Types of Solar Power Generation
At present two types of solar power generation are known and implemented. Solar power generators of the first type directly convert sun radiation to electrical power utilizing the photovoltaic effect. Solar power generators of the second type utilize sun radiation to generate high temperature/high pressure steam that is used to operate steam turbine electrical generators.
Direct Conversion Solar Power Generators
Direct conversion solar generators use the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity. The heart of these systems are solar electric panels, also called photovoltaic panels.
Photovoltaic generation facilities come in all sizes for different applications, in essence the different size plants comprise sub-types of direct generation solar power generators
- Small Direct Solar Systems (less than 1 kW)
- Small photovoltaic panels are used to power cellular phone micro base stations, road signs, street lights, water pumps and other remotely installed unattended electric loads.
- Off Grid Homes and Ranches (1kW to 5kW)
- Solar power generators are the natural solution for off-grid homes that are located in rural and remote areas.
- Connected to the grid residential solar power generators (1kW to 5kW)
- This segment of the market grows very fast; many homeowners take advantage of the decreasing prices of solar panels, the energy tax credits and are motivated by the strong green trend
- Solar power generators on public buildings and schools
- This is a growing segment, public buildings and schools realized the economic potential of otherwise unused roofs to generate money. One of the limitations of solar panels is that they need a lot of land size to generate meaningful amount of electricity. Public building potentially has this unused "land" on their roofs. Medium size solar power generators, with production capacity between 50 kW to 1 MW, can supply the building needs as well as the needs of nearby residential buildings. Small communities, joint forces to build medium size plants (50 k Watts to 5 M watts) that will supply the community needs. These community size plants can be off-grid or connected to the grid. The connected to the grid (grid-tied) facilities can buy electricity when extra electrical power is needed or sell surplus electrical power to the utility.
- Utility Scale Power Plants
- These are large scale solar panels plant stretching over acres of land and with production capability of tens or even hundreds of MW. Utility scale power plants are usually located in arid desert-like areas remote from the consumers.
- Concentrated photovoltaic electricity
- Concentrated photoelectric generators use optical devices (mirrors or lenses) to concentrate more sun radiation on the solar panels. The idea is to save land size and money, because solar panels are much more expensive than the lenses and mirrors. Concentrated solar power generation elements need to have tracking after the sun solar trackers
New Types of Solar Power Generators Created a Paradigm Shift
Utilities in developed countries as well as private sector entities take advantage of the distributed nature of solar panels. Small size power plants are connected to the grid. It is less expensive and faster to install distributed solar panels than to build the very large scale power plants and build new cross country super high voltage power lines.
This distributed-generation approach provides is a paradigm shift for the future electricity systems. Small computer controlled generators, distributed in close vicinity to the consumers base, could serve as an alternative for new large coal, nuclear and natural gas plants that are the nowadays backbone of electricity production.
For underdeveloped countries, the ultimate solution for bringing electricity to the remote villages and small towns are small and medium size distributed power generators
Types of solar power are only a subset of the known types of solar energy utilization
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