Category Archives: Solar Energy Tips

Transparent Photovoltaic Solar Cells: The Future of Solar?

Transparent_Solar

In the earlier days of solar energy, companies used silicon solar cells to convert the photons of sunlight into electricity. However, the use of silicon solar cells had several drawbacks. Today, high-quality solar energy panels are often made with the use of organic photovoltaic cells. These cells are a huge step in revolutionizing the solar power industry, and this is why.

Increased Visual Appeal

One reason that homeowners often overlook solar energy despite its many benefits is that they associate solar energy systems with bulky equipment and unattractive panels. With the use of transparent photovoltaic cells, however, this unattractive appearance of solar energy panels will become a thing of the past. It is expected that this new technology will make windows that generate energy as sun shines into your home a reality very soon.

Increased Efficiency

In 2013, the University of California in Los Angeles managed to create a new type of transparent solar film- one that uses two separate layers of transparent photovoltaic film. This will revolutionize the use of solar energy because it increases efficiency by an impressive 7.3%. These double-layer photovoltaic cells are also believed to provide twice the capacity for harvesting energy than the cells that were developed in the year 2012. While a single-layered cell can collect 40% of infrared light, this newer development collects 80%.

Decreased Costs

The conventional silicon solar technology is also much more costly than the new solar energy options that are becoming available as the result of photovoltaic cells. Organic photovoltaic solar cells are made from a combination of polymers, which are inexpensive plastic materials. This can be manufactured as a liquid form and then rolled, or sprayed onto solar panel material. The easier application and cheap manufacturing of these types of solar cells make it a much more affordable and practical solution, especially for residential customers.

Pricing Stability

A huge disadvantage of silicon-based solar panels is that the cost fluctuates with the cost of silicon in the current market. Silicon is a material that is purchased from an open market, meaning that prices can fluctuate constantly For example, China shut down one-third of its polysilicon facilities in 2012 because the price of silicon dropped by 60%. This was quickly followed by a jump in the price of silicon because of a lower supply. The materials used to create organic photovoltaic cells, however, has a price that is significantly more stable.

Improved Availability in Colder, Cloudier Environments

A huge disadvantage of the tradition silicon-based solar energy systems is the need for sun rays at a 90 degree angle or greater before the panels can effectively generate electricity. Photovoltaic cells, on the other hand, can be painted/sprayed cheaply across large areas, increasing its ability to collect the sun’s rays. It can also be used in 3D applications. This technology uses the science that even on cloudy days, some sun rays will hit the earth. They are just hitting the earth at a lesser angle than is required for silicon applications. Photovoltaic solar applications, on the other hand, are able to catch the rays when they come in at these lesser angles and convert it into solar energy. This makes solar energy a possibility for more cloudy, colder environments.

Greater Range of Applications

The transparency that is provided by solar film made of photovoltaic cells also allows for a greater range of applications that traditional solar energy systems. The same institute in California responsible for the development of double-layered transparent cells studied its effectiveness in several environments. It is proven effective for use on smartphones, sun panels, windows, and more, all while maintaining its transparency.

This article was composed by Kassie Berger.  Kassie is currently studying Electrical Engineering at University of Colorado in Denver.  When Kassie isn’t nose deep in her physics and math books, she enjoys researching new innovations in the green tech industry and contributing this information to Ablaze Energy LLC.

How Do Solar Cells Work?

Solar Cell Converting Sunlight_To_Electricity_How_It_Works

We are pretty well aware of the process that converts electrical current into light from which we can pierce darkness and find our way around a house, street or entire neighborhood. But what has taken a lot of time to master has been converting light (specifically, sunlight) back into electric current to power homes, calculators, satellites and many other items through the use of solar energy.

One of the tools used to make this solar-powered electricity has been the solar cell, also knowns as a photovoltaic, or PV cell. It takes many PV or solar cells to make a single solar panel that goes on top of a home, but it takes only a few to make the solar panel that runs a basic calculator.

The solar cell is where the magic happens in turning sunlight into usable energy. How do solar cells work to make this happen? Let’s take a deeper look into the construction and operation of a solar cell.

Sunlight as a Hammer

The first thing that has to be understood is the power of solar energy and what sunlight can do to contribute to electric power. In physics, there is a photoelectric effect, in that any material can eject electrons when sunlight shines on it. Sunlight is like a hammer on a rock; the photons in sunlight hit the atoms and molecules of a material (for solar cells, we use silicon) and breaks the bonds that hold electrons in the “orbit” of the atom, releasing the electrons.

There free electrons are what makes the electric current. The key is corralling all these free-wheeling electrons and getting them to move in an orderly fashion so as to create an electric current. This is where the solar cell does its work.

Solar Cells: The Silicon Corral

A solar cell is made of a semi-conducting material, such as silicon. When sunlight hits the silicon in the solar cell, some of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the silicon like a sponge, and that energy breaks loose some electrons from the silicon atoms and they become “free agents,” so to speak.

The silicon in the solar cell is actually two types thanks to “doping” with other elements – one is n-type, which has spare electrons, and p-type, which has gaps where electrons should be. These two types of silicon are right next to each other and they provide a sort of “channel” that gathers these “free agent” electrons, corrals them, and – thanks to metal contacts on either end of the broader solar panel – send them in an orderly fashion down the channel and toward the contacts to produce electric current.

Solar Cells: Why So Expensive?

This is an interesting question. It is well known that silicon is very abundant on the earth, and is the cheapest semi-conducting material on the planet. So if it’s so cheap, how come solar power is so expensive?

It’s a complex question, but from a scientific point of view the reason is this – silicon possesses a high electric resistance, which means there are a lot of electrons that are not able to achieve an electric current. This means the solar panels have to be much larger in order to generate the current needed to power the electricity of a home, water heater or parking garage. Plus, silicon absorbs a lot of energy, which means there is wasted sunlight in a sense that is unable to be converted into electricity.

One of the ways that solar power and solar cells could eventually be cheaper is to make them smaller. There is a semi-conducting material called gallium arsenide, which allows free electrons to flow up to five times faster on its surface than silicon, and it has properties that allow it to absorb less sunlight energy and convert more of it into electricity. It works well for satellites and some military applications, but it is very expensive to produce and very difficult to make in a large commercial scale for solar panels.

However, with further development and research, scientists are looking into a thin-layer gallium arsenide overlay on silicon solar cells (as well as silicon wafers for microchips) to at least bring some of the characteristics of gallium arsenide to a silicon solar cell, potentially degrading its resistance and absorption and increasing the efficiency of the cell to make it more powerful and thus, cheaper in the long run.

What You Need To Know About Solar Water Heating Systems

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Solar energy has been in the news often lately. Due to its cost-effective nature, many homes and businesses are now relying on solar energy to power their electricity. As solar power’s popularity rises, it has become useful in many other areas besides just powering electricity. One of these areas is water heating.

 

There are a few types of solar water heating system available on the market today. The two primary types of water heating systems are referred to as “active” and “passive” systems. Active systems work by distributing the water through the system with a series of pumps. The pumps make the active systems more efficient, but also more expensive.

 

Understanding the different systems within each group is essential for selecting a solar hot water heating system. While the passive systems may be more reliable in the long run,  they aren’t suitable for every type of home. Homes that are located in colder climates will be better suited by a system that utilizes freezing resistant liquids, which can only be found in active solar heating systems. Households that are relatively active during the day will find certain passive systems more to their liking. It’s not just important, but necessary to take the time to meticulously consider every factor that goes into selecting and installing your solar water heating system. Everything from the climate you live in to the local laws can affect how your system is installed. Since the process is so complicated, you should strongly consider hiring a professional contractor.

 

After the system is installed, the job still isn’t done. Regular maintenance is required to keep your system running smooth and strong. Have your contractor inspect your equipment every few years and be aware that active systems will need more attention. In fact, the active systems will need to have various parts replaced as time goes on. Now that you’ve gotten your solar system installed, you can maximize the cost-effectiveness by looking into other energy preserving items. Installing solar power in your home can offer an excellent starting point for branching out into other areas of cost-effective home improvement. In this day and age, you can find everything from energy saving light bulbs to dishwashers and laundry machines that use a fraction of the water to do their jobs. There’s an entire world of energy efficient products just waiting to be utilized.

 

Despite the upfront cost, a solar power system will more than pay for itself in savings through the years. Whether you’re interested in saving a few bucks on your energy bill or looking to become a more environmentally conscious person, a solar water heating system will save more, waste less, and benefit your home for years to come.

Advantages of solar energy for your home

The technological break-through had an extreme impact on the development of sustainable energy, making it slightly inexpensive and accessible. Therefore, this is the perfect chance for all green enthusiasts to decorate their homes with the photovoltaic solar panels (PVs). If this is not enough to convince you, then read the rest of the article.
Lower Bills
The most obvious advantage of solar energy is cost- efficiency. It requires a one- time investment that repays fully after a small period of time. Having your own power supply in your home cuts the overpricing created by unnecessary intermediaries.
Easy to Get, Easy to Maintain
Advantages of solar energy for your home
Basically solar energy is available everywhere and has an immense capacity. In the past, it was difficult to get access to the sustainable resources, but this has changed. Because of the many incentives offered by the government, the solar panel system nowadays is relatively affordable. One of the characteristics of this type of energy is its flexibility. It can be installed in places that lack the required technology to run electricity.
Advantages of solar energy for your home
Another advantage is the easy maintenance. The only thing you need to do is to clean effectively and deeply the panels once in a while. Furthermore, the system comes with a lengthy warranty – between 20 and 25 years. Product replacement and repair programs are provided when a problem occurs.
Energy Reliability and Security
With solar energy, you don’t depend on the additional services of electric utilities. Being abundant and infinite, you can rely on it to supply with power the devices in your home. The electric power producers are notorious for their fluctuating prices and fickle services. You can predict when the sun will raise and set down, but you cannot say how the geopolitical environment will affect the prices of electricity tomorrow. You can simply estimate the cost by calculating how much energy will be generated.
Additional Funds
In the last decades the government incentivised the solar panel system, in order to raise its popularity and acceptance by the masses. Major drivers for institutions to support renewable are the positive environmental impact and energy independence. The government ensures subsidiaries, tax cuts and discounts.
Sustainability
Your home is not only your apartment or your house. Your home is Earth. The commercial energy sources harm irreversibly the planet’s eco-system and eventually this will have its consequence on your life too. The use of solar panels will reduce the malevolent influence of global warming and pollution.
Investment in the Future
It will increase the attractiveness and therefore the value of your home. Recent studies show that homeowners who installed photovoltaic solar panels got almost full recovery of their investment when they move. The installation of solar energy system adds additional money to total selling price.
In the future energy consumers will be exposed to higher prices due to resource scarcity. As a result solar panels will become a more and more valuable source. Start thinking about the future of your home now.

Generate Your Own Energy to Save Money (and the Environment)

Solar Energy

Many people are worried about rising energy costs – not just the financial costs but the toll on the environment as well. Fortunately in the UK, it’s possible to save or even make money by generating your own energy in ways that are beneficial to the environment as well as to your pocketbook. You’ll save money on your bills since you will be using your own electricity instead of purchasing it from a supplier. And if you install specific technologies such as solar panels or a wind turbine you might even get money from your supplier under the government’s FIT (Fee-in Tariff) scheme. You can also benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

First introduced to the UK in April 2010, Feed-in Tariffs replaced UK government grants as the chief financial incentive to foster renewable energy-generating technologies. A similar scheme, the RHI, was introduced in 2011 for heat generation in order to provide payments to industry, businesses and public sector organisations. In April of 2014 the RHI was expanded to include homeowners, private landlords, social landlords and self-builders.

If you’re interested in saving or making money by generating your own energy, here are a few facts you need to know.

  1. You won’t get an instant ROI. You won’t see a return right away, as in most cases you have to pay for installation of your energy-generating equipment, which can be quite expensive. It could take years to pay for itself. But this isn’t about instant gratification; it’s about doing what’s best in the long term.
  2. Though your electric bills will be reduced, savings will vary. Once you begin generating your own electricity, you will see savings on your electric bills. After all, as noted above, you don’t have to buy as much electricity from your energy supplier. Of course, the amount you save will vary depending upon how much electricity you use.
  3. You might be able to MAKE money if you’re eligible for Feed-in tariff (FIT) payments. In addition to lower bills from your supplier, FITs provide two key benefits: A generation tariff, which means you get paid for generating electricity (your supplier will pay you a set rate for each unit (or kWh) of electricity that you generate); and an export tariff, where you get paid for generating surplus electricity. Your supplier will pay you an extra amount for each unit of electricity you put back into the grid, meaning you will be selling any electricity you generate but don’t use yourself. You’ll probably be eligible for the FIT programme if you generate your energy using one of the following methods: solar electricity, wind turbines, hydro-electricity or anaerobic digesters. The money you can make through the scheme varies depending on the amount of electricity you use yourself and the type of technology you have installed. Since the government sets the amount you make per unit that amount is always subject to change. Also realise that some small electricity suppliers are not required to participate in this scheme so may not be obligated to give you FIT payments. In any case you’ll find a list of FIT-licensed suppliers on Ofgem web site: www.ofgem.gov.uk.
  4. Consider the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. The purpose of the RHI is to help the UK reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet targets for reducing the effects of climate change. It does this by providing incentives for generation of heat from renewable energy sources in lieu of fossil fuels. For more information on the RHI from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, see https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/increasing-the-use-of-low-carbon-technologies/supporting-pages/renewable-heat-incentive-rhi.

When considering “free” solar panel deals or “rent a roof” schemes, read the fine print. No doubt you’ve seen ads for ‘free’ solar panel deals where you basically rent your roof and have solar panels installed on it. The advantage of these deals is that you don’t have to pay upfront for the solar panels and you’ll benefit from the free electricity they produce. But the company generally claims all the generation and export tariff payments so even though you’re saving money, you won’t make any money. Still, if you really can’t afford the installation costs, don’t want to take out a loan and don’t care about making money with the use of the panels, you can benefit from such a deal. Just be sure you carefully read the legal fine print before participating in any such scheme.