Apart from solar energy, there are several other sources that can provide sustainable electrical energy. The two most popular are wind and water. What separates these methods of power generation from solar? Well, of course, each uses a different resource to generate electrical power. However, there is actually a much larger difference between solar and the two other methods. Electrical generation by wind and water is done through turning a turbine. The only difference between hydroelectricity (water-powered electrical generation) and energy generated by a windmill is the method by which the turbine is powered. Obviously, each uses a different resource in order to do this.
For example, the turbine in a hydroelectric turbine is much like the rotor blades in, say, a jet ski or a speed boat. That is, it is a wheel of blades, which turn when a force is acted upon them. In this case, that force is the force of falling water. The force of the water turns the rotor blades on the turbine, which then powers the shaft on the electric motor. For more information on how hydroelectricity is generated, click here.
Figure 1: Hydroelectric Power Generation
Electrical generation via wind is done in much the same way as hydrogenation, except for the force that drives the motor. In hydro-generation, recall that the turbine was powered by using falling water. Wind-generation is powered using the wind. Basically, the windmills used for these purposes are like giant fans that are powered by the wind. The blades on the windmills then turn with the wind and power the turbine. The turbine can then be used to create mechanical energy. That mechanical energy can then be used to turn the shaft on the electric motor in the generator, and electricity is created much in the same way it was as mentioned above. For more information on how electricity is generated by wind, see the video below or click here.
Solar generation is entirely different from both hydro-generation and wind-generation in that it uses no turbine to power a motor. Instead, the radiation needs only be converted instead of generated. The power already exists here. We need only to change it to a type of energy we can use. In most cases, this is done using a collection of photovoltaic cells composed of silicon semiconductors. The energy is then converted directly to electricity. Also, one should keep in mind that most solar panels produce direct current (DC) voltage, whereas other methods such and hydro- and wind- generation produce alternating current (AC) voltage. For more on the solar panels, see the illustration below. For more information about solar energy, click here.