Harness the Incredible Power of the Sun: Go Off the Grid
Since the beginning of time, the power of the sun has been harnessed by the human race to support off the grid initiatives. Until we develop technology like in Star Trek, we are still dependent on the sun for providing the maximum amount of heat and light for Earth. This is true even if we are not living in a regular home. The healing properties of the sun have been told since the beginning of time and none of us are averse to the idea of sitting in the warm sunshine during hard winter days.
With advancements in modern science and technology, mankind is slowly learning to harness the incredible power of the sun for producing efficient electricity, heating, and lighting. Surprisingly, if we are able to effectively harness one hundredth of a millionth percentage of the sun’s amazing power, we will be able to meet the electricity demands of the entire planet several times over. However, this is still a distant reality. More and more people, however, are becoming aware of the sun as a convenient, clean, and economical source of renewable energy.
There are mainly three kinds of devices used in self-sustaining homes for converting sun power into useable energy. They are:
- Photo-voltaic Cells– Photo-voltaic cells or PV cells are the most common kinds of solar cells used in off the grid houses for generating electricity. These cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. These cells are extremely effective, as a sunny day can power a 100watt lightbulb with only 1 square meter of a solar panel. Initially, solar cells were invented to provide electricity to man-made satellites, but now the technology has become advanced enough for retail home use.
- Solar Water Heating– In this process the heat from the sun is used to warm up or heat water stored in pipes on the rooftops of homes. These pipes are blackened on the outside and the water is pumped from inside. As the water passes through the blackened portions of the pipes, it gets heated up through the convection currents and this heated water is then piped back into the house for bathing, cooking, washing, or cleaning purposes. With the additional source of heated water, this helps the house save money on gas and heating bills. This apparatus is immensely popular in some regions where despite colder temperatures, there is ample sunshine available all throughout the year. However, during the winter months one must remember to drain out all the water stored in the pipes as the water might freeze overnight and crack or burst the pipes.
- Advanced Solar Water Heating– Technological advancements in the standard solar water heaters have made this apparatus quite popular in the United Kingdom. Typically, 90% of an off the grid home’s hot water is generated by these advanced solar water heating pipes between the months of April and November. The solar-powered water heating panel used in UK is called a “Thermomax” Panel and is made up of a set of glass tubes. These glass tubes contain metal plates with a blue-coating, so that they are able to absorb the sun rays from IR to UV. The air is removed from the glass tubes to reduce heat loss, much like the thermos mug. A “heat pipe” is placed behind the metal plate to transfer the heat generated quickly from the top of the glass tube. This metal plate looks like copper but it is filled with a liquid which helps heat transfer. A water pipe is then placed across the top of the apparatus, which picks up any heat along the way.
- Solar Boilers– Another advancement in solar heater technology is solar boilers. In solar boilers, the power is collected through the solar tiles and is used to fuel and heat a separate water cylinder, which further provides hot water to the house.
- Solar Furnaces– Solar furnaces are an array of mirrors placed on the roof or garden of a home, which concentrates the sun’s energy into small spaces and produces very high temperatures. These solar furnaces can be used to cook food or heat water in hot countries and can also be identified by their huge solar cookers look.
There are many common uses for renewable solar power. Solar cells are used for running satellites that orbit the earth. These satellites in turn run our satellite TVs, telephones, navigation equipment (GPS), weather forecasting equipment, and in some cases the internet.
The Solar One power station in California uses the Sun’s heat to make steam and powers a generator to generate electricity. The mirrors in this solar furnace are arranged in circles around a “power tower”. The mirror-panel keeps pace with the sun’s directional change to keep the rays focused on this tower, where oil is heated to more than 3000 degrees Celsius. This heat from the oil generates steam, which in turn moves a turbine that has the capacity of generating more than 10kW of renewable electrical power. Another famous example of a solar power system are the solar-powered boats in Coniston Water from the Lake District of Great Britain.
The developed world is slowly waking up to the many advantages of off the grid solar power. Some of them are as follows:
- Solar energy is free as it does not need fuel and produces no waste or pollution, thereby creating a clean source of energy.
- In remote places where countries are sunny, solar power can be used to generate electricity, where public utilities are not generally available.
- Solar energy can be used to power low-energy appliances such as garden lights and battery chargers. This in turn contributes towards reducing electricity bills in your home.
If you want to know about PV cells, check out Nasa’s article here: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2002/solarcells/
If you’re a student and need some information about how PV cells work, read this: http://www.nmsea.org/Curriculum/7_12/PV/explore_pv.htm