Solar power converts the Sun’s energy (light and heat) directly into useful energy (electricity or heat). There are two main types.
The most popular type is called a PV (PhotoVoltaic) panel which literally means converting light to voltage (voltage is the electromotive force that drives an electric current and is exactly what we need to generate electricity). In fact, these panels make use of clever materials called semiconductors. These special semiconductors produce a voltage when exposed to light.
The other type is often called a solar thermal panel and this is made up of a very long tube coiled and filled with liquid which is heated up under glass panels to create hot water – a bit like being inside a greenhouse in summer!
Solar panels can be put on the roof as well as in fields and on empty land. They work best when they face the Sun, at least for some part of the day, and don’t generate energy at night. They work better closer to the equator in sunnier areas but they provide excellent power even in places far from the equator like the UK. Solar power generated depends on the season, especially in places like the UK, with quite a big variation between long sunnier summer days and short cloudy winter days.
Having solar panels on every house roof is useful because energy is generated exactly at the places it is needed and this can really help during the day when we often use more energy. Plus being on the roof they take up no more land which is really great!
If we wanted to use solar power only we would need to link solar power to energy storage for both daily day/night and seasonal summer/winter variation and that is still difficult. Even so, solar power is becoming a really important part of our energy mix.
How can we support solar power?
We can buy electricity from deep green electricity suppliers. These are suppliers who actively build renewable generation including solar farms. Here in the Nottingham Diocese in Leicestershire, a new hybrid solar-wind park has just been opened. Have a look at the video about this exciting new development:
We could also look to fit solar panels to the roof of our home or school. Schools are ideal for solar power (both PV and solar thermal) because schools use electricity and heat during the day exactly when the Sun is shining brightly!