevent the batteries from receiving a
Household Solar Power Systems
The main components of a household solar power system are:
- Solar panels
- These convert the solar energy of the sun directly
into electricity. Typical panels for this application range from 60 to 200 W.
The higher the Wattage, the more electric current it can supply. Connecting
multiple panels together produces more electricity.
- Charge controller
- These are electrical devices that maximize the
current generated from solar panels. They have a maximum peak power
tracking circuit (MPPT) which increases the efficiency of the panels
by regulating the voltage and current. Ensure that the charge controller
can handle the maximum amount of current from all the solar panels put
- Solar panels produce direct current (DC) which can be
stored in batteries for later use. The number of batteries required
depends on your energy needs which also dictate how many solar panels
you need. Normal car batteries should not be used since they are not
designed for the numerous charge and discharge cycles.
- Household appliances run on alternating current (AC).
Blenders, stoves, washing machines all use 60 Hz, 120 or 240 V
electricity. To convert the DC current from the solar panels and
storage batteries, an inverter is needed to convert it to AC.
Using AC allows you to use the same household wiring, circuits
and appliances without any retrofits.
Large systems cost millions of dollars to design
and build and are usually experimental power stations that are subsidized
by the government. They are not practical for the average homeowner.
These systems maximize the solar power generation by:
- Locating in a sparely-populated location that has constant exposure
- Using an expensive orientation alignment system that directs the
panels at the sun throughout the day. The more direct the sunlight,
the more power is created.
- Transmits the AC power to the power grid for immediate use by
consumers. These are usually supplementary power sources since the
energy is not stored in batteries due to capacity limitations.
As you read more about solar power generation, you may be convinced
that it is the right energy source for you and your home. Costs have come
down in recent years (get a free quote for solar in your area),
however many homeowners still feel that the initial
cost is a deterrent. If you are patient, though, the years
of free energy it provides will more than pay for itself over time.