Solar Energy: An Introduction

By Michael E. Mackay (Oxford University Press, 2015), 226 pages, ISBN 978-0-19-965211-2 (paperback) $40

Michal Mackay is a Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware. The book is an introduction to a wide range of topics related to solar energy. It is divided into two parts: photovoltaics and thermal processes. The book came about from teaching a course on solar energy to upper level undergraduates and graduate students in the fields of chemical engineering, electrical engineering, materials science, mechanical engineering, physics and chemistry. On the back cover Mackay says the book “presents an introduction to all aspects of solar energy, from photovoltaic devices to active and passive solar thermal energy conversion, giving both a detailed and broad perspective of the field. It is aimed at the beginner involved in solar energy or a related field, or someone wanting to gain a broader perspective of solar energy technologies.” This is not a book for a general audience. Solar Energy does the details with the requisite equations. It is a serious book with serious equations for the serious student. It is all here and there is a lot to chew on.

Mackay states his purpose to “present disparate, solar-based technologies so the reader can generalize the information and make a holistic decision when using this renewable energy source.” Of the nine chapters, six of them focus on photovoltaics and three on thermal but there is a mixture which of course is unavoidable. The chapters with some of the specific chapter content in parenthesis:

  1. Why solar energy is important (energy consumption)
  2. Solar radiation (how much energy per area is available)
  3. Basic principles (light absorption, photovoltaic devices, solar thermal)
  4. Electrons in solids (semiconductor physics and some quantum physics)
  5. Light absorption (macroscopic theory of absorption)
  6. Photovoltaic devices (details of solar cell theory)
  7. Solar chimneys and towers (movement of air in a chimney)
  8. Flat plate solar energy collectors (including heat transfer)
  9. Solar thermal energy generated electricity (Rankine cycle and optics to concentrate radiation)

One of Mackay’s goals is to bring this vast subject together with a “consistent nomenclature.” Due to the large scope of the book some laws are derived in detail from basic principles while others are given. I would like more links between equations and highlights indicating the importance of certain equations over others. The equations and subject matter all flow at one rate with few highlights of the most important material. On the other hand the author's examples were excellent and clarified the usefulness of specific equations.

Each chapter has textbook-type exercises. Some of the exercises are open-ended in the sense that not all the required information is available in the book, thereby “expanding the scope of the textbook with the ubiquitous WWW” as Mackay puts it. These exercises can, in many cases, be answered quickly; however, there are also details or layers to the problems when one begins to form an answer. Many problems could be large in scope, making it interesting to dig into the details. Things are not always as simple as they originally appear, and this is nice. Many exercises would make good group projects for presentation.

Dr. Jeff Williams
Physics Department
Bridgewater State University

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.