Saturday, March 31, 2012

Solar and Wind Energy - Alternative Energy, Quick Simple Explanation

Alternative energy sources are within your grasp, whether it is getting power from solar energy, or wind energy, or even a combination of both. It is important in this day and age, when our natural resources are being used up faster and faster, where we are seeing serious problems with fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, that we seek cleaner, greener, renewable alternatives.

The first place to start is with solar energy, and solar power systems. Solar power is clean, abundant just about anywhere around to globe, and is totally renewable. If you are still one of those people who don't know that much about solar power, this is a basic run down of how it works.

This first place to start is with a photovoltaic cell. These were first invented more that a hundred years ago, but it took a long time to make them the efficient little energy converters of today. How they work basically is that when the sun's light is directed on them, they convert solar energy into low voltage electrical current.
Now one of these cells doesn't do much, but connecting many of them together, that's where they start to produce the kind of electricity that you can use.

Solar energy comes from panels that have many of these cells working together to produce electricity. This is much different from wind energy, because there are no actual moving parts in a solar panel. The panels are then connected together to produce different power outputs, or wattage.

Now solar power by itself is not going to run your high voltage power needs. A solar panel produces Direct Current, or DC, while the electrical energy coming into your home is Alternating Current, or AC. So how do you make solar power into the high voltage power you need? With the help of an inverter, which switches DC electricity into AC power.

Put in simple terms that can relate to supplying all your electrical needs to your home, solar energy is collected in the panels. Exactly how many panels depends on how much average energy consumption you use a day, usually 2-4 or more 100 watt panels can supply most needs.

This energy is converted into electrical energy, flowing through wiring into a voltage regulator. This regulator does two different things. One it controls the voltage output of the panels, and the other is it prevents the batteries from feeding back into the panels. All the systems are the same from here on whether you are using solar power, or wind energy.

The next step in the process is a division of power output. Whether you are using wind energy, or solar energy, there are going to be times when you won't have this power source, at night, or when there is simply no wind. In order to compensate for this, part of the DC power goes into a bank of batteries.

These are deep cycle batteries, much different that a standard car battery. They collect the DC current, and store it for later use. Wires connect to this bank, and then there are more from the batteries to the power inverter. There is usually an switch of some kind that will automatically turn on and off depending on what power source the inverter is using.

Another set of wires comes off of the regulator, and runs directly to the power inverter. As explained earlier, this converts low voltage current into high voltage current, and all of the electrical needs for your home or RV are plugged in this box. It can have one plug, or many, and can convert power to 110 or 220 depending on your needs.

Now wind energy is similar to solar energy, but different as well. Instead of getting power from the sun, the wind causes a propeller type device to turn, which turns an electrical generator. Now you have probably seen large wind turbines, ones that are high off the ground, and take up a lot of space.

These are called wind farms, and while they do produce a lot of energy, they are not readily available for residential use, for obvious reasons. There are much smaller versions which can be used for home application, There are some disadvantages of these horizontal wind turbines, there are more moving parts than solar energy panels for one.

You need at least 15MPH of wind, and they of course have to be facing a wind source. Because of this, vertical axis turbines are much more popular. The blades face upward, and can catch the wind from any direction. There can be less wind to make them work and a single shaft runs directly to the generator.
So now, how does wind energy and solar energy apply to you? For starters, both of these complete systems are available to you. You can buy complete packages, which include all the panels, or turbine, the bank of batteries, inverters, and the whole nine yards.

Now while some of these complete packages can cost thousands of dollars, there are also DIY kits, with complete diagrams, detailed instructions, and complete lists of parts and suppliers to make your own systems. You can make the solar panels as well as the wind turbines for just a few hundred dollars. The most expensive part about the DIY kits is the batteries and the inverters, but these are also cheaper and widely available for the average person to buy.

By converting to solar energy, or wind energy, you can get completely off the grid, and not have to pay another electric bill every again. In fact, in most cases, if you produce more energy than you can store or use, power companies have to buy it back from you. In many cases, you can qualify for energy tax credits, as well as grants to help pay for these systems. You can use one system or combine both for as much power output as possible if you want to, and the whole thing can cost you around 2-4 thousand dollars at the most, which will pay for itself in just a few years.

Creating your own solar or wind alternative energy source can be easier and less expensive than you think.