Most people refer to solar energy as any type of usable electric power that’s generated, directly or indirectly, by the sun. Solar rays are captured, processed, and converted into energy; this is true, but there are actually multiple ways to accomplish this.
The most common form of solar power used today is photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. If you picture a solar panel in your head, it’s likely a PV panel. These panels are popular because of their cost efficiency—their process of energy generation makes them far more efficient than other types of installations, especially over time, and they’ve only gotten more efficient over the last several years. Engineering breakthroughs, like well-designed solar trackers, have compounded these returns in cost efficiency and have made PV panels the clear winner in the landscape of solar energy.
However, other forms of solar power generation are creeping up on the dominance of PV panels. In PV panels, specific physical and chemical elements are exposed to photons of light. Electrons within each PV cell absorb the light energy, then become free, which eventually generates an electromotive force. In effect, direct light is capable of producing usable electricity.
Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) uses a much different process. CSP uses a series of tiny mirrors to collectively gather and focus sunlight to a single point to generate heat. That heat is applied to a fluid, which then flows to an electrical generator. Because it does not convert light directly into electricity, it has historically been unable to match the efficiency of PV generation. However, because heat energy can be stored much more cheaply than electric energy, CSP could prove to become a major competitor in the solar power world. On the other hand the momentum of PV panels’ efficiency is showing no signs of slowing. With more companies like Solar FlexRack continue to innovate new, better products, the bottom line is that solar power will continue to become cheaper.