Is Solar Power Viable for Home Use?

Back in the 1980’s, we were probably amazed when the first ever solar calculators with solar cells came out. They never needed batteries, had no ‘off’ button, and so long as there was enough light even from a light bulb, it would still work. Today, solar power and solar energy are real and are powering everything from small electric plants, to satellites, and houses. Basic solar energy comes from solar cells or photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity. Bigger ‘arrays’ or modules have a large grouping of cells connected electrically and packaged into what is known as a solar panel, and when grouped further, become larger solar arrays.

Photovoltaic cells use silicone as special semiconductor materials. This is the most common material used today. Silicone has been selected because of its special chemical nature and crystalline structure in absorbing and directing sunlight and heat to become electricity. It would take a whole manual to completely explain how solar panels and PV cells work in detail. One factor to consider with PV Cells is that they can only absorb between 20 to 40 percent of sunlight energy that hits the solar panels. It has something to do with the wavelengths in the light. This is one of the factors many people do not fully understand.

In truth, you may have a whole field of solar panels but harness only less than half of the sunlight’s energy that is absorbed. Can solar energy and solar panels work with houses? Yes, using what is called a residential solar installation. There are just a few aspects to consider. Firstly, the solar panels attached to the house’s roof or placed in a field should have the correct inclination to take full advantage of the sun’s energy. This is why using solar installations in countries like Australia is a big advantage, more so with countries nearer the equator.

Since home solar panels are non-tracking in nature, they should ideally be pointing to the maximum area of concentrated sunlight energy during the day. Another thing to be considered is that the solar panels should never be shaded by nearby trees or buildings. Can a house exist fully on solar power? Not likely. Even in areas of year-round sunlight, it would be hard. You need to consider factors like cloudy or rainy days that may go on for days. You can either have a back-up generator or have solar batteries that store electricity. Both are quite expensive and somewhat impractical.

The best proven method so far is to stay connected to the utility grid, then only buy and use power that you need. This way, the utility acts as a sort of practical infinite storage system. The power company and the homeowner must work together to ensure that you are both using equipment compatible to each other so that no one power source overrides the other. Another factor is safety; should there be a power outage, the power company needs to make sure that your PV system will not continue feeding electricity into power lines that a lineman will think are safe to handle.

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