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Solar power explained

setting sun

If you’re looking for a great source of renewable energy, look up and towards the sun. Read on to find out more about solar power, including its benefits, the different types, and how you can generate it at home.

What is solar power?

Solar power is the conversion of energy from natural sunlight into electrical or thermal energy.

The conversion takes place directly with the use of photovoltaic panels (solar panels) or indirectly with concentrated forms of solar power, such as using mirrors or lenses.

It’s also common for energy from the sun to be converted using a mixture of direct and indirect methods.

Types of solar energy

There are two types of solar energy; active and passive solar energy.

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There are many different ways to use the sun’s heat, how that heat is used and transferred determines whether it’s active or passive. 

Active solar energy makes use of existing electrical devices such as water pumps to power a solar energy system. One disadvantage of this type of solar energy is that it needs extra power in addition to that from the sun to operate effectively. 

Passive solar energy is when existing architectural components like your roof or outside walls are used to deflect sunlight. Passive solar energy is cheaper to produce as it does not rely on the use of other electrical devices. 

If you have a water tank at home, using the sun’s heat to warm the tank would be using passive solar energy. Pumping the water from your tank through your walls to heat your home would need active solar energy.   

How is solar energy converted into electricity?

From a solar system such as a solar panel, solar energy is transported to an inverter. The inverter turns the direct current (DC) electricity generated by the panels into 120-volt alternating current (AC). The energy can be used straight away by connecting the inverter directly to a circuit breaker in your electrical panel.

Pros and cons of solar power

Some of the advantages of solar power include:

  • Solar power is pollution-free in the longer term with no greenhouse gases emitted
  • Excess solar power can be fed back into the grid under the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme lowering your energy bills in the process
  • Low maintenance as solar panels can last up to 30 years
  • Government grants and schemes are available to help with the costs  
  • Reduces the need for fossil fuels
  • Solar power can be stored in batteries

On the other hand, some disadvantages of solar power are:

  • Generating solar energy is weather dependency
  • Expensive initial costs for materials and installation
  • Solar systems require a lot of storage space
  • Transportation and installation of solar systems can cause pollution
  • Storage batteries are large and can take up a lot of space at home

Can I use solar energy at home?

Yes. If you have adequate space on your roof or the side of your home, you can install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and generate electricity.

If you ever use more power than your panels are producing, your supply will be topped up by electricity from the grid. Your energy supplier will be responsible for billing you for the surplus electricity. 

Solar panels come with an inverter, and it will be able to show you how much energy you’ve produced and is available to use.

Does solar power cost more than normal power? 

Not necessarily. Generating solar power only needs sunlight and that’s free to use. The true costs involved with solar power come with manufacturing, transporting and installing the solar power equipment. 

So while your energy bills may be cheaper each month, if you factor in the expense of installing solar equipment at home, then solar power may not be cheaper than regular power.

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