Our blog is here to give you an overview of how a solar power plant operates, as well as its significance and different types.
In a solar power plant, various systems, such as solar thermal plants or photovoltaic power plants, are used to convert solar radiation from the sun’s rays into electricity for domestic or industrial use.
But as a large-scale energy solution, solar technology depends on some impressive feats of engineering. Solar power plants are more complex than they first appear – here’s a brief guide to how they work.
How Does a Solar Power Plant Work?
Whatever type of panel is being used, a solar power plant typically operates according to the same fundamental principles.
Solar energy is converted and captured by solar panels. Due to the fact that PV cells are typically made of silicon, which is a semiconductor material, they contain easily excitable electrons. After absorbing solar energy, these electrons are then free to flow as a direct current (DC) with voltages up to 1500V. The photoelectric effect is the process by which photons are transformed into useful electrical energy.
The flow is next transformed to AC (alternating current) by an inverter before being either stored in a battery or fed into the electrical grid. Before being distributed to power appliances and other devices, the electricity can first be concentrated or processed through a series of transformers.
How Does a Solar Thermal Power Plant Work?
A solar thermal plant is a facility designed for converting solar energy into electricity through a conventional thermodynamic cycle. Solar thermal power plants, on the other hand, use a completely eco-friendly energy source, like sunlight, as opposed to thermal power plants, which operate by burning fossil fuels.
The technology used to produce electricity is slightly different depending on the type of solar thermal plant we’re talking about, but its operating system is similar. A solar thermal power plant concentrates the solar radiation to heat a fluid with thermally conductive properties and raise its temperature until it’s converted into steam. It’s then fed to a turbine.
Here, the thermal energy is converted into mechanical energy, which is transmitted to an alternator where its final transformation into electricity takes place. The steam is brought back to a condenser where it is able to regain its liquid state after the thermodynamic cycle is finished. Then, the cycle is repeated.
From an efficiency point of view, it’s important to take into account that the performance of a solar thermal plant depends on the hours of sunshine and weather conditions. In order to store the energy produced and use it later, these power plants also have storage tanks.
You can learn more about other types of power plants, such as Nuclear Power Plants, Hydroelectric Power Plants, Thermal Power Plants, Geothermal Power Plants, Wind Power Plants, Tidal Power Plants, and Biomass Power Plants.
How Does a Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Work?
The operation of a solar photovoltaic plant is based on photons and light energy from the sun’s rays. These kinds of facilities also employ various solar panel types.
While solar thermal plants use collectors, photovoltaic power plant use panels consisting of photovoltaic solar cells made of silicon (monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels) or other materials with photovoltaic properties (amorphous solar panels).
Thanks to the materials they are made of, when the sun’s rays strike them directly, the electrons contained in the more external layers of the photovoltaic cells absorb the radiation and generate direct current electricity. These solar panels are created by joining these solar cells in series and integrating them into a single module to create a solar photovoltaic plant.
The photovoltaic cells’ direct current is converted into alternating energy by a current inverter, which is connected to strings of parallel solar panels. The electricity is then sent to a transformer, where its voltage and intensity are adjusted so that it can be sent through the electrical grid lines to the consumption centers.
The photovoltaic power plant has a weather tower as well, which analyzes the environment to determine the solar radiation intensity and its short-term evolution as well as providing information on the precise sunset time. Therefore, it’s possible to predict the periods with a shortage of light and store the energy needed to guarantee the electrical supply.
In addition to conventional solar plants, photovoltaic systems installed on the roofs of buildings known as solar communities, which generate electricity for self-consumption and reduce energy costs or solar farms, are two great examples of solar photovoltaic power plants.
What Are Solar Power Towers?
A solar power tower is a type of solar power plant that utilizes hundreds or even thousands of flat sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats. On a main receiver tower, the heliostats reflect and concentrate the sun’s energy. Up to 1,500 times more energy than the sun’s energy can be concentrated in this area.
With the concentrated solar energy, the air in the tower can be heated up to 700 degrees Celsius (1,300 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat is captured by a boiler, which then converts it into electricity with the help of a steam turbine.
What Are Solar Ponds?
This solar power plant is actually a saltwater pool, as implied by the name. Using what is known as “‘salinity-gradient technology”, a solar pond collects and stores solar thermal energy.
The temperature at the pond’s bottom frequently reaches 85 degrees Celsius, making it very hot. It serves as an insulator that is transparent. In order to extract or store heat for later use, it enables sunlight to be trapped. Further Reading: How Much Solar Do I Need to Power My Home?
Advantages of a Solar Power Plant
Here are a few less well-known advantages of solar power.
- Great for the environment. One of the cleanest energy sources is it. Renewable energy has no negative effects on the environment because it doesn’t generate any waste or noise pollution.
- Since there is no external supply required, the cost of energy production is practically zero. Besides the investment to set up a solar power plant, there are no additional costs involved.
- There is no loss of energy in its distribution. As a result, the performance remains at its best.
- A solar power plant is simple and adaptable to install. It can be set up almost anywhere. Even in remote locations, electricity can be produced with ease thanks to the flexibility of a solar system.
- The sun is an endless source of energy due to its ability to produce energy. This makes it widely accessible.
- The effectiveness of solar power is relevant in situations where there are voltage drops and blackouts.
- The energy production is maximum during the day resulting in reduced electricity prices.
- Expect lifetime free power with a one-time investment.
- A three-year return on investment is possible.
- The method of producing power that is most environmentally friendly.
Conclusion: How Do Solar Power Plants Work?
A solar power plant is mainly concerned with diminishing electricity costs by imparting energy. Both little and big solar systems participate in this process. The active components convert sunlight from DC to AC electricity by absorbing it. Batteries and other additional components are needed for solar energy conversion.
There are many ingenious ways to harness the raw energy from the sun and convert it to useful electricity or heat, beyond what most people think of when they hear the term “solar power.” Solar power technology is an exciting and rapidly developing field that promises to create ever more efficient, creative, and environmentally friendly solutions in our eternal quest for clean energy.
Further Reading: Is Solar Or Wind Energy Better? Which to Choose?
How Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
Their invention makes use of the fact that solar panels cool at night. Power can be generated from the temperature difference between the cooling panels and the still-warm surrounding air. A thermoelectric generator is used for this, which generates power as heat moves through it.
How is Solar Energy Produced?
Solar energy is created by nuclear fusion that takes place in the sun. Hydrogen atom protons collide ferociously in the sun’s core, where they fuse to form helium atoms, which is the process of fusion. An enormous amount of energy is released during this process, which is also referred to as a PP (proton-proton) chain reaction.