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How Solar Works

Solar energy works by capturing the sun’s energy and turning it into electricity to your home or business.

Our sun is a natural nuclear reactor. It releases tiny packets of energy called photons. Every hour, enough photons impact our planet to generate enough solar energy to theoretically satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.

Solar technology is improving and the cost of going solar is affordable, so our ability to harness the sun’s abundance of energy is on the rise especially here in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

A 2017 report from the International Energy Agency shows that solar has become the world’s fastest-growing source of power – marking the first time that solar energy’s growth has surpassed that of all other fuels. In the coming years, we will all be enjoying the benefits of solar-generated electricity in one way or another.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

When photons hit a solar cell, they knock electrons loose from their atoms. If conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides of a cell, it forms an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they generate electricity. Multiple cells make up a solar panel, and multiple panels (modules) can be wired together to form a solar array. The more panels you can deploy, the more energy you can expect to generate.

What are Solar Panels Made of?
You’ll hear words like (PV) which stands for Photovoltaic solar panels which are made up of many solar cells. Solar cells are made of silicon, like semiconductors. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery.

How Do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?
PV solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity. With DC electricity, electrons flow in one direction around a circuit.

With AC (alternating current) electricity, electrons are pushed and pulled, periodically reversing direction, much like the cylinder of a car’s engine. Generators create AC electricity when a coil of wire is spun next to a magnet. Many different energy sources can “turn the handle” of this generator, such as gas or diesel fuel, hydroelectricity, nuclear, coal, wind, or solar.

How Does a Solar Panel System Work?

Sunlight hits a solar panel on the roof, the panels convert the energy to DC current, which flows to an inverter. The inverter converts the electricity from DC to AC, which you can then use to power your home. It’s simple and clean, and it’s getting more efficient and affordable all the time.

A typical grid-tied PV system, during peak daylight hours, frequently produces more energy than one customer needs, so that excess energy is fed back into the grid for use elsewhere. The customer gets credit/paid for the excess energy produced, and can use that credit to draw from the conventional grid at night or on cloudy days.

Contact SGE Solar if you have any questions about Solar and how you can benefit on reducing or eliminating your electric bill with the power of the sun!

Clean energy Western Massachusetts

By Mary C. Serreze

February 2018

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It’s been a busy year for clean energy in the state and region, and the months ahead promise yet more challenges and opportunities.

A new solar incentive program will go into effect in 2018, providing tariff-based payments instead of production credits. Utilities will firm up contracts to procure massive amounts of clean energy from offshore wind, Canadian hydro and other sources. Greater commitments to reducing emissions from the transportation sector are expected, and innovative pilot programs are helping homes and businesses transform their energy profiles.

In 2017, Massachusetts saw major solar gains, with more than 10,000 projects installed, representing around 480 megawatts of new capacity. The clean energy sector contributed $11.4 billion to the state’s economy, providing jobs for more than 109,000 people at 6,900 establishments, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Statewide job growth in the clean energy sector has jumped 80 percent since 2010.

The 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act requires that all sectors of the Massachusetts economy reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. In 2016, the state lost a landmark lawsuit filed by climate activists, and the state’s highest court ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to implement the law.

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Nebraska State Fair Adds Solar Panels

By Steve White

August 9, 2017

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While fairgoers seek the shade, the sun will help power this year’s Nebraska State Fair.

Solar panels are being installed this week, on the south side of the Nebraska Building, near the Game and Parks exhibit.

“You’re going to see about 25 kilowatts, which is roughly 90 solar panels,” said Jason Olberding of J-Tech Solar.

Olberding says his company agreed to put the panels in at no cost to the fair. It’s a welcome addition to a fair that strives to be the most innovative in the country.

The Fair’s facilities director Jaime Parr said, “I do see the solar panels as a great fit for the State Fair. They do touch on our technology needs as well as sustainability, environmental efforts.”

the fair has taken steps to go green, and is certified for keeping nearly everything from going to the landfill.

Parr said, “We do tons of waste diversion at the State Fair. We are a three-time zero waste event, so looking for number four this year.”

They also have a sustainability pavilion, that J-Tech will sponsor, featuring a monitor showing solar power’s impact.

“That will show us how much power is real time live being generated from the solar panels,” Parr said.

Olberding said the screens will “Talk about the footprint, carbon footprint it’s saving, how many computers it could run.”

This installation’s not enough to power even one building at the fair, but Jason says it shows what can be done on a typical home.

“It would take all of a home’s bill away for a month, for an average ranch home, plus some,” he said.

And it’s estimated to save the fair a few thousand dollars in utility bills.

Parr said, “The hope is that it will supply about 15% of the power to the Nebraska Building throughout the year.”

Located near the main entrance to the fair, hundreds of thousands of visitors will pass by and learn something on their way to eat corn dogs and funnel cakes.

Olberding said, “It’s a great place to bring awareness to what we talk about every day.”

J-Tech has a ten-year agreement with the Fair.

New Videos on the SGE Website!

Want a quick intro to solar panels and how solar energy works? Check out our updated video page for a breakdown on this booming source of renewable energy!

By Danica Bergmann

Massachusetts landfill gets solar panels

By “Waste Today” Staff

July 3, 2017

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A capped landfill in Brockton, Massachusetts, has become a solar energy producer. According to the local CBS affiliate WBZ-TV, the landfill, once nicknamed Mount Trashmore because of the odors it produced is now doing something positive for the environment.
A new solar power system opened on top of the old Thatcher Street landfill in late June. Officials from the city claim the energy produced from the panels is equivalent to offsetting the carbon emissions of 12,000 cars annually. The report adds, the city officials estimate more than $300,000 in revenues generated from the project annually.

 

 

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India launches first solar-panelled train in bid to cut down diesel use

By Loulla-May Eleftheriou-Smith

July 19, 2017

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India has launched its first solar-powered train, which it is hoped will save around 21,000 litres of diesel a year, as the government attempts to make the country’s vast rail network more environmentally friendly.

The new 1,600 horsepower Diesel Electrical Multiple Unit (DEMU) trains are fitted with 16 solar panels on each carriage as well as battery back-ups, UNTV News and Rescue reports.

The first train, which is pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive, has been launched on New Delhi’s suburban commuter railway system, with the routes for the rest of the new trains to be decided soon.

The 7,200kw of energy created each year by the solar panels will be used to power internal lights, fans and other electrical systems on the train coaches.

Each solar-panelled coach will reportedly offset carbon emissions by nine tonnes a year, which is expected to save around 21,000 litres of diesel.

Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu told The Hindu the trains are a “path-breaking leap” towards the goal of making India’s trains more environmentally friendly.

The department of railways is also increasing its use of alternative energy sources as part of its commitment to using cleaner fuels, he added.

The solar panels last for up to 25 years and will be inspected regularly.

“It is not an easy task to fit solar panels on the roof of train coaches that run at a speed of 80km per hour,” Sundeep Gupta, vice chairman and managing director of Jackson Engineers, which worked on the project, told Business Standard.

“Our engineering skills were put to a real test during the execution of this rooftop solar project for Indian Railways.”

 

 

Want more solar news? Check out SGE Solar’s News Feed or follow our forays into social media on Twitter!

NIU staff member’s new children’s book explores the science of solar energy

By Northern Illinois University

July 11, 2017

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On July 5, Gillian King-Cargile, director of NIU’s STEM Read program in the P-20 Center, released her new children’s book, The Toy and the Test Drive. The book is the third installment in the Stuffed Bunny Science Adventure Series published by NIU Press. It explores concepts of solar power and potential and kinetic energy in a fast-paced children’s narrative designed to engage young readers.

“If we can create fun, exciting picture books that will get kids interested in the characters and the pictures, then science is exciting for kids who don’t necessarily see themselves as scientists or engineers,” King-Cargile says. “The fiction books might spark their interest in a way that more traditional non-fiction books might not.”

The book includes an interview with Seth Darling, a Nanoscientist working at Argonne National Laboratory whose work focuses on next-generation solar energy devices and solar energy systems, among other topics. Darling was a science consultant on the book.

King-Cargile is excited to release a book that addresses solar energy right now. “In a time when green energy is under attack, it’s important to keep ideas about alternative energies alive in our education system,” she says.

The Stuffed Bunny Science Adventure Series arose as a partnership between King-Cargile and the P-20 Center’s STEM Read program. The series is designed to teach science, technology, engineering, and math concepts aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)..

The STEM Read website (stemread.com) provides free lesson plans, video games and other activities for each book that parents and teachers can use to further engage children in the science behind the stories. Hands-on activities, such as building a solar oven and making s’mores, bring the science of solar energy alive for children.

Jeffrey R. S. Brownson, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering at Pennsylvania State University, praises the book: “This is a fun story that provides a good introduction to the science and engineering concepts surrounding solar energy.”

King-Cargile will be presenting readings and activities for children at the following times and locations.

  • 4:30 PM on Wednesday, July 12 at the Maple Park Public Library
  • 10:00 AM on Thursday, July 13 at the Cortland Community Library
  • 10:30 AM on Monday, July 17 at the DeKalb Public Library

The readings are free and open to the public. Books will be available for purchase. Proceeds from the book sales benefit STEM Read’s programs for readers of all ages.

For more information, contact Gillian King Cargile at 815-753-6784 or gkingcargile@niu.edu.

Colby’s 5,300-Panel Solar Field Ready to Generate Power – and Academic Opportunity

By Caitlin Rogers

July 6, 2017

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Colby will flip the switch on a nine-acre solar field this fall, the latest step in the College’s commitment to sustainable and climate-friendly practices. The new 1.9-megawatt photovoltaic energy project, announced last May, will supply about 16 percent of the College’s electricity.

Colby declared carbon neutrality in 2013 and continues to work to reduce carbon emissions.

“Colby takes a holistic approach,” said Mina Amundsen, assistant vice president for facilities and campus planning. “We are always looking for the next way to promote sustainable practices.”

The project, undertaken in collaboration with NRG Energy, Inc., is located less than one mile from campus on a large, easily accessible, south-facing space to maximize the project’s capacity for power production. Approximately 5,300 solar panels will be installed to produce 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

This solar array is the latest in a series of sustainable energy projects implemented by the College. Colby already has a photovoltaic energy system on the roof of the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center that generates around 10 percent of its electricity from a steam plant on campus.

The biomass plant, booted up in 2012, saves a million gallons of oil annually by burning locally sourced forestry scraps to produce heat. Additionally, 15 of Colby’s spaces are LEED certified, and Colby is committed to seeking LEED certification—which indicates commitment to human and environmental health in its design and construction—on all new building projects.

Amundsen said Colby’s commitment to the environment includes not only sustainable energy, but also sustainable water, materials, waste, and consumption. Colby was only the fourth college or university in the country to become carbon neutral when it reached that milestone about two years ahead of schedule.

For more than a decade, Colby students have intensively studied environmental practices on campus and participated in sustainability projects; the campus’ first greenhouse gas inventory became an honors thesis in 2007.

The solar array provides another valuable learning opportunity for students, who will be able to study the system itself and the environment around it.

Californians take a shine to solar power

By Jocelyne Zablit

July 2, 2017

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Jacquie Barnbrook had grown tired of the high electricity bills and her gas-guzzling luxury car when she finally decided to take the plunge last year.

The 52-year-old Los Angeles resident joined an ever-growing number of Californians who are switching to for their energy needs in a bid to not only save money but to also do their part for the environment in a state setting the pace for the rest of the country in that sector.

“At this time of year, my power and water bills usually were around $400 a month,” Barnbrook said. “Right now, it’s $150 a month.”

As for her vehicle, Barnbrook said she ditched it in favor of a hybrid one that she now plugs in and charges at her house.

“I was previously spending $80 dollars on gas every three or four days and now I haven’t put gas in my new car since the beginning of March,” she noted.

“That’s four months ago!”

Nearly 4.9 million homes are powered by solar energy in California—the nation’s green trailblazer and the most populous state—and that number is expected to continue to grow, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a non-profit trade association.

Even President Donald Trump, an avowed sceptic on climate change, is considering putting on the wall he plans to build on the Mexican border.

Snake oil

Although solar installations have slowed this year due, in part, to a record number of people rushing to sign up in 2016 for fear of losing a tax incentive, the market is expected to continue to grow, especially in places like California which has a plethora of sunny days, experts say.

Driving this expansion is the plummeting cost of solar panels—which were traditionally limited to relatively affluent homeowners—and improving technology on batteries to store energy, they add.

“Right now, we’re in throes of rapid change in the solar industry,” said Rajit Gadh, director of the UCLA Smart Grid Energy Research Center. “As people process all the information out there and report their success stories and it starts to become mainstream … the momentum will grow.”

He said apart from cost, another reason average consumers have gingerly adopted solar power in recent years was the dizzying number of regulatory hoops they had to go through to get approval from utility companies and a lot of complicated information to process.

Moreover, as demand for the product has surged in the last decade, so have the number of companies—both serious and shady—jostling for a piece of the pie.

“Solar power is confusing and for a long time it really didn’t make a lot of economic sense,” said Ryan Willemsen, CEO and founder of the San Diego-based start-up Solar to the People.

“In California, solar is really getting a reputation because of some of the unscrupulous folks involved who are pushing solar super hard,” he added. “In San Diego alone, for example, there are over 200 solar operations.”

Ara Petrosyan, CEO and founder of LA Solar Group, a consulting firm, said he believes that once the dust settles and shady companies inevitably go out of business, consumers will be able to make more informed and affordable choices and the sector will take off like “a rocket ship.”

“In five years, so many rules and regulations have been added that you have to be a really good expert to stay in the business,” he said.

He added that a clear sign of where the industry is going is the number of installations—which cost between $15,000 and $20,000 for an average size house—his company is handling.

“When we started in 2012, we did about 10 installations a month,” Petrosyan said. “Today, we do about 120 a month … and it will definitely keep increasing.”

Such projections are good news for a state that has mandated that 50 percent of its electricity come from , including solar, by 2030.

Solar power is also growing fast in other states, including New York, which look to California as an example.

“The overall industry trend is that the cost of solar panels and other components is going down,” said Willemsen.

“And more and more standard folks are hearing it’s a good idea and once one person in the neighborhood goes solar, more and more follow.”

Exciting new material uses solar energy to remove man-made dye pollutants from water

By Phys.org

June 29, 2017

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A novel composite material has been developed by scientists in the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University which shows promise as a catalyst for the degradation of environmentally-harmful synthetic dye pollutants, which are released at a rate of nearly 300,000 tonnes a year into the world’s water.

This novel, non-hazardous photocatalytic material effectively removes dye pollutants from water, adsorbing more than 90 % of the dye and enhancing the rate of dye breakdown by almost ten times using visible light.

The researchers, led by Dr. Charles W. Dunnill and Dr. Daniel Jones at the Energy Safety Research Institute in Swansea University, reported their discovery in the Nature open access journal Scientific Reports.

By heating the reaction mixture at high pressures inside a sealed container, the composite is synthesized by growing ultra-thin “nanowires” of tungsten oxide on the surface of tiny particles of tantalum nitride. As a result of the incredibly small size of the two material components – both the tantalum nitride and tungsten oxide are typically less than 40 billionths of a metre in diameter – the composite provides a huge surface area for dye capture.

The material then proceeds to break the dye down into smaller, harmless molecules using the provided by sunlight, in a process known as “photocatalytic degradation”. Having removed the harmful dyes, the catalyst may simply be filtered from the cleaned water and reused.

While the photocatalytic degradation of dyes has been investigated for several decades, it is only relatively recently that researchers have developed materials capable of absorbing the visible part of the solar spectrum – other materials, such as titanium dioxide, are also able to break down dyes using solar energy, but their efficiency is limited as they only absorb higher energy, ultra-violet light. By making use of a much greater range of the spectrum, materials such as those used by the ESRI team at Swansea University team are able to remove pollutants at a far superior rate.

Both of the materials used in the study have attracted significant interest in recent years. Tungsten oxide, in particular, is considered one of the most promising materials for a range of photocatalytic applications, owing to its high electrical conductivity, chemical stability and surface activity, in addition to its strong light absorbance. As a low band-gap semiconductor, tantalum nitride is red in colour due to its ability to absorb almost the entire spectrum of , and therefore extracts a high amount of energy from sunlight to power the degradation processes.

However, the true potential of the two materials was only realised once they were combined into a single composite. Due to the exchange of electrons between the two materials, the test dye used within the study was broken down by the composite at around double the rate achieved by tantalum nitride on its own, while alone was shown to be incapable of dye degradation. In contrast to other leading photocatalytic materials, many of which are toxic to both humans and aquatic life, both parts of the composite are classed as non-hazardous .

The scientists responsible for the study believe that their research provides just a taster of the material’s potential. “Now that we’ve demonstrated the capabilities of our composite, we aim to not just improve on the material further, but to also begin work on scaling up the synthesis for real-world application.” said Dr. Jones. “We’re also exploring its viability in other areas, such as the photocatalysed splitting of water to generate hydrogen.”