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Electricity Generation from Solar Power

H.N.T. Wijesekara / 120716U

Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Moratuwa

Today the whole world is in an energy crisis. Electric energy is the mostly used energy type.
Since the costs of electricity generation are getting high people have considered on
generating electricity using environment friendly alternative methods. Using solar power to
generate electricity needed is one of the best options available. There are many methods of
using solar power to generate electricity. Thermal methods and photovoltaic methods are the
mostly used methods.

Discovery of electricity has changed the day to day life of everybody on the planet.
Undoubtedly electricity is the most integral part in modern technology and without it most of
the equipment that we use every day simply will not work. The average solar power
25.4 1015

intercepted at any time by the earth's surface is around

Watts [1] while the world
annual power consumption is about 23,000 TWh [1]. So solar power harnessed electricity
would be a good option to the prevailing energy crisis.
Solar energy is sustainable and renewable. It is clean, environment friendly. The generation of
solar electricity needs a little maintenance. Once the solar panels are installed it needs little
maintenance in order to ensure that it is working in the desired manner. Solar electricity
generation does not produce any noise. Also there are continuous advancements and
improvements in solar panel technology which makes it even more cost effective. Solar
electricity power plants produce zero emissions during their operation [2].

Photovoltaic Systems (PV Systems)

Figure 1: Simple photovoltaic system

Photovoltaic cells are made using semi-conductor layers. Silicon is commonly used to
manufacture the layers. There are 2 types of layers present namely a positively charged layer
(p-type) and a negatively charged layer (n-type). An electric current can be produced when an
external load is applied across the layers. Sunlight contains a particle type called photons.
When sunlight falls on to the solar cell these photons hit the atoms in the solar cell and emits
energy. Usually we let sunlight fall on to the n-type layer. The emitted energy is sufficient to
knock off electrons from the atoms in the n- type layer making the layer more negative with
more mobile electrons. Naturally electrons move from the n-type layer to the p-type layer.
Then a potential difference is created. We can then drive a load using this potential
difference [3] [4].

Figure 2: Functioning of a photovoltaic system

Every solar panel is made with multiple solar cells. Usually a single solar cell can generate
about 0.5 V of electricity [4]. A collection of solar cells electrically connected to each other
and mounted on a frame is called a photovoltaic module. These modules are usually
designed to produce and supply electricity at a certain rated voltage. 12 V systems are the
most common ones [4]. The current produced by a module is directly proportional to the
amount of light falling on to that module. A collection of modules is called an array. These
arrays are used for higher voltage applications. The current produced from the panel is used
charge a battery bank and the output from the battery is converted to AC using
inverter and then used to power the household appliances [5].

Figure 3: Arrangement of solar cells

Advantages of Photovoltaic systems

Photovoltaic systems can be identified as an ideal solution for covering basic energy needs of
existent and future generation. Below discussed are some advantages of PV systems].

PV systems are environmentally friendly. They help to reduce CO 2 emissions to the

atmosphere while reducing the Greenhouse Effect. Also PV systems emit no kind of
harmful gas to the environment.
PV systems possess a life span more than 30 years. They are usually guaranteed for
more than 25 years [5].
PV systems dont possess moving parts except the solar tracking mechanism.
Therefore they require minimum maintenance.
PV systems can be used for power generation in remote areas because it is economical
than distributing power over long distances.

Disadvantages of Photovoltaic systems

Efficiency of PV systems reduces by 0.05 percent annually [6].

PV systems generate DC current. Therefore inverters are needed to take the maximum
use of the energy generated.
PV systems have a relatively low efficiency level, in the range of 8% 25 %
depending on the type of cells used. Mono crystalline and Poly crystalline are the
most common types [5].
Some toxic chemicals such as Cadmium, Arsenic are used in the PV cell production
process. Environmental effects from them are minor and can be easily controlled by a
proper recycling method and a proper disposal method [7].

Thermal methods

Figure 4: Thermal solar power plant

In Solar thermal electric energy generation method the light from the sun is concentrated to
generate thermal energy. The heat produced is used to run a heat engine, which turns a turbine
coupled to a generator and produce electricity. Solar thermal technologies use concentrator
systems to achieve the high temperatures needed to heat fluid. Without concentrators the
maximum temperature that can be practically achieved would be around 200 oC [8]. The
working fluid used in the system is heated by the concentrated sunlight. The fluid used can be

either a liquid or a gas. There are different fluids used and different types of heat engines
There are 3 types of solar thermal power systems that are commonly available. They are
namely [8]

Parabolic trough systems

Solar dish systems
Solar power tower systems

Parabolic trough systems

A parabolic trough system is comprised with a long parabolic shaped reflector which focuses
the sunlight focal point of the parabola. A receiver pipe in set at the focal point which
contains the working fluid. The reflector tilts with the sun with the help of a solar tracking
system so that the sun rays are always focused on the receiver pipe. Sunlight concentration
ratio of a parabolic trough on the receiver pipe is about 30 to 100 [8]. Usually the working
fluid is heated to temperatures higher than 750F [8]. In a solar farm many parabolic troughs
arranged in parallel paths can be found. The working fluid which is heated circulates through
the receiver pipes and is used to produce superheated steam. The steam is then sent through a
steam turbine which is coupled to a generator to produce electricity. When the working fluid
is cooled down it is then re-circulated through the pipes in the solar field to heat up again.

Figure 5: Parabolic trough system

Solar dish systems
A solar dish system uses concentrating solar reflectors with a solar tracking mechanism. The
concentration ratio of a dish system is much higher than a solar trough's concentration ratio,
and it has a working fluid temperature higher than 1380F [9].

Figure 6: Solar dish system

Solar power tower systems

A solar power tower generates electricity from sunlight by focusing concentrated sunlight on
a receiver which is mounted on a tower. Hundreds to thousands of plane sun-tracking mirrors
known as heliostats are used to reflect and concentrate the sun's energy onto the central
receiver tower. The energy can concentration ratio about 1200 [9]. Energy losses due to heat
transfer are minimal since solar energy is being directly transferred by reflection from the
heliostats to the receiver without transfer pipe systems.

Figure 7: Solar tower system

Advantages of Thermal Solar Power Plants [10] [11]

Highly cost effective if done in large scale.

Can function even at night when sunlight is not available.

Disadvantages of Thermal Solar Power Plants [10] [11]

Need a lot of space to establish a solar farm.

Could only be established in suitable flat land with clear sky view.
Cost of maintaining the solar tracking system in very high relative to PV systems.


Figure 8: Simple net metering system

Use of typical solar electric systems which use battery banks with invertors for energy
storage is generally expensive. Therefore the use of solar powered electricity generation
systems is retarded in the areas where the grid is available. Net metering is one method which
was introduced to promote electric generation using solar power. In net-metering the
electricity produced by solar panels in given directly to the grid In this method the generally
used utility meter is replaced with a net-meter which is also known as an import/export meter.
Here the export means the energy added to the grid and import is the energy consumed from
the grid. At the end of each billing month, CEB will read the consumers export and import
energy meters and the electricity bill will be prepared based on the difference of the readings
of the two meters. If the export is greater than the import in any billing period, the consumer
will receive an export credit, which will be added to the export of the next month. If the
consumer has consumed more units than he has generated the he has to pay for that amount
according to the general tariff rates. Also there are many advantages of this method over
typical methods. The main advantage in that a battery bank is not needed to store electricity.
Hence costs for batteries and their maintenance will not occur in this case [12] [13] [14].
When we consider the Sri Lankan context PV systems and net metering have already been
introduced in the country. But still solar thermal plants have not been introduced. The first
solar farm in Sri Lanka was commissioned in September 2011 with the help of funds from
South Korean government [15].

Figure 9: Solar farm at Hambanthota

This farm uses a PV system to generate power and the capacity is 500 kW [16]. The plant will
generate a minimum of 2,300 units of electricity daily, and is expected to generate a
minimum 839,500 kilowatt hours annually [16]. Located close to the equator, Sri Lanka does
not experience any seasonal variation in solar radiation. A solar resource map for Sri Lanka

shows that the solar radiation varies from 4.0 - 4.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day on
most parts of the flat dry zone which accounts for about two-thirds of the land area of the
country, making Solar power an abundant option [16].
The best method is net-metering because it is relatively economical than the other methods.
A 250 Watt solar power system can be established with net-metering for a price below four
hundred thousand rupees [17]. If CEB agrees to pay for the excess power units added to the
grid by the customer, it would really encourage the community to use solar power to harness

[6] Solar photovoltaic electricity: Current status and future
prospects:August 2011
T.M. Razykov | C.S. Ferekides | D. Morel | E. Stefanakos | H.S. Ullal | H.M.
[13] Net metering manual, Ceylon Electricity Board