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Solar energy

Solar energy

From a sign of deity to Einstein’s object of study: since the dawn of mankind, sunlight has defined its evolution. We’ve learned to respect it, study it and lastly, harness it, in order to secure a brighter future for us all, in every way.

About solar energy

The mother of all energy

If the earth is our home, we owe a lot to solar energy. Just to offer some perspective, solar radiation is the key element of chlorophyll photosynthesis which kickstarts the basis for life for most creatures that inhabit the planet. Solar radiation is also the origin of winds, tides and fossil fuels: the sun is the primary engine of almost all forms of energy on our planet.

Over the centuries, humankind leveraged the strong connection linking plant life and the sun, especially to learn how to manage the lifecycle of plants to transform them in edible crops. As technological progress plowed on, by the end of the nineteenth century it allowed to transform the sun’s energy in electricity through the solar cell: a device that leverages the physics phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect.

Today, after nearly 150 years since the onset of the first photovoltaic cell, solar energy is the fastest growing renewable energy source (+24% yearly, according to the 2019 IRENA report) and its technological development follows through, delivering ever more efficient solar power plants. The global threshold of 500 GW-worth of installed capacity is ready to be reached and surpassed, with Asia leading the global growth trend. Hence, the sun will keep on shining and guiding the unstoppable rise of green energy. 

The history of solar energy

A future bound energy, from fire to electricity.

How solar energy works

Photovoltaic and Thermal. Two facets of the same sun

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The core of every solar photovoltaic park is represented by solar panels. Their semiconducting coating - silica, for instance - reacts to visible light and creates energy when hit with solar radiation, thanks to the physical phenomenon known as “photovoltaic effect”. The panels are then mounted on support struts that ensure they’re correctly inclined and oriented so to fully exploit their exposure to light.

In a photovoltaic array, all solar panels are connected to an inverter, basically, a device that transforms the direct current generated by panels in alternating current which is easier to transport and use in all households. A control system is tasked with supervising over the solar park’s operations while ensuring its connection to the grid, so to guarantee the availability of all generated electricity.

One of solar energy’s trump cards is being able to release energy through other types of power plants, also known as “thermodynamic” (or concentrating), in which the sun’s rays can be transformed in electricity through a process by all accounts similar to traditional thermal power plants.

These power plants don’t feature photovoltaic panels, but rather, deploy mirrors that concentrate the sun’s rays towards a specific point, known as “collector”, containing a heat transfer fluid. The searing heat generated by the sun is more than enough to transform this fluid in steam which is, in turn, channeled to a turbine.

The mechanical energy generated by the turbine is sent to the alternator that transforms it into electricity, ready to flow through the power grid.

Photovoltaic cells

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Photovoltaic module

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Solar power stations

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Strong points of solar energy

Powerful, sustainable and quiet

The sky's the limit

The average efficiency of solar panels stands at 20% although technological efficiency is working tirelessly to raise the bar, day after day. Heterojunction technology is now pegged at 24.63% while multi-junction technology is already above 40%.

A scalable resource

From household roofs to large photovoltaic solar parks, solar energy is flexible enough to make it the ideal solution for any kind of personal or business need. 

Carbon and noise neutral

A photovoltaic power plant generates energy in a clean and silent way. Zero C02 emissions and zero decibels make a very compelling case for renewable energy.

Frequently asked questions about solar energy

In 2019 alone, energy from the sun stopped 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere. By 2050, a quarter of the world’s energy could be derived from solar power. This industry is creating numerous jobs and developing new revenue streams for farmers. Here are all of the answers to your questions about this renewable source – one that is abundant everywhere and inexhaustible.

Did you know?

The Saharan solar park: an impossible dream, or not?

Spanning nine million square kilometers and day temperatures soaring above 50° Celsius. If the Sahara desert were a nation, it would rank in fifth place for its size, behind Russia, Canada, China, the United States and above Brazil. Although, since it features only 0.11 inhabitants per square kilometers it would naturally be the less inhabited by far.

Would it be possible to transform the Sahara in one huge solar park that could generate energy on a global scale? Technical difficulties aside, some definitive data on solar energy is surprising. According to Mehran Moalem, an energy expert quoted by Forbes magazine, the solar energy captured in an area just larger than 1% of the Sahara desert would be sufficient to meet the world’s energy needs.

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