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The Power of the Sun

I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. – Thomas Edison

Songs are written about it. Symbols are based on it.  Even newspapers are named after it.  And why not?  This bad boy is hot.

The sun. It gives us heat, light, food and the air we breathe.  But have you ever thought about just how powerful it really is or the potential scale of what it can do for us?  GE is committed to helping drive adoption of solar power thereby turning the world’s oldest energy resource into its newest one.

So how does it work?

There are multiple different types of solar panels, however, all solar panels do something in common.  Throughout the day, the sun shines down on Earth, and even if we can’t always feel it because of the clouds – it is there!  Solar panel installations capture that radiation and heat and turn that into useable energy.  

Solar photovoltaic panels work by converting photons in the light that strikes solar cells within the panel into direct current (DC) electricity.  An inverter transforms that DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity – which is the kind of electricity that can be used in your home to power your electronics, turn on your lights, and keep your home running the way you want it to!

Most photovoltaic solar panels available today are one of three major types:  mono-crystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, and thin film.  The difference in these types of panels is seen in their efficiency to convert the solar energy into electricity and the cost of the materials that go into the panels. Traditionally, mono-silicon panels are the most expensive to produce but have a higher efficiency and produce more electricity, while thin-film panels are the least expensive and have the lowest efficiency.  Due to the efforts of GE and others, however, there has been rapid progress in improving the efficiency of all three technologies and lines between them are likely to become blurred in the years ahead.  

Many factors impact how much energy a solar system can produce and the return on investment it can provide.  Most solar panels are pointed south, but for those whose electricity rates may vary according to the time of day it is sometimes more beneficial to point them a different direction.  Tracking systems that change the orientation of the panels over the course of the day to increase energy production are sometimes worth the added expense depending on how often the skies are clear and on land availability.  When considering solar panels for a home or business, it is important to conduct a thorough analysis of the available technologies and design options to ensure the best return on investment. 

What is its potential?

To give you a sense of just how powerful the sun’s rays are, a photovoltaic array that is about 100 miles by 100 miles (9% of the area of Arizona) could in one year, produce the same amount of electricity that the U.S. consumes annually.  

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To explore just how little surface area it takes to produce this huge amount of energy, visit the GE Show website.

What is GE’s history in solar?

GE has been involved in solar energy research for decades, with expert scientists and engineers around the world at our Global Research centers exploring every aspect of the solar energy value chain.  From the chemistry of the panels themselves, to the conversion of DC to AC electricity, to the controls and integration of solar electricity into your home network or grid system.  GE sells solar inverters and controls systems through the Power Conversion business, funds solar energy projects through the Energy Financial Services business, and has a commercial partnership with panel manufacturer First Solar.  The years of engineering expertise and knowledge in the solar industry is now being applied to helping business owners harness the power of the sun on commercial rooftops, carports, and undeveloped properties to lower utility bills and become more sustainable.

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