Solar power electricity is just one of several methods that are used to generate electrical power. Scientists state that solar energy can potentially supply many, many times the total world energy requirements.
Most of us take the supply of electricity for granted. We are quiet contented to simply plug our heaters, cookers, fridges, computers and televisions into the electrical sockets that are situated conveniently in the walls of our homes.
Most people assume that their electric power comes through the electric grid from a power plant that is situated somewhere not too far from where we live and then pay the utility company for their monthly usage. And that’s the end of it.
But there are different types of power plants generating the electricity that is contributing to the grid for our use. There are hydroelectric power plants that generate electricity by harnessing the power of water, nuclear power plants that harness the power of the atom, coal power plants that use our ever dwindling fossil fuels and wind farm power plants harnessing the power of the wind to generate electricity.
These all have the disadvantage though, of being costly to build, have high maintenance costs and their fuel costs are exorbitant.
Solar energy plants are springing up all over the world as different methods are discovered for harnessing the power of the sun to generate electricity. Governments are pumping millions of dollars into solar plants to test equipment and materials to enable them to add storage for the electricity that they produce.
Solar power electricity falls into the two general categories of terrestrial solar power and space-based solar power.
- Solar power panels use a photovoltaic cell to convert light into an electric current. This is perhaps the method that we are most familiar with as it is these solar panels that are used for generating electricity in the home. This method has also been widely used in power plants around the world. There are different types of photovoltaic cells that are being tested and produced including thin film, monocrystalline and polychrystalline silicon.
- Concentrating solar power is a method of using the suns heat to create steam that drives an electricity turbine. Mirrors that track the sun are used to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam which is then directed at a tower which in turn heats a liquid in the conventional way. Again different methods and types of mirrors are being tested in this area.
- Space-based solar power would use a satellite to collect energy, convert it into electrical energy and then transmit it to earth. This is still very much in the experimental stage but in the not too distant future we will be using electricity that has been beamed down to earth by wireless power transmission using a microwave beam. There are many arguments for using a space based solar system rather than a terrestrial not least because they would be not dependant on weather conditions.
Governments are investing heavily in solar power plants as an alternative method of generating electricity. They are pumping huge sums of money into the development of finding improved ways for storing the electricity.
This may all seem to be taking place on a rather grand scale where we see a solar power plant with many acres of mirrors and solar panels collecting and directing the suns heat to generate power. Yet at the same time governments around the world are offering a selection of grants, tax rebates and other incentives to homeowners who want to build their own small scale solar energy electricity systems. In many situations it is quite possible to sell any excess electricity that you are able to generate back to the utility company.