Americans are in growing numbers turning to solar power as a source of energy for their homes and businesses. Others who may be considering the use of this new technology may be concerned about its costs and ultimate rewards. In order to determine its cost-effectiveness, it is important to understand how solar power operates and whether it is viable in a particular situation.
The Basics of Solar Power
This technology makes it possible to turn sunlight into electric energy. It accomplishes this through solar panels that are placed in areas that receive heavy exposure to sunlight. Normally made of crystal silicon and employing either lenses or mirrows, these panels create an electric current when exposed to the sun. In order to achieve their maximum efficiency, the panels installed in the United States should face to the southern sky and be separated from trees or other obstacles that will shade them from the sunlight. A professional in the solar industry is best qualified to determine the most suitable location of the panels. Equally important in determining their efficiency is establishing the peak sun-hours at the location where the panels have been installed.
Understanding Peak Sun-Hours
This figure is not the same as the number of hours of daylight. The peak sun-hour period is the amount of time that solar energy can be generated, specifically when the sunlight has an intensity level of 1,000 watts within an area of one square meter. This period will of course change during different times of the day, during different times of the year and in different weather conditions. The period of greatest solar radiation is obviously at noon and lower earlier and later in the day, when the rays of the sun are filtered by the atmosphere. In terms of seasons, the summertime is most conducive to the production of solar energy, attributable to the higher position of the sun in the sky. The local weather is the other determining factor, with cloudy conditions reducing the efficiency of solar panels by 25 to 40 percent.
Calculating Solar Efficiency
When considering the environmental factors, the peak hours of sunlight average between three and five a day in most areas of the United States. Fortunately, there are different ways to determine the peak sun-hours to the degree that the information can be used in a practical manner. An insolation map will highlight the amount of solar energy available at a particular location, with charts having been compiled for specific areas in North America. Additionally, an insolation meter can be used to calculate the amount of sunlight that a specific group of solar panels will receive. A determination of these peak sun-hours can help businesses or homeowners decide whether solar energy is suitable for them.