Solar power is the practice of using sunlight to create clean, renewable electricity.
How is this conversion from sunlight to electrical energy accomplished?
There are two methods that are used to harness the power of the sun. The solar panels you see on residential and commercial rooftops and ground mount solar systems contain photovoltaic cells that capture the photons in sunlight and then convert those electrons into a flow of electricity. This is known as “direct” conversion. The other type of conversion uses an array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a small area that will generate heat. This heat is then converted using a heat engine, such as a steam turbine, into energy. This type of conversion is known as “concentrated,” and is typically only used for large-scale utility purposes.
Solar power can be used in different scales.
A homeowner or business owner can buy solar panels. These are generally installed on the roof. If there is no space at the home or business, residents of a community can pool together money to purchase a solar installation called a “community solar project.” Solar panels are then constructed in a centralized area and then the energy is distributed to the residents. On a larger scale, utility solar installations (or “solar farms”) can be constructed for the sole purpose of generating large amounts of energy for the grid.