Systemic assessment of technology: solar power

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Definition of the technology (Member 1)

Solar power refers to the systemic conversion of the energy drawn from sunlight into electricity. The conversion occurs either directly through the use of photovoltaics (PV) or indirectly through concentrated solar power. Similarly, the use of both technologies in most industrial cases improve the efficiency and productivity of solar power. Concentrated solar power systems (CSP) utilize three key features which include tracking systems, mirrors and lenses to focus a substantial area of the sunlight into a small powerful beam while photovoltaics systems use photovoltaic effects to convert sunlight into electric currents.

The definition of solar power in this study applies in a confined boundary. The study concentrates on the use of solar power to generate electricity. As such, the researchers will limit the research to the study of photovoltaics. The use of the sun to generate electricity remains a fundamental innovation that promises to help meet the global demand for clean and sustainable energy. The use of fossil fuels has contributed to the emission of greenhouse gasses thus resulting in global warming and the subsequent climate change (Morshed & Abdulsalam, 2016). The need to meet the large demand for electricity for both domestic and industrial uses has strained hydroelectric generating plants. Electricity companies in most countries including China and the United States rely on coal to generate electricity. As such, the promise to rely on sunlight to generate electricity promises to solve a serious global concern.

Initially designed to generate electricity for small and medium sized applications, photovoltaic systems use solar panels to convert the energy drawn from sunlight into electricity. The solar panels have layers of cells that absorb photons from the sun thus creating electric field across the layers and initiates electricity to flow. PV systems come in every shape and size including residential rooftops across the country. commercial power plants have helped commercialize the use of PV systems to generate electricity for use in industries. Furthermore, the plants incorporate a substantial amount of the energy they generate to the national grid to help offset the deficit from other conventional systems of generating electricity.

Solar energy has become an increasingly trending topic especially in the realms of renewable sources of energy. Studies have since established that the sun generates enough energy in one hour to power the earth for a year. As such, the sun has attracted the interests of stakeholders who seek to harness the power of the sun to power electronics both at the domestic and commercial levels. Solar energy present numerous advantages including the fact that it provides clean and sustainable source of energy. Similarly, the technology has endured a series of criticisms including being expensive and inefficient at times. The study will therefore study the application of the energy in both domestic and commercial levels. It will also elaborate the benefits, drawbacks and both the intended and unintended effects of the technology.

Description of the technology

Purpose of the technology (Member 2)

Photovoltaic system is a broad technology used primarily to convert light into electric current usable in homes and industries for myriad purposes. Photovoltaics use semiconducting materials with photovoltaic effects to tap and convert the energy of the sun into usable electricity (Lovegrove, 2012). Electricity is critical to the survival of humans in the world today. People use electricity to power electronic appliances at home including television sets, fridges, light bulbs and blenders among others. similarly, electricity is useful in industrial scales where it powers the means of production in various industries. Futuristic studies like the invention of electric cars and trains also promise to revolutionize transportation by offering clean and efficient means of transport. The photovoltaic system is therefore an important technology that seeks to meet critical demand in the sustenance of the human civilization.

Domestic uses of the technology revolve around meeting the energy demands of families. In such small scales, installation of small scale solar panels on the rooftops or open spaces in the compound would generate adequate amount of electricity to either meet the demands of the family or supplement the energy the family draws from the national grid. In commercial settings on the other hand, companies prefer the combination of photovoltaic and concentrated solar power. The combination helps provide the thermal energy a factor would require to heat various components and electricity necessary to power critical appliances that rely on electricity (Stevie, 2013). The multi-purpose nature of the technology makes it applicable in the contemporary society and present futuristic solutions to serious global problems.

Dominant design

Conventional PV systems produce Direct Current (DC) which often fluctuate with the intensity of sunlight. The systems use inverters to convert the direct current into alternating current. Similarly, the system comprises of a storage unit in the form of batteries which help store the energy for later use. The storage of the energy is critical since it helps avail the power at specific times for usage such as for lighting bulbs at night. Largescale use of the photovoltaic system generates immense amounts of electricity that exceeds the domestic demand. Isolated cases of families covering their entire roofs with solar panels especially in states that receive immense amounts of sunlight like Nevada and California have reported cases of individuals generating surplus energy. In such cases, a well-designed system can dump the surplus energy into the national grid to help meet the national demand.

Technology’s position in the value chain (Member 3)

Solar technology present numerous opportunities that can contribute to employment and industry development effects. Solar panels both at domestic and industrial scale rely on other related technologies that enhance the usability of the technology. Equipment installation and after sale services are some of the most job intensive aspects of the value chain. The value chain analysis further extends to the manufacture of components, market and industry structure, manufacturing requirements, risks and the socioeconomic effects of the technology.

First, the solar technology requires skilled professionals who understand how it works. Human capital is critical to the installation and maintenance of the technology to ensure its efficient operation and optimal production at every time. as such, installation and after sale services are critical to the retailers of solar panels to both markets. Domestic consumers will always tailor their systems to their demand for electricity (Bailey, 2014). The small and medium sized solar panels require regular maintenance. The same applies to commercial large-scale consumers who would also require a dedicated team of technicians to monitor the system and ensure its efficient and optimal operations.

The photovoltaic market promises to grow as the renewable energy debate continues to escalate. The market has numerous reputable manufacturers including Trina Solar, JA solar, Hanwha Solar and Jinko Solar among others. the companies have strived to meet the global demand from both domestic and commercial consumers. However, the market still has potential for growth. The leading markets are Europe and the United States. Continents like Asia and Africa receive vast amounts of sunlight and could therefore constitute a viable market in the future. solar technology has minimal risks which may include the fear of electrocution. However, the direct current produced by the system especially at domestic levels may not cause substantial damage to the consumers.

Similarly, the solar technology relies on other equally important technologies a feature that demonstrates its significance on the value chain. The solar panels generate electricity during the day especially on sunny days. The storage of the electric power generated by the panels thus constitute one of the most important needs. Rechargeable batteries offer a reliable solution a feature that demonstrate the relationship between the solar technology and the technology utilized in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries. Other equally important technologies that enhance the functionality of the solar technology include inverters, filters, circuit breakers and electric meters among others. inverters help convert the direct current into the alternating current usable most electrical appliances.

Production of the technology (Member 4)

The solar technology relies on a technology known as the photovoltaic effects which is the creation of electric current by materials upon exposure to light. Photovoltaic effects have both chemical and physical aspects that play critical roles in the generation of electricity from the sun. the materials in this context absorb the light from the sun thereby exciting the electrons in it to a higher state of energy. The subsequent separation of the charges thus product the electric potential. The light from the sun must have adequate potential to overcome the barrier of excitation. The physical aspect of the reaction arises from the fact that photovoltaic effects separates the charges by diffusion.

At the core of solar panels are solar cells which are small devices with the ability to generate electric current. The solar cells have unique electric properties including resistance, voltage, and current change when exposed to sunlight. Solar cells are the building blocks utilized in the development of photovoltaic modules or solar panels. The operation of the photovoltaic cells uses three basic attributes. First is the absorption of light which generate either excitons or electron hole pairs. the resultant separation of the opposite charge-carriers. The final attribute is the systemic extraction of the charge carriers by an external circuit.

Photons from the sun fall directly on the solar panels. A semiconducting material on the panels like silicon absorb the photons. The photons excite the electrons from their molecular orbital. The excited electrons either travel through the cell or dissipate the energy as heat. The excited electron causes the generation of current which arises naturally in an attempt to cancel the potential of the electron. The chemicals bonds of the used in the process are critical to the generation of electricity. Silicon is a perfect substance used in two layers. The first layer consists of boron doping while the other layer comprises of phosphorous. The layers thus have different electrical layers that help drive and direct the electrons. The solar cells convert the energy from the sun into direct current. An inverter converts the current into alternating current.

Photovoltaics comprise of distinct processes involved in the manufacture of a PV system. crystalline silicone modules for example involve extracting raw silicon from sand followed by purification, cutting of the wafers, doping, cleaning the cells and coating (Sivanagaraju, Reddy & Srilatha, 2010). The subsequent stage involves connecting the cells and laminating them to create a module which is later combined with various electrical components to create a system.

Uses and effects of technology

Who, where, how and why (Member 5)

Any member of the society who uses electricity can use solar technology. The technology generates electricity usable in running household appliances. The solar energy can light bulbs, recharge phones, power the television among other household appliances. Any individual who uses electronics at a domestic level can therefore use the solar panel technology to access clean and efficient source of energy. Similarly, businesspeople can also use the technology to power their factories. Solar power can heat water among other liquid besides providing the electricity needed to run electronics in the factors. However, commercial utilization of solar power requires the installation of large scale solar panels and the installation of equally sizable devices to help support the system.

The where is an exciting aspect of the question since it demonstrates the scope of the solar technology. The most common places to use solar technology is at home and in factories. People install solar panels on their rooftops and incorporate the electricity generated from the panels into the wiring of the home. However, solar power is flexible and people can use it anywhere (Kaushika, Kaushik & Reddy, 2016). Samsung, a manufacturer of electronics once manufactured a solar powered laptop. The cover of the laptop is a solar panel thus allowing people to use the laptop anywhere provided they can access sunlight. Electric car manufacturers can also install solar panels on the roofs and body of the car to facilitate the adoption of the technology.

The utilization of the technology is as simple as the adoption of the conventional electricity. Electric power drawn from the solar panels is always fed into the wiring system of the house thereby delivering the power to all the essential outlets including sockets and bulbs. The why is equally critical. The reliance on fossil fuels has contributed to the pollution of the environment. The fuels emit greenhouse gasses that trap heat thereby resulting in global warming which in turn led to climate change and the adverse effects. Resorting to solar power will help lower the demand for fossil fuel and help clean up the environment.

Positive and negative effects of the technology (Member 6)

Solar power has numerous advantages key among which is the fact that solar energy is a renewable. The sun offers a natural replenishment of the energy on a human timescale. As such, it promises to be a practical source of energy for as long as the sun shines. Solar energy also has diverse applications including the generation of electricity through photovoltaic and to distill and heat water. Likewise, solar power is flexible. People can walk with small solar panels to help power their appliances like phones and radios. Installing solar panels on the cover of laptops and car rooftops also offer ingenious ways of transporting the energy source.

Some of its disadvantages include high initial cost. Setting up the solar panels and the entire system has high initial cost that makes the technology unreachable to a significant number of people across the world. similarly, the technology relies on weather a feature that makes it unreliable. Weather remains unpredictable and out of the control of humans. as such, places that lack sun for prolonged duration may not find the technology useful. Europe and parts of the United States for example have long winters. Furthermore, the demand of electricity increases during winters. Unfortunately, solar power can not always help because of the evident lack of sun. solar panels also use lots of space and require expensive storage techniques to harness the power, store it and even transport it to other parts of the world.

Solar power also has both intended and unintended effects. The intended effects include the reduction in the greenhouse gasses. The increase in the demand for sustainable sources of energy is to help counter the effects of greenhouse gasses emitted by fossil fuels. Using solar panels to generate electricity and to heat water for homes promise to lower the demand for fossil fuels thereby overturning the effects of global warming and climate change.

A key unintended effect of solar power is consumption of large amounts of land. Setting up a solar plant results in the consumption of large tracts of land rendered unusable for any other purpose besides the setting of the solar panels. The panels do not even leave room for trees to grow. In fact, trees would block the sun rays a feature that has often led to the clearing of forests. Ingenious ways of installing harvesting the energy from the sun include installing solar panels on the rooftops of large industrial complexes and malls among others.

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  1. Bailey, S. (2014). Solar power: Technologies, environmental impacts and future prospects. New York : Nova Science Publisher.
  2. Kaushika, N. D., Kaushik, K., & Reddy, K. S. (2016). Sustainable Energy and the Environment: A Clean Technology Approach. Springer International Publishers.
  3. Lovegrove, K. (2012). Concentrating solar power technology: Principles, developments and applications. Oxford: Woodhead.
  4. Morshed, A. & Abdulsalam, A. (2016). Solar power energy solutions for Yemeni rural villages and desert communities. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, May 2016 57:838   849.
  5. Sivanagaraju, S., Reddy, M. B., & Srilatha, D. (2010). Generation and utilization of electrical energy. Noida, India: Pearson.
  6. Stevie, S. (2013). Solar Power for Sustainable Living: What to Consider Before Going the Do It Yourself Solar Route. New York: Routledge.
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