We all know the sun is powerful, but have you ever stopped to consider just how much energy it emits?
Here’s the answer: The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth in one hour could handle the planet’s energy consumption for an entire year!
It’s little wonder, then, that’s there’s such a big push towards using more solar energy in the future. But exactly what is solar energy, and how do those little blue panels work?
We’re here to shed some light (pardon the pun) on this mystery, so keep reading to learn more!
What Is Solar Energy?
Let’s start with a simple solar energy definition.
The sun is a literal powerhouse of nuclear energy. Nuclear fusion occurs continuously inside the sun’s core at temperatures of 15 million degrees Celcius. As if that’s not impressive enough, the sun is so huge that 1.3 million Earths could fit inside it!
The light that comes from the sun (also called electromagnetic radiation) travels millions of miles through space. A tiny fraction of that radiation eventually reaches the earth’s surface, while most of it continues its journey through space.
Solar technologies such as solar panels “capture” this radiation and turn it into usable energy. This is accomplished either through photovoltaics (PV) or concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technology.
So How Does Solar Energy Work?
The goal of solar energy is to harness the radiation that hits our planet every day and turn it into energy sources we can use to power our world. Let’s take a quick look at the two most common solar technologies.
Photovoltaic Solar Panels
Those little blue panels are most likely what you picture when you think of “solar energy.”
If you call a company like Blue Raven Solar to convert your home to solar energy, they’ll install photovoltaic panels on your roof to capture the sun’s energy. You might also see huge fields full of them if you drive down a highway in a sunny state.
When sunlight hits these specialty panels, the PV cells absorb the solar radiation. The built-in electric field inside the cell creates electrical charges from the radiation. This causes electricity to flow for immediate use, or it can be stored in batteries for future use.
Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power
Power plants and other large operations may rely on CSP instead of PV energy.
These systems use mirrors that reflect sunlight in concentrated amounts onto solar energy receivers. This super-concentrated energy gets converted into heat, which in turn produces electricity. Like PV cells, this energy may be used immediately or stored for later use.
Although some solar energy systems work on their own (for example, living “off the grid”), they’re usually integrated for use with existing electrical systems.
The Benefits of Solar Energy Are Endless
When it comes to solar energy pros and cons, the cons are few and far between. As we move towards a greener future, solar energy is sure to become the world’s go-to choice for power.
Now that you know how solar energy works, what’s next? Keep browsing our site for more interesting reads like this one!