Solar power generation, how this works

A short introduction to solar power generation

 When one considers the increasing costs of electricity, the harmfulness of using of fossil fuels, and the instability of many national power grids, it is no surprise that solar power is rising in popularity. Solar plants in various sizes are popping up all over the continent, helping both households and businesses benefit from this technology.

Given the world’s increased focus on sustainability, solar has become even more relevant. Solar is a renewable energy form, drawing on the sun’s unlimited energy. The sun’s rays cannot be depleted, and no harmful gases are emitted in the process.

This article provides a brief explanation of solar power generation, how it works, where it can be done, and what the prerequisites are.

Solar power generation

Solar power generation, how does it work?

In short, solar power works by harnessing the sun’s rays and converting this radiation to energy. It is an elegant technology which produces electricity from sunlight without moving parts. The key to every solar power generation system is photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Photovoltaic (PV) or solar modules are made up of solar cells that are connected in series. In a photovoltaic cell, sunlight detaches electrons from their host silicon atoms. Tiny packets of light energy called photons are captured by electrons and impart enough energy to kick the electron free of its host atom.

Near the upper surface of the cell is a “one way membrane” called a pn-junction. The pn-junction works by diffusing tiny quantities of phosphorus to a depth of approximately one micrometre into a thin wafer of silicon. When a free electron crosses the pn-junction, it cannot easily return. This connection causes a negative voltage to appear on the surface facing the sun and a positive voltage on the rear surface.

The front and rear surfaces are connected via an external circuit in order to extract current, voltage and power from the solar cell. A typical solar module comprises of 36 cells connected in series to produce an operating voltage of 12V.

Inverters convert the energy from alternating current to direct current so that it can be used as electricity.

Solar power generation

Solar power generation, where can it be done?

Solar power generation systems can be built in various places. The most commonly used places to build solar farms are on roofs or on the ground. However, with new technologies developing all the time, they can even float on water.

While every site is so unique, so is every solar power generation system. Therefore, your solar system will be built to suit the needs and layout of your property. Ensuring that the system operates at its maximum potential will also be incorporated into the system’s design.

Solar power generation, what are the prerequisites?

To build a system that will be successful in solar power generation, the following prerequisites are needed:

  • High levels of sunlight. Areas with prolonged presence of clouds or mist are not ideal for solar power generation systems. However, South Africa has one of the highest solar irradiation levels in the world and most areas are favorable.
  • Direct sunlight is essential for the PV panels. This means that the solar plant should be free of shading, for example, from trees, buildings, or mountains.
  • The system must be accessible for cleaning and maintenance. Usually, ladders are installed to reach solar systems on roofs. Additionally, there must be space between the rows of panels so that individual panels can be reached by engineers when needed.

Solar power generation, maintenance requirements:

Solar plants generally have a lifespan of 20 – 25 years. However, regular maintenance is vital to ensuring optimal efficiency and the longevity of any solar power generation system.

Maintenance on PV systems includes checking and topping up battery electrolytes, checking the charge controller operation and ensuring that the wiring connections are secure. It is essential that panels are free from dust and debris as this blocks the sun’s rays. Therefore, cleaning the PV panels ensures the best exposure to direct sunlight.

Because the performance of solar systems can be monitored remotely, typically maintenance is performed every month. Faults are detected quickly. Corrective maintenance visits are scheduled on a regular basis with remedial action done on-site when needed.

New Southern Energy offers a range of operations and maintenance services to ensure that the systems we build operate efficiently for as long as possible. More information regarding these options is available here.