Solar Energy

What is it?

  • Solar energy is electromagnetic and thermal energy collected from the Sun and either converted to electricity for use or used directly as thermal energy. This will focus on the collection and conversion of sunlight to electricity through photovoltaic cells (solar panels).

How does it work?

  • Photovoltaic (PV) cells, commonly referred to as solar panels, are composed of semiconducting materials that take advantage of the photoelectric effect.
  • The cells are most commonly made from crystalline silicon which absorbs some sunlight (photons), which in turn excites electrons, which then can become part of the electric flow, or current.
  • Some optimization is required for maximum absorption and energy production.
  • In Southern Alberta, the optimal angle of solar panels for the highest efficiency is 49° to 51°.

Size Considerations

  • Electricity generation through PV cells can be done on a small scale, such as charging a car battery or operating an electric fence, to large scale applications like solar power plants.


  • Solar PV can be used to produce power for many applications, from charging mobile phones, car batteries, and road signs, to offsetting a buildings electricity consumption, to full scale power plants of up to 300 megawatts or larger. Because individual PV cells are relatively small, they can be tailored to almost any use.

Is it right for you?

  • Solar energy can be used almost anywhere, however more energy can be produced where sunlight is more abundant.

Positives of Solar Energy

  • Apart from manufacturing and construction, solar PV energy does not require energy input.
  • Apart from manufacturing and construction, solar PV energy does not produce toxins or greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide.
  • Lifecycle emission production is significantly less than those of fossil fuel-based energy-producing technologies, and is similar to other renewable energy technologies.
  • Sunlight is an abundant, constant source of energy in many areas.
  • Solar PV energy can be produced on almost any scale

Issues with Solar Energy

  • Abundant sunlight produces more electricity, and solar PV may not be economically viable in some areas.
  • Power production is intermittent
  • Panels can be covered with snow, reducing the efficiency.
  • Panels can be expensive.
  • Large scale solar PV requires a large land base.
  • Installing and operating requires some skill and maintenance.
  • Power produced is D/C rather than A/C.
  • The average efficiency of solar PV is only about 15%, but changes in technology are increasing PV efficiency.