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Q: How do I know if I have enough sunlight for solar?
A: A solar energy system needs unobstructed access to the sun's rays for most or all of the day. There is enough sunlight to make solar energy systems useful and effective almost anywhere in the world. Most homes have adequate roof space for a solar system, and this can be complemented by integrating the system into walls or by using modules to cover a porch or patio in the backyard.
Q: How big a PV system do I need?
A:The size of solar system you need depends on several factors-such as how much electricity or hot water or cooling you use, how much sunshine is available where you are, the size of your roof, and how much you're willing to invest.
Q: Are there disadvantages to using solar energy?
A: Solar energy technologies often have a higher initial cost outlay. This means that a person is likely to pay more money up front to purchase and install a solar system. Still, in nearly all cases, the high initial cost is recovered through substantial energy savings over the life of the product (15-30 years).
Q: When will I be able to buy a solar electric or PV-powered car?
A: The benefits of solar cars are obvious - they don't pollute, and free sunlight is their fuel. The drawbacks are that, using today's technology, a solar car has to be very lightweight for the panels to provide enough energy to power the car at road speeds, and it has to have enough battery storage to travel long distances without sunlight (at night and on overcast days). As part of continued research and development, many organizations are improving the systems used in solar cars to make them more efficient and cost effective. Some car companies are making great strides in this area with the new petrol/electric hybrids, and future progress is likely to be rapid.
Q: How does sunlight affect life on Earth?
A: The energy from the Sun is critical to all life on Earth. Evolutionary scientists have shown that the Sun’s energy played an essential role in 'spontaneous generation', whereby the very first single-cell amoebae split and developed into more complex lifeforms. Plants require sunlight for the process of photosynthesis or the production of sugars, and a by-product of the photosynthetic process is cellular respiration, which releases the oxygen that we must have to stay alive. All types of animals, including humans, also rely on the sun’s heat to maintain body temperatures and sustain life. Thankfully, the Sun has sufficient helium mass to provide the Earth with energy for another 5 billion years.
Q: What does photovoltaic (PV) mean?
A: The word 'photovoltaic' essentially means electricity from the energy of sunlight. First used in about 1890, the word has two parts: photo, derived from the Greek 'phos' meaning light, and volt, a unit of measurement named for Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), a pioneer in the study of electricity.
Q: How does PV differ from other solar energy technologies?
A: There are four main types of solar energy technologies:
1. Photovoltaic (PV) systems, which convert sunlight directly to electricity by means of PV cells made of semiconductor materials.
2. Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, which concentrate the sun's energy using reflective devices such as troughs or mirror panels to produce heat that is then used to generate electricity.
3. Solar water heating systems, which contain a solar collector that faces the sun and either heats water directly, heats a 'working fluid' or heats air that, in turn, is used to heat water.
4. Transpired solar collectors, or 'solar walls', which use solar energy to preheat ventilation air for a building.
Q: What are the components of a PV system?
A: A PV system is made up of several different components. These include groups of PV cells called 'modules' (also known as panels'); one or more batteries; a charge regulator or controller for a stand-alone system; an inverter for a utility-grid-connected system or when alternating current (AC) rather than direct current (DC) is required; wiring; and mounting hardware or a framework.