Solar power is the conversion of solar energy into electricity, either directly through photovoltaics (PV), indirectly through concentrated solar power, or a mix of the two. Solar tracking systems and lenses or mirrors are used in concentrated solar power systems to focus a wide region of sunlight into a narrow beam. The photovoltaic effect is used in solar cells to convert light into an electric current. From a calculator powered by a single solar cell to rural dwellings powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system, photovoltaics were initially employed only as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications. Concentrated solar power facilities were first established commercially in the 1980s. The number of grid-connected solar PV systems has climbed into the millions, and gigawatt-scale photovoltaic power plants are being built as the cost of solar electricity has decreased. Solar PV is rapidly becoming a low-cost, low-carbon technology for harvesting renewable solar energy. The Pavagada Solar Park in Karnataka, India, has the world’s largest photovoltaic power station.
Many rich countries have added significant solar power capacity to their networks to supplement or replace traditional energy sources, while a growing number of developing countries are turning to solar to reduce their reliance on expensive imported fuels (see solar power by country). Remote renewable energy supplies can supplant fossil fuel usage thanks to long-distance transmission. One of two technologies is used in solar power plants:
Solar panels, either on rooftops or in ground-mounted solar farms, convert sunlight directly into electricity in photovoltaic (PV) systems. Solar thermal energy is used to create steam, which is then turned into electricity by a turbine in concentrated solar power (CSP) plants.
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A decreased energy cost is a significant benefit of a PV installation, but the extent of this benefit is determined by the amount of solar energy that can be produced given the available circumstances and how utilities charge for electricity. The first factor to consider is the amount of solar irradiation accessible in the home’s location. When it comes to solar panels, the closer you are to the equator, the better, but there are other aspects to consider. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) creates sun irradiation maps for the United States, and its website tools provide detailed solar information for individual sites around the country. Similar maps and data can be found in other nations, frequently through government environmental agencies or renewable energy organizations. The orientation of the home is also crucial; for rooftop arrays, a south-facing roof with no trees or other things blocking sunlight maximizes the amount of solar energy available. If this is not possible, panels can be put on exterior supports and installed distant from the home, but the extra hardware and wires will add to the cost. The timing of solar power output and how utility price for electricity is the second factors to consider. Solar power generation occurs predominantly in the afternoon and is higher throughout the summer, correlating reasonably well to overall electricity demand in hot climes because air conditioners consume the most energy at these times. As a result, solar energy is beneficial because other energy production methods (typically natural gas power plants) utilized to fulfill peak energy demand are often costly.
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The exact timing and size of rate modifications under such a scheme determine how beneficial it is for a certain homeowner. Similarly, due to frequent seasonal demand swings, utilities in some areas have pricing plans that vary at different periods of the year. Solar electricity becomes more valuable in the summer when rates are higher. The marginal price of electricity changes as consumption rises in some utilities’ tiered pricing models. Large homes (with large energy needs) may benefit the most from solar arrays that offset high-cost marginal consumption under this type of plan; in certain areas where rates increase dramatically as consumption increases, large homes (with large energy needs) may benefit the most from solar arrays that offset high-cost marginal consumption.
A solar system also has the advantage of allowing households to sell solar-generated electricity to utilities. This is accomplished in the United States through “net metering” plans, in which residential customers use the power they put into the grid (when the rate of electricity generation from the solar array is greater than the rate of household electricity consumption) to offset the power they consume at other times; the monthly electric bill reflects net energy consumption. Regulations and rules governing net metering differ by area. Homeowners can consult the DSIRE database for more information, and they should also contact their local utilities. Lowering electricity expenses as a result of a solar array has evident financial benefits. Second, the trend toward “green” living is driving up demand for homes with lower carbon footprints and are powered by renewable energy sources. Finally, buying a home with solar already installed implies that the investment is financed through the mortgage (for the homebuyer). Because of the accessibility of financing, solar could be more economical for a homeowner than buying a property without solar and then adding one later.
The final advantage is the possible increase in a home’s value as a result of the installation of a solar array. Solar panels, in general, are expected to increase the value of most properties.
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