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Power producing plants mainly convert the energy from the sun to electrical energy in order to produce electricity. There are two main methods that can be used to facilitate the process. First is the use of the direct method, which is a system that entails the use of photovoltaic cells to produce energy The indirect system involves the use of solar concentrating devices which help to focus the incoming sunlight. By aid of the photovoltaic effect, the photovoltaics change the light energy into electrical energy. Concentration of the solar energy mainly uses energy focusing devices such as lenses or mirrors, which direct the radiation to specified points on the system.
From the initial conception of solar cells to the production of the first working cell, great progress has been made for the current efficiency levels to be attained. Due to the innovations made, solar energy has reached levels that enable it to compete with the conventional methods of electrical energy production. Over the recent decades, the costs of producing solar energy has fallen. As a result, the total number of the photovoltaic solar systems that are connected to grid system have largely expanded. Hence, the energy produced through the use of solar power plants has increasingly become cheaper. The use of solar energy is also advantageous as compared to other energy producing systems since its detrimental effects on the environment are limited. As the production system also has a very low carbon emission rate, millions of utility scale facilities have been constructed with the aim of adopting the production of the renewable energy from solar radiation (Fraas, 2014).
Most developed countries have taken major steps in harnessing solar energy into their national grid systems so as to provide alternative solutions to the traditional energy sources such as hydroelectric power production. Furthermore, an increasing number of developing countries are also increasingly making progress in turning to the use of solar energy so as to lessen the costs involved in importing the fossil fuels. For example, an integration of the solar energy production systems in line with other renewable sources such as wind energy is a strategy that can be adopted in many power plants due to the fact that the two technologies complement each other.
The essay asserts that the use of solar energy provides a convenient, efficient, and reliable means of electrical energy production. Furthermore, the paper also shows that the application of new scientific knowledge in the betterment of solar energy technology will also contribute to making it the best renewable energy source in the future.
The generation of energy by means of photovoltaics involves the use of solar cells. The cells are devices that transform the light energy from the sun to electrical energy by means of photovoltaic effect. The modern day solar cell systems usually yield direct currents which normally vary depending on the intensity of the sun rays. However, the commercial use of the electric current normally calls for its conversion to either alternating currents, or being up-scaled to some particular desired voltages. The conversion processes normally involve the use of inverters. For the process to be successful, several photovoltaic cells are normally linked together inside modules. The modules are consequently connected to each other in arrays, which are in turn are wired to a single inverter. The inverter then outputs the electrical power required at the specified voltages. In the case of AC generation, the inverter produces the frequency/phase as desired (Kovacevic, Pflug and Vespucci, 2013).
In most developed countries where the photovoltaic systems have attracted large markets, most of the photovoltaic systems are normally linked to the national grid system where possible. Furthermore, in such PV systems, the utilization of electrical storage devices is normally optional. In certain standalone cases where the effects of low sunlight levels may interfere with the operation of the facilities in question, the use of electrical storages such as batteries or the use of other power producing systems are always utilized. For instance, the strategy is often made use of in satellites or in the solar energy systems of some developing countries. The use of the system enables the normal operations to proceed in the nighttime or in periods of limited sunlight.
Concentration of Solar Energy
The main principle that defines the mode of power production through this method is the use of devices that help in harnessing the solar energy through concentrating wide areas of solar energy into narrow beams. Thereafter, the narrow beams are utilized in the production of steam, which in turn are employed in turning turbines. There are several technologies that have been developed to aid in the concentration of the sunlight. For instance, the most commonly used include parabolic troughs and stirling dishes, to name a few. Several technologies have also been adopted so as to track the movement of the sun and hence focus the most amount of light as technologically possible. However, all the technologies involve the utilization of working fluids, which consequently get heated before being used for either the production or for storage of energy. The ability of these systems to thermally store the energy produced is useful in enabling the generation of electrical energy to last for up to 24 hours (Blair, 2016).
Parabolic troughs are devices that are normally designed as parabolic reflectors. Such devices operate by focusing light energy into receiving chambers which are normally attached onto the devices’ focal planes. The receivers of the focused light are normally tubular in shape, are located a few inches on top of the parabolas, and also contain the required working fluids. The devices operate by directing the reflectors to the source of the sunrays during the daytime to an axis. The utilization of parabolic systems can be said to give the most reliable land-use factor as compared to any other similar technologies.
The other solar concentrating technology is known as the compact reflector. The system utilizes multiple mirror strips as substitutes for the parabolas when focusing the incoming solar radiation onto a pair of tubes containing the working fluid. The benefit of using the technology is that using the flat mirrors are less costly than using the parabolic mirrors to reflect the sunlight. Furthermore, the system allows for the use of increased number of reflectors within the same space, hence increasing the total amount of light that can be utilized. The use of the technology can be applied either in massive or compact solar energy plants.
Another solar energy technology involves the use of sterling dishes. The system involves the operation of both the parabolic dish to focus the energy, and an engine coupled with an electric current generator. The main merits of employing the technology over the use of solar cells is the fact that it leads to a better conversion of the incoming rays to electrical energy besides also possessing a better longevity. The advantage also lies in the fact that the parabolic concentrators used also provide the best efficiencies compared to the other systems (Crabtree, 2013).
The other technology that can be used in concentrating technology is the adoption of the solar tower. The system utilizes a collection of solar tracking reflectors to focus the incoming light rays onto centrally placed photovoltaic cell systems located on a tower. The use of the technology is often more economical as compared to the others, and also provides greater efficiencies and ability to store the energy produced.
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Sustainability of the Technology
Despite the fact that the cumulative emission of greenhouse gases due to the use of solar power is usually low, the improvement of the technology in the foreseeable future may greatly reduce the number. When compared to the other electricity producing systems such as geothermal energy and fossil fuel combustion, the solar energy gaseous emissions are much lower. However, the emissions of hydro power, wind harvesting, and nuclear energy are much lower than that of solar energy. As in all the other energy production plants, the greenhouse emissions are primarily dependent on the initial construction and conveyance stage of their life cycles. Hence, a shift to the use of minimum carbon power during this stage would largely decrease the emissions.
The use of solar energy also presents a high energy payback time. Energy payback is a concept used to refer to the total amount of time needed for the energy used during the manufacture of the device and its lifetime. With the ever increasing sophistication of technology, the length of energy payback for solar systems has constantly diminished over the past decade.
There exist several options that can be used for hybrid systems. The hybrid systems refer to the combination of photovoltaic technologies with concentrating systems together, or with the other systems of power generation. The outcome of the energy production process may be advantageous as it can aid the system in modulating the energy output based on the demand. Furthermore, this may also help lessen the variability of the solar energy produced, and hence lower the amount of fossil fuel consumption.
Possible Alternatives to Solar Energy Production
Research has indicated that solar energy and wind energy production can be used together since natural systems enable the two forms of renewable energy productions to complement each other. For example, in short time frames, localities that are characterized with high levels of atmospheric pressures often have clear skies and calmness of the wind near the surface of the earth. Conversely, the periods marked with much lower atmospheric pressures are normally windier, and with more cloud cover. On longer timeframes, the incident solar radiations are highest during the summertime, and have much lower wind velocities. The wind is however much stronger during the winter. Hence, the use of wind energy should be considered as a possible alternative to using solar energy during such weather changes (Kleissl, 2013).
The other possible alternative to using solar energy is exploration of the Hydrogen energy. As opposed to other energy sources such as biomass, geothermal, and fossil fuel combustion, hydrogen energy is considered to be a clean source of energy since it does not lead to any wastes being produced, with the only residue being water. However, despite being renewable, extraction of hydrogen from its compounds not only relies on fossil fuel combustion, but also quite expensive to produce.
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Improvements in the Solar Energy Technology
A key advancement that can be used in enhancing the performance of solar energy production is to improve on the arrangement of the photovoltaic cells within the solar panels. In most solar panels currently produced, the individual cells are normally placed at considerably large distances between each other. However, by increasing the density of the cells in the panel, more sunlight will be converted to electrical energy. When feasible, cells should be overlapped and solar tracking devices installed in every solar panels.
Another potential improvement in solar energy technology is the improvement in the placement of Bus-bars in the solar panels. The Bus-bars refer to the tiny lines that run across the panel to transfer the converted energy from the cells. Since the bars lead to some considerable amount of shading effect, not all the incident radiation manages to reach all the cells, hence undermining the photovoltaic effect. Hence, to increase the amount of light, the design should be reworked so as to reposition to the Bus-bars. Since consistency in the transparency of the solar cells determine their efficiencies, manufactures should also improve the coating materials on the surface of solar panels by replacing them with more antireflective coatings.
The final improvement that needs to be embraced is the use of nanomaterials in the manufacture of the solar panels. While enhanced arrangements of the cells can lead to higher energy production rates, the use of nanotechnology will ensure that the spaces required for the placement of the units are greatly economized, hence increasing the amount of electrical energy produced.
From the study above, it can therefore be concluded that the use of solar energy presents an efficient and reliable means of energy production. Furthermore, the application of scientific innovations into the manufacture of solar energy technology will make it the best method of energy production. For instance, the integration of new improvements such as densification of the solar cells within the solar panels and repositioning of the bus-bars will lead to higher energy production levels.
The production and use of solar power has gained much recognition due to the fact that it is cheap and easy to install. Furthermore, it has a lower detrimental effect on the environment as compared to the other energy production systems, and can be easily maintained. The technology has also benefited from constant upgrades, which make it an increasingly efficient way of harnessing the renewable energy resource for the purpose of producing electrical energy.
Solar energy production generally involves the conversion of electrical energy from the incident sunrays to electrical energy. Currently, the technologies used to achieve the process involve the use of photovoltaic cells and concentration of the solar energy. While photovoltaic cells operate by converting the light energy into electrical energy, light concentrators focus the incoming light to heat the working fluid, which in turn help to rotate turbines.
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To improve the efficiency of energy production and also bring it up a competitive level with other energy producing technologies, the technology involved in the manufacture of solar panels has been integrated with other innovative technologies. For instance, the combination of both the photovoltaic and solar concentration mechanisms in a single solar energy production system has also increased the total amount of the electrical energy generated. An example of a successful application of combined technology can be seen in Hybrid systems, which involve the use of concentrating devices and photovoltaic cells together.
Investigations over the negative impacts that any energy production system may have on the environment is also an important aspect that is normally considered before its installation. Solar energy has been identified as to have one of the lowest emissions of harmful gases into the atmosphere. Since a huge part of this emission is usually dependent on the initial production process, there is a need to improve the type of materials being used at the stage. For instance, modifications such as reduction in carbon use during the manufacturing process may greatly reduce the emissions in the future.
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