Solar power is energy converted from the sun to thermal or electrical energy. Solar power is a clean, inexpensive, and renewable power source that is available everywhere in the world. Any point where the sun hits the Earth is a potential location for generating solar power. Because solar energy comes from the sun, it represents an infinite source of power.
Solar energy is captured in several ways. The most common way is with photovoltaic solar panels. Photovoltaic (PV) devices generate electricity directly from sunlight via semiconductors. When the silicon photovoltaic solar cell absorbs solar radiation, photons strike and ionize semiconductor material on the solar panel, causing electrons to break free of their atomic bonds. Electrons are forced to flow in one direction, creating a flow of electrical current. Only some of the light spectrum is absorbed, while other parts of the spectrum are reflected, too weak (infrared), or create heat instead of electricity (ultraviolet).
The second technology used in solar energy is concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP plants use solar thermal energy to make steam, which is then converted into electricity through a turbine.
In 1954, Bell Labs introduced the first PV device to produce a useable amount of electricity. During the 1970s, there was a major interest in using solar energy to produce electricity for homes and businesses because of the energy crisis. Because of extremely high prices, the large-scale application was impractical. Luckily, the price of PV devices has dropped dramatically, falling more than 59% over the last decade. Additionally, you can finance solar panels for your home.
Why solar energy? Solar energy has several great benefits, including eliminating electric bills and avoiding utility inflation. Additionally, many states offer tax incentives, rebates, and credits for installing solar energy panels on your home. The use of solar energy also protects the environment, creates jobs, and helps the United States energy-independent.
Solar Power Capacity By Country
Worldwide usage of solar energy varies greatly by country. The numbers below are for solar photovoltaic capacity. As of 2019, China has the largest solar energy capacity in the world of 204,700 megawatts (MW), about 3.9% of China’s total energy consumption.
The European Union (EU) has a solar power capacity of 131,700 MW, about 4.9% of the EU’s total energy consumption. The United States has the second-highest total solar PV capacity of any single country of 75,900 MW, about 2.8% of the United States’ total energy consumption. The U.S. currently has enough solar power capacity to power 11 million households in the country.
Japan has the third-highest solar energy capacity of 63,000 MW and Germany has the fifth-highest solar energy capacity of 49,200 MW. Germany’s solar energy capacity is the third-highest percentage of total energy consumption for any country at 8.6%. Japan’s is relatively high at 7.6%. Germany also has the highest PV watts per capita of 595.
Honduras has the highest solar energy capacity share of total consumption at 14.8% and Israel as the second-highest at 8.7%, just above Germany’s. The countries who have added the most solar PV capacity in the last year are China (30,100 MW), the United States (13,300 MW), and India, (9,900 MW).
In addition to PV capacity, several countries have concentrated solar power (CSP) capacities. Spain has the highest CSP capacity of 2,300 megawatts, followed by the United States with 1,738 MW. Other countries with smaller CSP capacities include India, South Africa, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Australia, China, and Thailand.