PacB Group // From Hydropower to Solar Power: The Changing Face of Renewable Energy


From Hydropower to Solar Power: The Changing Face of Renewable Energy

Over the past decade, renewable energy production methods, including solar power, have gained significant popularity and attention. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable energy sources, solar power has emerged as a frontrunner in the renewable energy sector. In this article, we will delve into the remarkable growth and advancements in solar power technology and its impact on the energy landscape.

Additionally, we will explore alternative forms of renewable energy production and shed light on the specific challenges and considerations related to solar power generation during the winter season. Keep reading as we uncover the power of the sun and its role in shaping our energy future.


Solar Power is Gaining Ground

Solar power is one of the leading renewable energy sources globally, but the largest source of renewable energy is still hydropower, or hydroelectric power. Hydropower refers to the generation of electricity by harnessing the energy of flowing or falling water. It is a long-established and widely utilised renewable energy source, and unlike solar power, does not suffer from intermittency. Hydropower runs day and night, whereas the sun goes down every evening. Hydroelectric power plants generate a substantial portion of the electricity in countries like Norway, Canada, Brazil, and China.

Solar energy production has experienced significant growth and is becoming increasingly popular. Solar systems work well in hot, arid countries where water is scarce and hydro power is not feasible. The benefits of hydropower, such as no intermittency, make it a particularly good choice in water-abundant countries.

Solar energy is emerging as a major player in many parts of the world in the renewable energy sector. The declining costs of solar panels, advances in solar panel technology, improvements in energy-storage systems, and increasing environmental awareness are encouraging its adoption. Solar power installations can be found on rooftops and in large-scale solar farms and can even be integrated into infrastructure such as parking lots, building facades, and along highways.

Many countries have made substantial investments in solar energy plants, leading to a significant increase in global solar power capacity. China’s solar production is monumental, with China having an install base in excess of 392 GW, making it the largest producer of solar energy in the world. The United States of America comes in second with installed capacity of over 135 GW. These countries have made substantial efforts to promote solar power through government policies, tax, and other incentives, and favourable regulatory frameworks.

At the same time, solar power has gained popularity among residential and commercial consumers, with homeowners and businesses increasingly investing in solar systems to generate their own electricity and reduce their reliance on the grid. This also allows them to lower their carbon footprint.

The predominance of renewable energy sources can, and will, vary from geographical location to geographical location. Factors such as natural resource availability and government policies will determine the mix of renewable energy sources adopted and bias the choice of energy source, whether hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, wind power, or solar modules.


Renewable Energy Sources Other than Hydro and Solar Power

Wind power is a formidable competitor of solar power in some countries and has witnessed substantial growth in many countries. Countries like China, the USA, and Germany have developed large-scale wind farms and have become leaders in wind-energy production.

Geothermal energy, which harnesses heat from the earth’s core, is also an important renewable energy source in regions with geothermal activity. Countries like Iceland, the Philippines, and New Zealand rely heavily on geothermal energy (heat from the earth) for their electricity needs.

Less mature technologies, such as ocean energy, which uses the kinetic and thermal energy of seawater, waves, or currents, for instance, are being developed.

Bioenergy is also a potential source of renewable energy. Bioenergy is produced from a variety of organic materials, called biomass, such as wood, charcoal, dung, and other manures for heat and power. Biomass is typically used in rural areas for cooking, lighting, and space heating. Although generally used by poorer populations in developing countries, more sophisticated technologies are being developed.

Solar power has emerged as a sustainable and viable renewable energy source. It offers numerous benefits for both the environment and end users.


When is Solar Power Effective and What Happens in Winter?

The situation of a solar power installation can significantly impact its overall effectiveness and return on investment. Several factors influence the optimum performance of a solar power installation.

The amount of sunlight received by solar panels varies based on the geographical location. Sites closer to the equator tend to have more consistent and intense sunlight throughout the year, making solar power installation more beneficial. In contrast, regions with greater seasonal variations will experience substantial swings in plant performance between summer and winter. The higher the latitude of the site, the more pronounced this variance will be.

Annual weather patterns and the amount of sunlight available during different seasons is crucial. Solar panels generate more energy during the summer months due to longer days and increased solar radiation. Local weather conditions also play a major role. In the South African context, the Kwa-Zulu Natal midlands (commonly referred to as the “mist belt”) experience far less solar radiation than Gauteng, for instance.

While solar power generation is influenced by seasonal changes, winter does not render solar panels completely ineffective. Although the amount of sunlight during winter is generally lower, solar panels can still generate a considerable amount of energy.

Firstly, the shorter days and lower sun angles during winter months reduce the overall sunlight available for solar panels. Despite this, even during cloudy or overcast days, solar panels still generate electricity as diffused sunlight can also be turned into electrical energy. Even in harsh cold winters, solar panels may produce surprisingly large amounts of energy. Solar panels perform more efficiently in cooler temperatures. High temperatures cause a slight reduction in the efficiency of solar panels, which are tested at 25°C to derive their nominal power rating.

In most parts of South Africa, during summer months, panels will operate at more than double that temperature. Colder panel temperatures in winter help offset the shorter days and diminished radiation by increasing panel performance. Snow accumulation on solar panels can hinder their productivity, but very few South African sites have to contend with snow. Ensuring the panels are clean and free of snow build-up would be essential for maximising energy production during winter.

Solar power generation is generally slightly reduced during winter, and energy consumption tends to be higher due to increased heating and lighting requirements but the net impact of winter on solar power will vary depending on energy needs at individual sites. Efficient insulation and the use of energy-saving devices, such as LED lighting and efficient hot water systems, can help offset the increased demand during colder months.

Regions that allow net metering, where excess energy fed back into the grid in summer can be used to offset higher winter month usage, can significantly benefit solar power system owners. Energy storage solutions such as batteries may be used to store excess energy during sunny periods for use during overcast days or at night. While the summer season offers the highest solar energy potential, solar panels will still generate significant electricity during winter.


Engage with Solar Power System Experts

PacB is a pioneering force in Southern Africa’s power-generation industry. We provide everything from large-capacity industrial diesel generators to a comprehensive range of UPSes and state-of-the-art renewable energy systems. Contact us today if you want the benefits of a solar power system.


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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