Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Many Benefits of Solar Power

Solar power is constantly in the news these days. Electricity made from the bright light of the sun, granted to you free of charge once the basic infrastructure is set up. The grid would benefit immensely if you would install one on your roof right now. Let me explain why.
As is, the electrical grid distributes power from various electricity producing plants to your house, millions of other houses, and businesses. If more electricity is demanded, then the plants have to ramp up the power production. If less is demanded, then they can slow up, maybe shut some things down for maintenance. Plants have to be ready for huge bursts of usage at certain times, like noon in the summer, when almost all the air conditioning goes on at once. Or at 9am when all the workplace computers are switched on all at once. However, they can't maintain that redline all the time.
If you put a solar panel on your roof, it will make power when the sun shines, and distribute it first to your home. When all the demand in your home is met, the excess power leaves through your electrical meter, turning it backwards. (Yes, this means that if you make enough power, the power company pays YOU.) This lessens the demand on the grid, allowing power plants to spend more time in lower-production, casual mode. Of course, for safety, you will need a 3-way switch that allows you to disconnect from the grid. Don't want to fry the technicians that work on the lines, now.
As is, there are some line losses involved. Some of the power sent to you is lost as heat from the resistance in the wires. If everyone put a panel on their roof, power would be made where it is used, lessening these losses. Some power plants would be needed, for institutions that used more power than they can generate, and at night when the panels do not produce power, but some electricity is still used. (Like refrigerators, a little night lighting and so on). Less power is used at night than during the day, because businesses are mostly shut down and less gadgets are in use at night.
A panel network would reduce the spikes in demand by increasing supply, since "daytime" and "high peak demand" are pretty much simultaneous, distribute the load to make the grid more resilient, and produce power without too much environmental trouble. (Coal makes smoke, hydro dams cause flooding, and nuclear power scares people and dumps hot water into the environment).
For safety, all installations need the following: Diodes between panels and the building electrical grid, so that a malfunctioning panel doesn't consume grid current. A 3-way shutoff switch so that wires can be safety de-powered for maintenance. Electrical workers deserve a workplace free from electrocution and death. Anchoring to the roof in case of hurricane or tornado, should they occur in the area, or detachment, that they might be safely put in the basement until the storm is over.
The panels will, as they age, produce less power over time. They should be periodically be replaced with new panels. They will also benefit from a weekly cleaning with window-cleaner, as dust and dirt tend to accumulate on the roof.

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