Solar Power – The Basics

Solar Power - The Basics
by Paul Woods

Solar power is an energy source which is renewable, totally free of charge, non-polluting and always available. Experts have been experimenting for a long time how to make the best and most efficient use of it. Here are some facts about how solar power is being used at the moment.

Solar power can be used in a wide variety of different ways. It can be converted into electricity by means of photo voltaic cells, and it can also be used directly as a means of heat, for example for heating water. Using it directly in this way is frequently termed ‘passive solar’, whereas converting it into electricity is called ‘active solar’. One of the main limiting factors on the usefulness of solar power is the relatively weak form in which we receive it, so that if we are to make really effective use of it we need to find a way to concentrate it.

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Solar power has been used in its passive state for many centuries. Examples of this include heating water, lighting fires and drying wood. In places where sunlight is available for most days of the year, solar water heaters are popular. There are also solar power plants which can concentrate the energy of the sun and generate electricity in large amounts. Power plants like these are especially economical and useful in out of the way places where conventional electricity is not always available. Even space craft and satellites make use of solar energy.

Recently, much interested has been generated in the idea of using solar power as a means to run power motor vehicles. This is still very much at an experimental stage. The huge amount of power required by a car’s engine would mean using very large solar panels. This is impractical due to the size and fragility of the panels. There is also the problem that when the sun is not shining, they wouldn’t run for very long. In this instance, we are along way from using solar power to run our cars.

The demand for solar power is increasing, but at the moment its cost prevents it being used widely. It is not the lack of technology, but the cost of converting it to useful energy which is prohibitive. However fuel costs are continually rising, and the time will come when solar power will be economically viable. People are also increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of present day fuels, and therefore the demand for clean energy is rising. This increasing demand means that by economy of scale manufacturers will find it more feasible to produce devices which run on solar power.

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