Solar Power 101

What is Solar Power?

Solar power is the energy harnessed from the sunlight rays to electricity. This process can be done using three mechanisms: direct conversion, indirect conversion, and a hybrid mix between both. The interesting thing about solar power is that -different from concentrated forms of fossil fuels and nuclear fuels- solar power requires a lot of space!

Credits: Vera Kratochvil - PV Solar Panel
Credit: Vera Kratochvil – PV Solar Panel

Direct Conversion

This type of energy production is done through the use of Photovoltaics (PV). Photovoltaics use solar cells -electronic devices that converts the energy of sunlight into electricity by the photovoltaic effect. They form part of the semiconductor materials studied in physics and chemistry. They are the largest and fastest-growing renewable energy technology!

Solar cells were invented in 1954 at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the United States. Solar PV’s can either be used at a commercial scale or arranged in smaller configurations -such as mini-grids for personal use. In general terms, solar panels have a life span of roughly 30 years and come in a variety of shades.

Credit: Alex Lang, Flickr

Indirect Conversion

This type of energy production is done through the use of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). Solar power can be indirectly converted using Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) that uses mirrors to concentrate solar rays in a given spot. By using numerous field mirrors, the CSP system can solar track the rays of the sun to focus or redirect the rays to small beams found in a tower. Electricity is generated when the concentrated light is converted to heat that then drives a heat engine (usually a steam turbine) that is connected to an electrical power generator.

CSP is used to generate electricity in large-scale power plants. The biggest benefit of this system is that -if equipped with molten salts- it can store heat even after the sun has set.

Credit: Oleksandr Novykh, Increase the thermal efficiency of a hybrid solar power plant


This type of energy production is done through the use of both PV and CSP systems together with the use of other forms of generation such as diesel, wind, and/or biogas. They are usually used in islands where they are able to regulate power output in relation to the energy demand. As a result, this reduces the fluctuating nature of solar power and non-renewable fuel making the whole system more efficient. Some examples include desalination water plants or PV diesel generating systems.