Whether solar power is generated by large-scale farms or from panels located on the roofs of homes, it is a clean energy source with a tremendous upside. Critics of solar power say it is costly and inefficient. Others point out the fossil fuel inputs that it requires, lessening its net energy output. While keeping the disadvantages of solar power well in mind, understanding its attributes and advantages is equally important. There are a number of differences between solar power produced at a farm and that produced at a home, although both are viable forms of harnessing the clean energy from the sun. In the future as more solar farms are built and more people install solar panels on their homes, you will have a choice of how you want to receive your power, so it is best to understand both sources.
Solar farms are large-scale solar power producing facilities designed to supply power to whole cities. One such farm is the proposed Topaz Solar Farm in California. It will be 9.5 square miles of photovoltaic panels designed to produce 1,100 gigawatts per year. It is a billion dollar investment by a large solar power firm geared to power homes and businesses on a very large scale. Topaz Solar Farm will produce a total of 550 megawatts, enough to power over 500,000 homes.
Being that they require institutional investment, solar farms provide power that is sold to consumers. They will serve a similar purpose as hydroelectric dams, nuclear, coal or natural gas plants in that they will be privately owned but subsidized by the government. Customers will be charged–as they are now–on a per kilowatt-hour basis.
Solar Panels at Home
On a much smaller scale, solar panels installed on the roofs of homes work in the same way as photovoltaic panels at a farm. They capture the sun’s energy so it can be converted into alternating current and used to power electronics, lights and appliances. The biggest difference between the two, of course, is the scale. A few solar panels on your roof may supplement your power needs, and depending on the amount of sun you receive, the number of panels you have and their efficiency, it might power your entire home during the day. Home solar panels are purely for individual use, though. In some cases, if your home panels generate an excess amount of power, the utility company will buy it from you. Power cannot be stored for long—it must be used.
Rather than buy all of your power, your home solar panels produce a percentage of what you need. After the initial investment of materials and installation, home solar panels make it so you have to buy less from the power company if any at all. One of main ideas behind installing solar panels at home is getting off the grid. In other words, generating power yourself so you can disconnect from the utility lines. You may be able to sell power to your energy provider, so truly disconnecting is not advisable. Home solar panels put the power, so to speak, in your hands.
Solar farms are a new form of institutional power generation. They are similar to hydroelectric and other facilities in that they generate large amounts of energy for private sale, but they produce energy cleanly and renewably. Solar panels at home produce power for your home alone, unless they produce an excess at which point you can sell it to the power company. Both methods produce clean energy, though. The difference is mainly the scale at which it is produced.