Simply put, solar power is typically the conversion of the sun’s renewable energy into electricity. This can be done through photovoltaic or concentrated solar power. Some countries in the world have adopted the use of solar power, with China and the United States leading in the total solar energy capacity in the world.

In Germany, solar power makes up the highest percentage of electricity production. Solar energy is cost-effective and an effective way to help lower energy bills. Besides homes, businesses and utilities are also installing solar panels and solar power plants to supply solar energy to clients connected to the grid. 

In this article, you will learn more about the two main types of solar energy technologies including photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

Solar Radiation Harnessing Method

Since solar power does not involve using fossil fuels, there is a need to collect sunlight to generate electricity. There are two collection methods used to concentrate sunlight and transform it into a useful form of energy.

The first method involves the use of photovoltaic cells that directly transform sunlight into electricity. The other method is the use of solar thermal collectors where concentrated sunlight is used to heat fluid and generate electricity from steam-driven turbines. 

Photovoltaics (PV)

Also known as PV, photovoltaics cells are constructed from different semiconductor materials and generate electricity when exposed to sunlight. This occurs in the process known as the photovoltaic effect, which involves the transfer of electrons from the photon energy absorbed by semiconductor materials.

Usually, most PV cells use silicon semiconductors to produce electricity. When deciding on the best semiconductor material, you may want to choose one that ensures high power output and maximum conversion efficiency. Cells with perfect alignment of silicone molecules are better at converting the sun’s energy than their counterparts. 

A solar panel consists of photovoltaic cells, which must be positioned to ensure maximum sunlight exposure. The panels can be placed on the roof to generate electricity for residential use. However, a solar panel for commercial use can consist of many photovoltaic cells and is often arranged in an array to ensure maximum exposure to sunlight. 

This technology is becoming prominent because it improves efficiency and lowers costs. Since this process of transforming energy into electricity is direct, there is no need for steam as is the case with power plants. 

Solar Thermal Power Plant

For solar thermal power plants to generate electricity, energy from the sun is used to heat a fluid to a very high temperature. Power plants use solar collectors to concentrate sunlight before it is converted to heat. The heat is then transferred to water to produce steam, which is useful for turning turbines in power plants.

It is an environmentally friendly way to convert the sun’s energy to electricity since it doesn’t involve using fossil fuels. If the heat produced is not used for power generation, it is stored in thermal storage, which allows electricity generation for up to 24 hours.