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Solar Engineering: The World of Opportunities

Submitted By: 

Vishal Duggal
The use of solar energy technology is expanding rapidly in the wake of greater need for clean, renewable or alternative energy to save the Planet Earth. Expected to become the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, solar power is an inexhaustible resource that can meet the energy requirements of the entire world.
 
Ensuring a greener world -  a solar powered sewage treatment plant

                      Fig. 1: Ensuring a Greener World -  A Solar Powered Sewage Treatment Plant

What is Solar Power?
 
Solar power is the conversion of radiant light and heat into electricity, using ever-evolving technologies. To produce energy from solar resource, active solar energy technology can be grouped into two categories: (i) photovoltaic (PV) technology (ii) solar thermal or concentrating solar power (CSP).
 
Solar energy from PV cells is used for commercial power generation, road signs, calculators, satellites and in many other applications. 
CSP is primarily used in very large power plants. In this system, mirrors are deployed to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy. This energy is converted to heat and harnessed into thermal energy to produce electricity to be used for various domestic and commercial applications such as drying, heating, cooling, cooking, etc. 
 
N-type and P-type semiconductor material in solar panels absorbs sunlight that allows the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. Under this process, most of the visible light spectrum and about half of the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrum is converted into usable solar energy.
 
The amount of power generated by a solar energy system at a particular site depends on how much of the solar energy reaches it and also the size of the system itself. 
 
Current Status of Solar Industry
 
Presently, solar industry is developing steadily all over the world. It has become a tool to enhance economic status of developing countries. Significantly, International Solar Alliance (ISA), initiated by India, has brought together the nations of the world for a shared solution to make solar technology an economically and technically viable proposition. It presents a dream opportunity for engineers to be a part of the solar technology revolution that ISA has unleashed in the world. 
 
Solar energy production in India has gone up from 2.63 GW in 2014 to 22 GW in 2018, an eight-fold increase. It is currently 16 per cent of the installed capacity of electricity generation in the country. Solar power energy can very effectively supplement electricity supply from an electricity transmission grid when electricity demand peaks in the summer.
 
Undoubtedly, India will remain the brightest spot in this regard as it is expected to have the largest solar power installed capacity base in coming years. Pertinently, India has set a target of producing 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by the year 2022, which includes 100 GW from solar power. There is also a need to strengthen the storage technology to balance the path of mass use of this energy.
 
The government has planned to provide funding of Rs 210 billion (US$ 3.1 billion) to the solar panel manufacturing industry to increase their photovoltaic capacity.  As India is set to become the largest market for solar power, overseas companies plan to install solar power plants through joint ventures. 
 
Kinds of Solar Devices
 
There are various solar-powered devices available today some of which are as follows:
 
Solar Panels
 
A solar panel consists of a packaged, connected assembly of typically 6x10 photovoltaic solar cells. The electricity generated under this system is supplied in commercial and residential applications. Wafer-based crystalline silicon cells or thin-film cells are used in the majority of modules, and these should be protected from mechanical damage and moisture. 
 
Harnessing the sun - installation of solar panels in progress

Fig. 2: Harnessing The Sun - Installation of Solar Panels in Progress

A PV junction box attached to the back of the solar panel is its output interface.Externally, MC4 connectors are used to facilitate easy weatherproof connections to the rest of the system. At the same time, PV modules can also have USB power interface.
 
To achieve a desired output voltage or in parallel to provide a desired current capability (amperes), module electrical connections are made in series. Silver, copper or other non-magnetic conductive transition metals are used in the conducting wires that take the current off the modules. 
 
Electric Car
 
Solar-powered vehicles hold the promise of significantly reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. Solar vehicles provide substantial savings over petrol/diesel costs. Solar electricity is not only cheaper, but it alsoprovides an option ofgreen energy, which can help us in environmental conservation.
 
Driving the future - a solar power-driven car

Fig. 3: Driving The Future - A Solar Power-Driven Car

On-Grid Inverters
 
Solar PV systems employ on-grid systems to generate power when the utility power grid is available. They require to be connected to the grid to function. The advantage is that they can send excess power generated back to the grid in case of over production so that this energy can be used later.
 
Off-Grid Inverters
 
You can also store solar power in batteries which come handy when the power grid goes down or if your systemis not connected to the grid.  But you should be aware that while off-grid systems provide power for emergency when the power grid is down, they cannot sustain all loads given the limitations in the volume of batteries. Also, there is greater cost involved in buying specialized equipment for off-grid systems and more complexity in installation of their components.
 
Solar Rooftop Installations
 
To convert solar energy into electricity, solar panelsare placed on the roof. Significantly, in India about 250-300 days are sun exposed, due to which there is tremendous solar energy production potential in the country. Rooftop solar plants range from one kilowatt to five hundred kilo watt capacity. 
 
Solar Water Pumps
 
Solar pumps, also called solar photovoltaic water pumping systems, have been recognized as the cheapest source of water supply. The pump is fully automated on the sunrise, resting in the sunset, andrequires no supervision. This is an ideal green energy high tech product that integrates economics, reliability and environmental benefits.
 
Pumping  power - solar water pump in a field

Fig. 4: Pumping  Power- Solar Water Pump in a Field

The solar pump system uses the power generated by solar cells to drive DC, permanent magnet, brushes and position sensors through maximum power point tracking, change and control devices. 
 
Garden and Street Lights
 
Solar energy-powered garden and street lightsare very cost effective as well as useful. Such lights burn for 5-6 hours at night after being charged all day. 
 
Solar Cooker
 
Leave solar cooker in the sunlight in the morning before going to work. You will get it hot enough for cooking after you come back.
 
Driving the future - a solar power-driven car

Fig. 5: A Workable Solution - Solar Cooker Working Well in a Hilly Area

Solar Geyser
 
Solar geyser contains a tube light which warms the water. Water in the solar geyser is warmer than in the water heating system. 
 
Solar Inverter
 
Nowadays solar inverter is also grid-supported, which can be charged from grid energy even when solar energy is not available. 
 
Solar Lantern
 
There are many types of solar lanterns available in the market, which give 5-6 hours of battery backup for charging solar energy all day.
 
Growing Demand for Solar Engineers 
 
The infinite potential of solar energy has fuelled the need for solar engineers, who bring their expertise in designing, developing, planning and implementing solar technology projects for cities, businesses, and homeowners. They manage anything from some home rooftop installations to very large-scale solar power plants that provide cleaner energy to customers connected to the grid.
According to a report from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar energy is now one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. There is increasing demand for solar engineers equipped with various skills in solar energy field such as systems design and engineering; solar systems installation; device fabrication and characterization; QA and reliability testing; client consultation, site assessment, financial assessment, project management and consultancy as well as (technical) sales. 
 
Solar engineers are generally absorbed in renewable energy companies, specialized solar engineering companies, leading consultancy firms, oil and gas companies that are preparing for the transition to renewables, and non-profit organisations.
 
Professionals of various engineering disciplines are employed in various facets of this industry.Materials engineers are engaged to develop, process and test the materials used in solar industry such as metals, plastics, glass and semi-conductors. Electrical engineers are involved in the design of electric circuitry for solar panels, inverters, wiring systems and other supporting devices. Mechanical engineers deal with the mechanical devices employed in capturing and transferring solar electricity. Industrial engineers help to coordinate the overall implementation of solar energy systems in buildings and communities. These engineers work with contractors to ensure that a system is designed as efficiently as possible to fulfil maximum need of the people.
 
Conclusion
 
Thus, solar power can ensure energy security through reliance on an indigenous resource, apart from enhancing sustainability, reducing pollution, and mitigating global warming. The large magnitude of solar energy available makes it a highly feasible source of electricity. These advantages are leading to further development of solar technology sector, offering rewarding career prospects for engineers.