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Home  > Article

Energy from the Sky: There's More to Solar Power than You Might Think

By Hans Dekker

As people search for alternatives to fossil fuel energy, solar energy emerges as one of the cleanest and most practical sources of electricity.

Solar panels can be installed on rooftops or any area that receives a lot
of sunshine. The solar panels consist of a photovoltaic system that
converts the energy of the sun into electricity.

Photovoltaic systems have existed since the 1950s but only in recent years
has the technology matured to the point of making it a viable alternative
to power utilities. Indeed, most solar systems do not replace the utility
company, instead they work in conjunction with it to produce extra
electricity that can be fed back into the grid.

One of the main problems with solar power is storing it for use during
non-daylight hours. Batteries can be used but they are expensive and have
a limited life span. As an alternative, excess solar electricity can be
fed back to the power utility company for a credit, and then power can be
drawn when needed. In a sense, the utility company becomes the storage

Most municipalities have legislation requiring power utility companies to
accept electricity produced by solar panels or wind turbines. This system
benefits everyone ??? there is less dependency on fossil fuel power plants
and electricity costs are reduced for owners of photovoltaic systems.

Photovoltaic cells produce electricity by using specially treated
materials such as silicon that convert light into power. They can be of
almost any size and are suitable for providing electricity for small items
such as calculators or watches right up to complete industrial complexes.
Because they can be wired together, an array of solar cells can produce
enough electricity for residential or commercial needs.

The main requirement, of course, is sunlight. This makes solar power most
practical for southern areas such as California and Arizona. But it can
also be used in more northerly areas as a backup power system. As the
technology advances, photovoltaic cells are able to produce usable amounts
of electricity even in low light conditions.

Ross is the leading author of

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