5 things you probably don’t know about solar energy

Many things have been written about solar energy, yet many facts about it are still not widely known, including the following…

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1. A photovoltaic system does not require bright sunlight in order to operate

Contrary to a popular misconception, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems do not require bright sunlight in order to generate electricity. The operation of solar panels depends to a larger extent on average luminosity than on the amount of direct sunshine. This is why even in Belgium or in Nordic countries PV systems are an excellent source of energy.

Thus, for example, Belgium receives an annual average of 1,600 to 1,700 hours of sunlight per year, which is more than sufficient to ensure the cost-effectiveness of a PV system. Only very overcast days result in a considerable drop in performance.

2. The sun can meet the energy requirements of the entire planet

The sun daily radiates 3,000 times more energy to the Earth than is consumed by the global population – and this has been happening for over five billion years!

Every day some 970 trillion kWh (1 trillion = 1 followed by 18 zeros!) reach the Earth’s surface from the sun, whereas the average annual electricity consumption of a Belgian household is 3,500 kWh. Simple arithmetic will show that the sun can, in theory, supply electrical power to some 290 billion households.

Back in 2005, the Desertec project demonstrated that total global electricity requirements could be met by installing solar panels in a relatively small part of the Sahara.

Solaire Art 1 Sec 2 Desertec 565x353The red squares on the map indicate the surface areas that would need to be covered with solar panels to meet the electricity requirements of the world, Europe (EU-25) and Germany (De) respectively.

3. You can view your photovoltaic system from space

ENGIE Electrabel has recently started offering solar PV services. Before fitting your rooftop solar array, Sungevity, ENGIE Electrabel’s partner, will use satellite images of your home to identify which part of your roof provides the best exposure angle to the sun. Sungevity will also determine the local radiance values, the impact of any shadows and obstacles, and the energy performance of your system. A simulation is also conducted to assess the impact of the installation on your home’s aesthetics – all of which is done on line and even in real time, if you so wish!

4. A race is on to build increasingly large PV solar energy plants

Countries and firms are vying to construct, as a matter of prestige, the largest PV solar energy plant.

The Ivanpah photovoltaic solar energy plant in the Mojave Desert (United States) set the pace in 2014. It can meet the energy needs of 140,000 households. Since then, in China and India, PV utilities have been commissioned which, according to their promoters, provide even greater capacity. More recently, Morocco has undertaken the construction, in three stages, of the Noor photovoltaic plant, which will be able to supply electricity to over a million Moroccan families. It is expected to become operational in the course of 2018.

5. A solar Silicon Valley is in the making

Not only does solar energy come from an inexhaustible source, namely the sun, but also the main constituent of PV panels is in plentiful supply on our planet. We are speaking, of course, of sand or, more specifically, silicon, which is also the raw material for computer chips and after which the world’s most important technological hub, Silicon Valley, was named.

You may also want to read: Harvesting the sun’s bounty – towards a CO2-free future.

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