What is Solar?
Solar power uses the clean and abundant energy of sunlight to generate electricity. This can be done directly, through the use of photovoltaic (PV) cells, or indirectly through concentrating solar power (CSP).
Photovoltaic literally translates to light electricity
PV cells are made from semi-conductor materials (silicon, polycrystalline thin film or single crystalline thin film). You already use simple PV systems in solar powered calculators and wristwatches. The power output of individual PV cells is small but can be increased by combining them together into solar modules. Modules can be combined together into solar arrays, which have the potential to meet almost any electrical power need.
The solar array at Nellis Air Force Base was the largest PV plant in North America it was complete in 2007. This plant alone contains approximately 70,000 solar modules and produces 14 megawatts of power.
Why is Solar important?
- Environment - Solar produces no air pollution or hazardous waste
- Reliable - Sunlight is predictable, free, and abundant
- Economic - Increased demand is creating a new high tech industry and new jobs
- Safety – Increases our energy independence from oil producing nations
Concentrating Solar Power uses mirrors to reflect and focus sunlight onto a small area.
Electrical power is produced when the concentrated sunlight is directed on to photovoltaic surfaces or used to heat a transfer fluid for a conventional power plant. In a conventional power plant scenario thermal energy is turned into electricity through the use of a steam turbine or heat engine that drives a generator.
One of the challenges of solar is it cannot produce energy when the sun is not shining. Some CSP systems use Thermal Energy Storage to compensate for this, storing heat for energy production when there is no sunlight.
Solar currently accounts for about .01% of the United State’s energy production, the smallest amount of any type of renewable energy. Nevada currently has 10 utility-scale solar plants in some level of operation, producing approximately 1,800 megawatts, or enough electricity to power about 360,000 Nevada homes (homes use about 5,000 watts of power, or 6,500 watts in Las Vegas).