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How do solar power stations generate energy?

Solar power is often touted as being the next big thing to hit the energy sector, but how do solar power stations really work?

Light is made up of energy,  and the rays emitted by the sun usually turn this energy into heat when they hit items on the ground.

However, when it hits certain materials light can actually turn into an electrical current rather than heat.

Solar power plants take advantage of this phenomenon by capturing this energy and turning it into electricity.

Photovoltaic electricity

One method used to generate electricity from the sun relies upon solar panels to create power.

As light hits the array of solar panels, the solar radiation that is created as a result can be concerted into direct current electricity, or DC.

The DC flows from the panels and is converted into the electricity we are able to use to power our homes and businesses - alternating current (AC).

This electricity travels through transformers and the resulting voltage is sent through transmission lines for electricity suppliers to distribute.

Solar panels can be made from silicon, which is used because the electrons move when exposed to light rather than rubbing together to create heat.

This means they can create light energy into electricity. However, they are relatively expensive to produce, which has led the industry to move towards newer materials.

Copper-indium-gallium-selenide is one such modern development that is cheaper to create and can easily be shaped into flexible films.

This is not quite as effective as silicon at generating electricity, but is much more cost efficient.

Solar-Thermal electricity

The other way in which commercial entities can produce electricity from the sun's rays includes the use of a solar collector.

This kind of system aims to concentrate solar radiation through mirrors or reflective surfaces made from troughs.

These troughs track the course of the sun over the day and focus the resulting radiation through the mirrors onto absorber tube receivers.

The heat is then used to boil water, which then powers a steam turbine that creates energy.

Why is solar power important?

This form of electricity generation is said to be the sustainable way of the future and the World Solar Thermal Electricity Association (STELA World) says its use is expanding rapidly.

It can be used to provide clean and reliable power that meets demand and can store power during the day and night as a result of new developments in the industry.

This means energy can be released when it is needed. The sun is a more reliable source than the wind.

STELA World says it has the potential to eliminate the need for fossil fuel back up systems over time.

Posted by Liam Tunney.