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Solar Power in Lancaster

Welcome to the site for solar power information at Project Green Lancaster. On this page you will be able find information on what solar power is, the background of solar power, how solar power works, different types of solar power, as well as where solar power is being used throughout Lancaster today. The information contained on this site has been gathered from various sources, which have been noted on the Reference page. Please be sure to contact us with any questions, comments, or concerns. Thanks for stopping by!


What is Solar Power?

When was solar power created?

How does solar power work?

What are the different types of solar power?

Where is it being used in Lancaster, PA, today?

Who can you contact about solar power in Lancaster, PA?


What is Solar Power?

Solar Power (noun) – energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy; “the amount of energy falling on the earth is given by the solar constant, but very little use has been made of solar energy.” (1)

"Solar" is the Latin word for "sun," and it refers to a powerful source of energy. If sunlight shines directly on the earth for an hour, we could have energy to meet the world energy demand for an entire year.

Solar power is a useful and everlasting way of creating alternative energy while being extremely eco-friendly. The cost of installing it may be expensive at first, but it has been proven to save money in the long run. Solar power can be used in everyday applications associated with human living such as lighting, heating, cooking, and home décor. The flexibility of solar power makes it extremely accessible and easily adapted into your everyday life. (1)

Background on Solar Power

To the surprise of many, solar power is actually not a new development. Many people thought it started during the energy crisis of the 1970s. The idea of using the rays from the sun as a source of alternative energy actually came about as early as 1860. Industrial engineers questioned the use of nonrenewable resources as the main source of energy because eventually it would run out. Therefore another form of energy had to be developed.

A mathematics instructor by the name of Auguste Mouchout thought, “It would be prudent and wise not to fall asleep regarding this quasi-security. Eventually Industry will no longer find in Europe the resources to satisfy its prodigious expansion. Coal will undoubtedly be used up. What will Industry do then?” This question stirred a lot of other concerns as well, but the majority of the engineers decided to focus on solar power.

The following year Mouchout was given his first patent for a motor running completely on solar power. He continued to work on this design until around 1880. During that time he also continued to inform the nation about his growing concern of using up fossil fuels.

He worked on a design for the first solar motor. He was the first person to have a successful recording of operating a steam engine solely by solar power. It was only one horsepower at first, but it was a start in the right direction. He continued to tweak the design and even moved to Algeria to construct a larger version of the solar steam engine.

Mouchout's studies were followed up by those of other engineers such as Charles Tellier, who actually designed a non-concentrating, or non-reflecting solar motor.

"In 1885, Tellier installed a solar collector on his roof similar to the flat-plate collectors placed atop many homes today for heating domestic water. The collector was composed of ten plates, each consisting of two iron sheets riveted together to form a watertight seal and connected by tubes to form a single unit. Instead of filling the plates with water to produce steam, Tellier chose ammonia as a working fluid because of its significantly lower boiling point. After solar exposure, the containers emitted enough pressurized ammonia gas to power a water pump he had placed in his well at the rate of some 300 gallons per hour during daylight. Tellier considered his solar water pump practical for anyone with a south-facing roof. He also thought that simply adding plates, thereby increasing the size of the system, would make industrial applications possible.

"By 1889, Tellier had increased the efficiency of the collectors by enclosing the top with glass and insulating the bottom. He published the results in The Elevation of Water with the Solar Atmosphere, which included details on his intentions to use the sun to manufacture ice. Like his countryman Mouchout, Tellier envisioned that the large expanses of the African plains could become industrially and agriculturally productive through the implementation of solar power.

"In The Peaceful Conquest of West Africa, Tellier argued that a consistent and readily available supply of energy would be required to power the machinery of industry before the French holdings in Africa could be properly developed. He also pointed out that even though the price of coal had fallen since Mouchout's experiments, fuel continued to be a significant expense in French operations in Africa. He therefore concluded that the construction costs of his low-temperature, non-concentrating solar motor were low enough to justify its implementation. He also noted that his machine was far less costly than Mouchout's device, with its dish-shaped reflector and complicated tracking mechanism.

"Yet despite this potential, Tellier evidently decided to pursue his refrigeration interests instead, and do so without the aid of solar heat. Most likely, the profits from conventionally operated refrigerators proved irresistible. Also, much of the demand for the new cooling technology now stemmed from the desire to transport beef to Europe from North and South America. The rolling motion of the ships combined with space limitations precluded the use of solar power altogether. And as Tellier redirected his focus, France saw the last major development of solar mechanical power on her soil until well into the 20th century. Most experimentation in the fledgling discipline crossed the Atlantic to that new bastion of mechanical ingenuity, the United States." (2)

Engineers such as John Ericsson and Aubrey Eneas furthered the design so it could be a functional device in society. For more information on the background of solar power click here .


How Solar Power Works

Solar power starts with the sun. The sun emits energetic photons that are converted into useable energy when they hit the solar panels. Electricity is created when a steady current flows though a wire, so when the photons hit the solar panel they flow through the wires in the panel, creating electricity. The protons are able to move through the wire because they are absorbed by electrons, which help to build up more energy. In order to do this, the electrons separate themselves from the atoms and move freely in the current.

The solar panel then assists the energy in staying consistent by having multiple layers that the electrons can jump to. The jumping from one layer to another, and vice versa, is what keeps the electricity flowing. The solar cells that you see on calculators and satellites are photovoltaic cells or modules (modules are simply a group of cells electrically connected and packaged in one frame). Photovoltaics, as the word implies (photo = light, voltaic = electricity), convert sunlight directly into electricity. Once used almost exclusively in space, photovoltaics are now used in less exotic ways. They could even power your house. (1)

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are made of special materials called semiconductors such as silicon, which is currently the most commonly used. Basically, when light strikes the cell, a certain portion of it is absorbed within the semiconductor material. This means that the energy of the absorbed light is transferred to the semiconductor. The energy knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely. PV cells also all have one or more electric fields that act to force electrons freed by light absorption to flow in a certain direction. This flow of electrons is a current, and by placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the PV cell, we can draw that current off to use externally. For example, the current can power a calculator. This current, together with the cell's voltage (which is a result of its built-in electric field or fields), defines the power (or wattage) that the solar cell can produce. (1)

Before now, our silicon was all electrically neutral. Our extra electrons were balanced out by the extra protons in the phosphorous. Our missing electrons (holes) were balanced out by the missing protons in the boron. When the holes and electrons mix at the junction between N-type and P-type silicon, however, that neutrality is disrupted. Right at the junction, however, they do mix and form a barrier, making it harder and harder for electrons on the N side to cross to the P side. Eventually, equilibrium is reached, and we have an electric field separating the two sides. (1)


This electric field acts as a diode, allowing (and even pushing) electrons to flow from the P side to the N side, but not the other way around. It's like a hill -- electrons can easily go down the hill (to the N side), but can't climb it (to the P side).

So we've got an electric field acting as a diode in which electrons can only move in one direction.

When light, in the form of photons, hits our solar cell, its energy frees electron-hole pairs.

Each photon with enough energy will normally free exactly one electron and result in a free hole as well. If this happens close enough to the electric field, or if free electron and free hole happen to wander into its range of influence, the field will send the electron to the N side and the hole to the P side. This causes further disruption of electrical neutrality, and if we provide an external current path, electrons will flow through the path to their original side (the P side) to unite with holes that the electric field sent there, doing work for us along the way. The electron flow provides the current, and the cell's electric field causes a voltage. With both current and voltage, we have power, which is the product of the two.


Operation of a PV cell

There are a few more steps left before we can really use our cell. Silicon happens to be a very shiny material, which means that it is very reflective. Photons that are reflected can't be used by the cell. For that reason, an antireflective coating is applied to the top of the cell to reduce reflection losses to less than 5 percent.

The final step is the glass cover plate that protects the cell from the elements. PV modules are made by connecting several cells (usually 36) in series and parallel to achieve useful levels of voltage and current, and putting them in a sturdy frame complete with a glass cover and positive and negative terminals on the back.



Basic structure of a generic silicon PV cell

For even more great details about Solar Power please click here because Scott Aldous from How Stuff has written an excellent explanation of it.


Different Types of Solar Power

Solar photovoltaic panels can be installed on the roof of your home or facility and will concert the sun's energy into electricity. According to PPL's 2004 prices, it takes roughly three to five years to recover the cost of materials and installation.

You can also install a solar heating system so that your heating needs through your home and facility are solar powered. According to PPL's 2004 prices, it takes roughly ten to fifteen years to recover the cost of materials and installation.

Solar power has become much more useful as well as affordable, so it is now being used in everyday living applications. Consumer goods such as calculators, gardening devices, and landscape lighting are just a few examples of what is available to us now. 

Small independent solar photovoltaic systems are used everywhere and everyday in garden lights, calculators, and portable units such as RV appliances and traffic signs. Another type is solar pool heating. If you run water into a direct circulation system through a solar collector, you can heat your pool or hot tub.

Where is it being used in Lancaster Today?

People in Lancaster are doing their best to incorporate the use of solar power. Different things such as solar heating, portable solar-powered toilets, and solar electric have been used for some time now in the area. Certain realtors also use solar heating as a selling point for new home owners.

A good example of a solar powered facility is the Kauffman and Gamber Physical Therapy Center. Kauffman and Gamber Physical Therapy is a therapist-owned, multi-site, outpatient physical therapy practice in Lancaster County. The facility converted to solar-powered operation in July 2004. There are 30 photovoltaic panels on the roof which convert the suns energy into electricity. All of the lights and equipment in the facility as well as the therapy pool are powered by the solar panels.

The Kauffman and Gamber Physical Therapy Center promotes a healthier, cleaner, greener, and safer enviroment. The owners took great care in designing their facility to accomplish this. Aside from recycling cardboard, paper, styrofoam, plastic, and aluminum, they use recycled paper and even reuse the backs of each piece. They have designed their landscape so that they have a wooded habit for animals in the back and water controlled runoff so the water is purposely absorbed into the land. As if all of that was not enough, many of their employees ride their bikes to work or even walk.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Kauffman of the Kauffman facility. Ben started working at the facility as a full-time employee in 2000. He manages the building and is also a physical therapy assistant. Ben helped with the installation of the photovoltaic and solar cells so we asked him a few questions about the facility and how switching to solar energy has affected the facility.

Question and Answer with Ben Kauffman – Kauffman and Gamber Physical Therapy

Q: What influenced your decision to move to solar energy?
A: Our decision to adapt solar technology was made because we’re very concerned about the environment and we’re concerned about the
health of our patients.

Q: How does solar power work?
A: The panels capture the sun’s energy and convert it into usable form, whether it is for hot water needs or for electrical

Q: What types of solar energy do you use?
A: We have two sets of panels. We have solar hot water and solar photovoltaic panels.

Q: How has solar energy influenced your utility bills?
A: It’s cut our electric bills, it’s cut our heating bills, as well as gotten a lot of people excited about solar energy. Our solar hot
water system is paid back in about three to five years at 2004’s UGI prices. Our photovoltaic or electric system is approximately
a 10- to 15-year payback at PPL’s 2004 prices.

Q: On a typical day how much energy do you produce?
A: On a typical day we get approximately 50% to 45% of our electrical needs and on a good day our solar hot water and heating
needs are 95% to 100%. The savings over the long term are much greater than the up-front cost.

For more information about the

Kauffman and Gamber Physical Therapy Facility

you can click here.


Who you can contact about Solar Power in Lancaster

If you are looking to use solar power, you can contact Steve Millenger of Blue Moon Enterprises. Steve has been highly recommended by Realtors in the area for his devotion to helping people incorporate solar power into their everyday lives. He is also an expert in LED lighting.

You can reach Steve at 717-295-1020 for more information.

Here is a quick look into Wind Power, which is another form of alternative energy.

Using the wind to create electricity has been around for a long time -- you've probably seen windmills on farms. When the wind turns the blades of a windmill, it spins a turbine inside a small generator to produce electricity, just like a big coal power plant.

A windmill on a farm can make only a small amount of electricity -- enough to power a few farm machines. To make enough electricity to serve lots of people, power companies build "wind farms" with dozens of huge wind turbines.

Wind farms are built in flat, open areas where the wind blows at least 14 miles per hour. Iowa currently has more than 600 wind turbines, producing enough electricity to power 140,000 homes. Minnesota and Wisconsin are also home to wind farms – and the number is growing every day.

Some schools in the Midwest have their own wind farms! In Spirit Lake, Iowa, the school playground is right underneath two wind turbines. (7)

If we could incorporate the use of wind power into our daily lives, the cost of electricity would go down and we would be able to help stop polluting the air. The idea in itself is simple -- instead of using electricity to create wind, we are using the wind to create electricity. For more information on wind power, please view the following site which has a great description of the process. click here




This site was created by Greg Fisher who is a student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Last updated on November 4, 2008

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