What are Solar Photovoltaics?
Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a technology that produces electricity through the conversion of sunlight into energy. Solar PV is a renewable and clean energy technology. A typical system includes multiple solar modules, a mounting system, and a power inverter that can feed into the electric utility grid as well as satisfy the on-site electric demand. Some PV systems also include battery backup to store the solar energy for later use.
How does it work?
Solar cells are made of two silicon wafers that when sandwiched together create what is called a p/n junction. The n-type wafer has excess electrons and the p-type wafer has excess holes. The junction creates an electric field when light is absorbed onto the surface. A solar module (commonly referred to as a solar panel) is constructed of multiple cells, connections between the cells, and a frame. A solar module produces both voltage potential and electric current. The type of current produced is direct current (DC). Taken together the voltage and current produce a rated power output measured in watts. Modern solar modules can produce over 350 watts of electrical power per module. The current generated by the solar module is transmitted across electrical cable into an inverter which converts the DC into alternating current (AC). The AC is then fed into an electrical panel board which connects the solar PV system to the on-site electrical loads as well as to the electric utility. Solar PV systems can also be off-grid or supply power directly to DC rated equipment.
What are the benefits?
Solar PV systems produce 100% clean energy - absolutely no emissions of any kind. There is zero pollution created from producing energy using solar PV. Solar PV is also 100% renewable as the sun is a constant and predictable resource that will last essentially forever. Solar PV is a technology that can significantly offset our world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Extracting and burning fossil fuels cause tremendous amounts CO2 emissions that are the main cause of global warming. Extracting and burning fossil fuels are also blamed for pollutants that cause major human health issues and widespread ecological problems. These damages are a heavy burden to society – both economically and in terms of human and animal suffering.
The financial benefits of solar PV systems are significant and growing every day. The overall cost of Solar PV modules has decreased by 99% since 1977.
A solar PV owner can offset their electric utility bill by sending energy back out to the grid. This energy is metered by the utility and is credited back to the customer at the same amount the customer pays for a kWh of energy. If the rising cost of electricity is taken into account versus the continually dropping price of solar PV, the financial payback can be less than 20 years. After that all the energy produced by the solar PV system is a net financial gain for the owner. For rural customers off-grid solar PV can be a very attractive alternative to paying the utility company to install power poles and run wire to buildings on the property.
For commercial and industrial customers solar PV can significantly improve the profitability of a business by offsetting energy bills. For clients who operate work camps in remote areas the addition of solar can greatly reduce fuel costs incurred by constantly running gas and diesel generators.
Solar PV can also have financial benefits for regional economies. Health impacts from coal fired electricity generation in Alberta translates to over $1 billion dollars in societal costs every year. By adding solar PV to the electrical energy mix in Alberta these sorts of health related costs can be greatly reduced.
At the cost of constructing a sizable system today we can guarantee the clients electricity from the solar PV will cost ~$0.10/kwh for the next 25 years. Basically, you are locking in your electricity rate and removing any volatility that may be present from the electrical retail market. And after 25 years, the electricity being produced from the system will be free.
Solar PV can provide owners with independence from the electrical grid. By sizing a system correctly, adding battery and generator backup, and increasing the efficiency of appliances and lighting it is possible to supply all of the user’s energy requirements using solar PV.
Reliable, Durable, and Maintenance Free
Solar PV systems do not have any moving parts and are essentially maintenance free for decades of use. Solar PV modules are extremely durable and can withstand even the harshest of environments. Because the sun is the source of energy for solar PV it functions as a reliable and dependable source of energy for people in remote areas that otherwise rely on highly fluctuating costs of fuel that has to be shipped in from far off places.
The typical warranty on solar modules lasts 25 years. At the end of 25 years the solar modules should still produce 80% of their rated capacity under standard test conditions.
What are the common uses for this type of power?
Solar PV power can be used for all the same applications that regular power is used for and even in additional applications where normal grid power is not available
- Battery Charging
- Residential Appliances
- Commercial and Industrial Equipment
- Recreational Equipment (RV’s, Boating, Camping)
- Off-grid Living
- Remote Work Camps
- Oil and Gas Wells
- Utility Scale Solar PV Farms
What markets or applications would this energy system work best in?
Solar PV is suitable for any consumers of electrical energy that want to save money, reduce environmental and health impacts from fossil fuel reliance, and become more independent from traditional centralized power grids. There is almost no limit to where solar PV can be used and its many benefits realized. Most regions on earth experience enough sunshine throughout the year to make solar PV a smart choice.