Energy can be harnessed directly from the sun, even in cloudy weather. Solar energy is increasingly used across the world, whether for electricity generation or to heat and desalinate water. Solar power is generated in two main ways:
Photovoltaics (PV), also called solar cells, are electronic devices that convert sunlight directly into electricity. The modern form of the solar cell was invented in 1954 at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Today, PV is one of the fastest growing renewable energy technologies and it is expected that it will play a major role in the future global electricity generation mix.
Solar PV is the image of solar power you’re probably most familiar with — it includes the panels installed on houses and calculators. Solar PV installations can be scaled to provide electricity on large commercial scale or for more personal use and mini-grids. Using solar PV to power mini-grids is an excellent way to bring electricity access to people living off the electric grid, particularly in developing countries which often have excellent solar energy resources.
The cost of manufacturing solar panels has plummeted dramatically in the last decade making them not only affordable but often the cheapest form of electricity. Solar panels have a lifespan of roughly 30 years, and come in variety of shades depending on the quality of the silicate used in manufacturing.
Concentrated Solar Power, shortened to CSP, use mirrors to concentrate solar rays. These concentrated rays heat fluid, which creates steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity. CSP is used to cook food and boil water in the form of solar stoves, or to generate electricity large-scale power plants.
The typical image of a CSP power plant is a field of mirrors oriented at a tall thin tower. One of the main advantages of a CSP power plant over a solar PV power plant is that if it stores heat in molten salts, it is able to continue to generate electricity after the sun has set.