Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Solar energy is the practice of harnessing the sun’s energy for use here on Earth. This energy is captured by specially designed solar panels and routed to your home!
Many people have HEARD of Solar Energy, but few have a real understanding of what it is or how it works. Solar cells are made of semiconductor materials like what is used in computer chips. When sunlight comes into contact with the, electrons are knocked loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity that can then be used to power your home or business.
To capture much more of the energy that is rained down on the planet by the sun, thermal power plants use additional techniques to concentrate the sun’s energy as a heat source. They use that heat to boil water which drives a steam turbine which generates electricity in a very similar way as coal and nuclear plants. Utilizing this technology, electricity can be supplied to thousands of people by simply harnessing the power of the sun!
One technique uses long troughs of U shaped mirrors which focus sunlight on a pipe of oil that runs through the middle. That hot oil is used to boil water which generates electricity as described above. Other plants use moveable mirrors that focus the sun’s rays on a collection tower. Molten salt flowing through the receiver is heated and used to run a generator which creates power.
Some solar power technologies are more passive. Big windows are often placed on the sides of buildings where they receive the most direct sunlight. The sunlight is then absorbed into heat-absorbent materials on the floor and walls. At night, the heat is released and keeps the building warm. This same technology is also used with absorbent plates on roof tops to heat liquid in tubes that supply water to homes.
Solar heaters are also used on residential and commercial pools! Water which has been circulated through tubes that expose the water to the sun’s heat is sent back into the pool, which raises the temperature at little to no cost. Pool covers can also contain solar panels or discs which collect heat from the sun and transfer it to the water.
Proponents of Green Energy have lauded solar energy as an inexhaustible power source that is environmentally friendly as it does not pollute the environment.
But Solar energy only works when the power from the sun is available – during the day on clear days. Cloudy weather or mountains can make it difficult to collect enough solar energy to serve a purpose. For that reason, batteries are often used to store solar energy during sunny times that can be used later at night or on cloudy days.
Despite the drawbacks, solar energy use has surged at about 20 percent a year over the past 15 years, thanks to rapidly falling prices and gains in efficiency. Japan, Germany, and the United States are major markets for solar cells. With tax incentives, solar electricity can often pay for itself in five to ten years.