Department Of Energy’s Program
US Department of Energy has an initiative called SunShot. This initiative aims to make solar energy technologies commercially competitive by year 2020. This is a major program that aims to develop cost-effective solar power generation methods that benefit the country and the world at large. This is a nascent industry and developing it on a large scale is another way to train new manpower and add jobs thus benefitting the economy.
Let’s take a look at the different solar energy technologies in use today.
Solar Energy – Photovoltaic Cells
When we consider generating solar power for our home’s needs it is inevitable that we think of solar panels and photovoltaic technology. This is one of solar energy technologies that have found widespread acceptance and use. Here the tiny photovoltaic cells capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. Solar power through photovoltaic technology is more expensive as the production of PV cells is costly.
Also, solar panels works only during daytime as sunlight is not available during night. The excess electricity created during day time has to be stored in batteries to be used during the night. Photovoltaic are very inefficient and convert only 12-19 percent of the sunlight into usable energy. But, solar panels are highly subsidized under various government programs and that makes somewhat cost-effective.
Solar Energy – Solar Thermal Technology
In this method of solar power generation the sunlight is concentrated to create heat. This heat is then used to run a heat engine which in turn generates electricity. Unlike solar panel technologies which uses sunlight, in this method heat can be collected and stored to generate electricity through the night. Solar thermal collectors have 55 percent efficiency. The solar energy technologies concerning solar heat concentration are much more advanced. This is much more easy and efficient way to generate solar energy but has not received as much attention.
Solar water heaters are an application of this method and have providing hot water solutions to millions of satisfied homeowners around the country and the world. Solar cookers are another innovation of this technology and many homes in Africa employ this method to cook their meals without burning fossil fuels or wood. This method of solar concentration has been in use for a more than 200 years and yet this technology has not been fully exploited or supported by the governments to the extent of photovoltaic. Japan and Israel are world leaders in solar thermal technologies and majority of their populations use solar water heaters for their hot water needs.
This is a very inexpensive and reliable method of power generation and needs more governmental support in the US for extensive adoption and use. Photovoltaic are not the only alternative in solar energy generation.
Small Solar Power Projects
Small solar panels power projects can provide for the energy needs of a home or a business. Remote areas which are outside the grid of conventional power sources can also benefit with these kinds of installations.
Large Scale Solar Power Projects
These can be used to supply power on large scale like conventional gas or coal power thermal power stations. Currently several of these solar panel farms have been set up in many countries. PV panels or solar thermal concentration method can be employed for the above programs. These two types of solar energy technologies both help in the march towards using more and more renewable energy sources for our use.