PacB Group // Could Solar Panels Offer the Promise of Sustainable Power?


Could Solar Panels Offer the Promise of Sustainable Power?

While many of us in South Africa are feeling the bite of winter’s chill, parts of Europe are experiencing unprecedented summer heatwaves, recording temperatures more in keeping with those of midday in the Sahara than in capital cities, such as London, Brussels, and Paris, where the mercury recently hit 42.5° Celsius. That our irresponsible consumption of fossil fuels is responsible for these anomalies is no longer in doubt, and the need for more sustainable power sources is now crucial. Wind farms, geothermal energy, and solar panels are among the possible solutions, and while developing, the two former options will be the responsibility of industry and governments, the power of the sun’s rays is something from which most consumers can already choose to benefit.

Generated almost 150 million kilometres from earth, the sun’s rays have been responsible for maintaining its plant and animal life since they first evolved. However, with our planet’s natural protection seriously compromised, it now threatens to extinguish that life. Its rays, however, transmit more than heat. When striking solar panels, the energy contained in its ultra-violet rays can be made to produce an electric current. In practice, this so-called photovoltaic effect offers consumers a source of energy that is not only clean, but virtually inexhaustible. So, how does this seemingly miraculous transformation of energy work?

Light is both a waveform and a stream of particles. Known as photons, these particles act to displace electrons from the upper layer of semiconducting material in the cells that make up solar panels. When directing the flow of displaced electrons along a wire to a second semiconductor layer that is deficient in electrons, each cell acts to generate a small electrical current. When multiple cells are connected in series to form a panel, the result is a much larger current. In order to increase the total power output even further, two or more panels can be connected to form an array.

While the bulk of those solar panels now commonly seen on suburban rooftops and in office parks are of the photovoltaic type, capable of generating electricity directly, it is also possible to leverage the sun’s infrared radiation by focusing their heat on to a collector consisting of fluid-filled pipes rather than semiconductors.  While this does not produce electricity, it can provide free hot water, and so, reduce a household’s dependence on electric or gas-fired water heaters. Concentrating solar radiation can also produce steam to drive generators.

Because individual units can be interconnected, solar panels offer a scalable power generation solution and the size of an array is limited only by cost and the space available to accommodate it. As a result, South Africa has already been employing this technology to generate electricity on a commercial scale. Currently, more than 30 photovoltaic solar farms and a further five concentrated solar power stations are operational, predominantly in the Eastern, Western, and Northern Cape regions, thanks to independent operators.

While Eskom may not be building solar farms, it is encouraging the use of solar panels, although promotional schemes vary in their availability and the nature and value of their incentives while also tending to be poorly publicised. Nevertheless, the investment required for a typical domestic installation will eventually be offset by the monthly savings on municipal utility bills and, more importantly, clean and sustainable power is in the interest of every person on the planet and the future of our children.

Though offering access to clean and sustainable power, the technology is not as green as we would like. Unfortunately, the manufacture and disposal of solar panels result in a substantial carbon footprint. Progress continues on the development of more efficient photovoltaic glass and even paint. Until these alternative options are perfected, however, PacB Group will continue to provide the nation’s consumers with world-class power solutions and the necessary technical expertise to support them.

Our qualified technicians offer support and advice in the selection of the right power solution for your needs by calculating your power requirements.

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