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About Solar-Powered Generators

    History

    • The first solar-powered generators were used in the late 1950s and the early 1960s by the United States and Soviet space agencies to serve as backup power sources for satellites. In the 1970s solar-powered generators began to be used as primary power sources for isolated off-grid locations such as rural train crossings and offshore oil rigs. Also during the 1970s, money was funneled into solar generator research in reaction to the oil crisis of 1973 in hopes of finding alternative energy supplies. By the late 1980s, this research lowered the cost of producing the solar cells, which made the use of solar-powered generators cost-feasible for businesses and homes. Today solar-powered generators are common sources of energy in Europe and Asia and quickly gaining popularity in North America.

    Features

    • Solar-powered generators have three main features: solar panels, deep-cycle battery and an inverter. These features work together to capture the energy from the sun and convert it into a usable form of electricity.

      Solar panels -- Solar-powered generators use photovoltaic solar panels, which absorb the sun's energy and convert it into electricity. A solar panel consists of interconnected solar cells which are housed inside of a module or panel. The cells are protected from the elements such as rain and snow, usually by a layer of glass. Most solar-powered generators use rigid stationary solar panels, however, portable generators used for camping and other activities use flexible panels encased in a durable plastic coating.

      Deep-cycle batteries are used by solar-powered generators to store the electricity gathered by the solar panels. Deep-cycle batteries are designed to provide a steady stream of current over a period of time as opposed to car batteries, which are designed to provide short bursts of energy to turn over car engines. They are also designed to be able to be drained and recharged multiple times unlike car batteries. Besides solar-powered generators, deep-cycle batteries are also used in recreational vehicles, boats and golf carts.

      Inverter -- An inverter converts the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating current (AC), which is used by most homes and businesses.

    Process

    • Solar-powered generators are photovoltaic power systems that convert the sun's energy into electricity. Solar panels are angled toward the sun and can be either attached to a building or be freestanding. The photons in the sunlight are absorbed into the solar cells and the electrons are separated out. The electrons flow through the solar cells and become DC electricity. The DC current flows into the deep-cycle battery where it is stored until needed. When the battery is tapped for power, the DC current is changed into AC current by the inverter and enters the building's electric grid usually after passing through a breaker system. If DC electricity is needed, the inverter step is skipped.

    Geography

    • How well a solar-powered generator works depends on the location where it will be used. Warmer climates, such as deserts and Southwestern regions, are the most conducive to fully optimizing solar power. In the United States, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada are the best regions for utilizing solar power. Northern climates benefit the least from solar-powered generators; the colder temperatures and lack of direct sun cut down on the solar power that can be collected during the winter months.

    Advantages

    • There are numerous advantages of using a solar-powered generator. The main advantage is the sun; it's a renewable energy source and it's free unlike oil or natural gas. The generators are quiet, do not having any moving parts that can break down, are low maintenance and produce no polluting waste. A solar-powered generator will pay for itself after only a few years of use and become a source of free energy for many years to come.

    Disadvantages

    • The major disadvantage of solar power is that it is not an effective source of power for some regions due to geographical considerations. Another drawback is the price; although solar-powered generators have dropped significantly in price over the past few years, setting up a generation system is still cost prohibitive for many people. Some people also cite the solar panels themselves as a drawback to solar energy; they find the panels bulky and unsightly.

    Benefits

    • Besides the economical and ecological benefits, another benefit of using a solar-powered generator is the tax incentives offered by the government. The federal government offers a substantial tax credit for property owners and builders who install and use solar generators. Many states also offer either tax credits or rebates for solar power users.

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