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Clean energy sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal are becoming increasingly popular. Here, I've answered a few common questions about solar power. 


Q: What is solar power and how does it work?

A: Solar power is energy that is produced by the sun. Light from the sun hits the panel, and the light is converted into usable energy. We currently do not have any reliable way of storing solar power, so energy can only be produced and used while it is sunny outside.  


Q: What are the different types of solar panels?

A: There are two types of solar panels- photovoltaic and solar thermal. Solar panels that use photovoltaic cells are used everywhere from large solar arrays to private homes. Photovoltaic cells contain molecules that have an extra electron surrounding its nucleus. When sunlight hits the panel, the rays knock the extra electron loose, which then bounces around the cell. The energy from the electrons moving around the panel is what we call solar power. Solar thermal panels are essentially large reflective disks with a metal rod running through the middle of the panel. Sunlight gets reflected onto the metal rod, heating it up to very high temperatures. The metal rod runs from the panel into a water tank. When the rod is warmed by the sun, water in the tank evaporates and steam rises, which turns a turbine, where energy is produced.  

Q: How much power is produced from solar panels? 

A: The amount of power produced depends on the type of panel, the number of panels installed, and the amount of direct sunlight the panels are exposed to. Different solar panels have different wattage capabilities. Some panels have the ability to produce 250 watts, others are able to handle 300 or 500 watts. For example, one 250W panel is exposed to 4 hours of sunlight each day. That panel produces 1 kWh of electricity. In one month, the panel will have produced 30 kWh of electricity.  


Q: How much do solar panels cost? 

A: According to the Solar Power Authority website, a 5 kWh solar panel system costs between $25,000 and $35,000. Typically, panels cost $7-$9 per watt. Even though solar panels are expensive now, they are becoming cheaper as more manufacturers enter the market and their popularity increases. Solar panels also cost less in the long run and are better for the environment. Many electric companies also offer rebates and have a buy-back program for solar power.  

Hopefully this answeres a few of your questions about solar power. For more information, please check out the Solar Power Authority website (https://www.solarpowerauthority.com/) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (https://www.seia.org/initiatives/about-solar-energy). 


Katherine Vogel

UW Stout '21

A native Minnesotan, Katie is a junior at UW-Stout. She is majoring in Interior Design and minoring in Sustainability. She plays the French Horn in the UW-Stout band. When she is back home, Katie loves traveling around Minnesota, spending time with her family, practicing archery and pistol shooting, trap shooting, and going horseback riding.
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