Solar power plants utilize thermal energy from the sun, which is abundant, available, renewable, yet cheap. This thermal energy is further transformed into electrical energy using photovoltaic panels.
This is one type of solar power plants (SPP). Simply, a large number of panels are installed in an optimal configuration and harvest light energy from the sun and convert it into electrical energy which feeds into the grid.
Another type of SPP is the concentrated SPP, which composed of mirrors or lenses that are stationed in an organized way to concentrate collected heat to one specific position. This heat is further utilized to power a steam turbine that generates electricity.
However, the most common SPP is the traditional photovoltaic (PV) option. Solar capacity for each country varies depending on the solar irradiance as well as the available land.
Most solar PV panels are made from semiconductor materials, usually some form of silicon. When photons from sunlight hit the semiconductor material free electrons are generated which can then flow through the material to produce a direct electrical current.
Normally, SPPs are constructed on wide-open spaces, constructing a solar farm, which produces a significant amount of electricity. Locations with higher solar insolation yield higher electric production. Besides, solar systems' efficiencies also vary depending on the type of panels used.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) is another method to generate power using solar energy. After concentrating great amount of light into one source, heat is used to generate a steam turbine, which is connected to a generator to generate electricity. CSP is less common than PV plants, primarily because PV plants can still operate with cloud cover, while CSP is crucially impacted by any cloud cover.
SPPs can be off-grid and stand-alone systems or they can be connected to the grid in some capacity. These systems differ in size as some are simply for residential use and range between 6 and 10 kW while other solar farms may be massive in capacity ranging in MWs. Moreover, battery storage solutions are still underway with these types of power plants and could influence the market greatly if developed to the point of commercial competitiveness.
The nations pulling ahead in the sunny sector are China and the US, which together account for ⅔ of the global growth in solar power.