Solar Power 101

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Solar power is perhaps the most underutilized natural, renewable source of energy available to our planet.  If the amount of sunlight that falls on the earth’s surface in just one hour was converted to energy with solar panels, we could create more power than is used by the entire population in a year. Put another way: the sun can produce enough clean energy in one hour to satisfy our energy needs for an entire year!

The sun’s rays can be effectively used to both harness heat and generate electricity.  Currently, the most effective way to derive energy from the sun is by way of photovoltaic (PV) cells, sometimes called solar cells.

Individual PV cells are electricity-producing devices made of semiconductor materials. Most PV cells start with a thin wafer of either single-crystal silicon, or a deposited layer of polysilicon. PV cells come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are generally very small—a few inches to a side—and produce less than 1 watt of electricity on their own. Many small PV cells are connected together to form PV modules that may be up to several feet long and a few feet wide. These modules are often referred to simply as solar panels.  These solar panels can then be combined and connected to form PV arrays of different sizes and power output.  The ACUA’s Wastewater Treatment facility currently houses a 500 kilowatt PV array, comprised of 2,700 panels. 

Quick Facts: 

  • Solar energy is completely renewable
  • It emits no carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, or other harmful pollutants
  • Once installed, solar panels produce energy at no cost
  • There are battery storage systems available that retain energy for use during the night and on cloudy days
  • Technology for solar energy is constantly improving and efficiencies are increasing
  • Solar prices are currently at their lowest since 2004 and are expected to continue to decline

While solar energy is proving to be a great source of clean, renewable power, there are some disadvantages associated with harnessing the sun, including:

  • The high cost for initial installation of the system
  • Solar energy is variable and not constant, meaning different locations, times and skies will yield different results
  • Less than 20% of the light that strikes the PV cells is converted to energy
  • Adequate space is needed to set up a solar panel array

If you are interested in more information on solar power, rebates and incentives, or becoming more energy efficient, check out the links below:


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