Science & Tech

Facts about solar energy

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The energy from the sun is virtually free
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Solar energy is not a new concept; human beings have been using the power of the sun for thousands of years. However, technology is making important advancements in the methods used to harness this source of energy and turning it from a passive form of power into one that can be manipulated for specific uses.

What is Solar Energy

Solar energy, in simplistic terms, means energy, in the form of heat and light, that comes from the sun. This energy is gathered in "solar collectors" and is then converted into power. Solar energy is primarily used to heat and cool air and water, to create electricity and for chemical processing. In addition, recent advances in solar detoxification technologies for cleaning water and air promise to be competitive with conventional methods. Currently, most of the world's power comes from the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, all of which are exhaustible energy forms and will eventually deplete. The World Bank predicts that the world electrical generating capacity will increase to five million megawatts by the year 2020, up from approximately three million in 1999. New energy sources, such as solar energy will be needed to meet the world's requirements. As the facts about solar energy become widely known, its use is gaining in popularity and in fact, Shell Oil predicts that by the year 2040, fifty-percent of the world's energy will be supplied by renewable sources.

How it's used

There are many technologies being incorporated in the use of solar energy. One of the most widely used methods is the use of solar panels. These are versatile and often have batteries so that sunlight gathered during the day can be stored and then used at night and on cloudy days. Solar panels can be placed on buildings, cars and even hand held items like calculators to gather sunlight photons through solar cells and convert them to electricity. One such technology is photovoltaics (photo comes from the Greek word "phos" meaning light and "voltaic" meaning electricity), which is the practice of converting the sun's energy directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells are solar cells that include both solar and non-solar sources of light. This type of solar energy technology produces clean, reliable electricity without consuming any fossil fuels. Another widely used technology is solar thermal energy, which involves harnessing the sun's light to produce heat. Solar thermal power plants use the sun's heat to produce steam, which then turns a turbine and produces electricity. Solar lighting is the use of parabolic collectors to focus sunlight into a fiber optic system to illuminate building interiors with sunlight. Hybrid solar lighting follows the same method however; the sunlight is combined with electric light in hybrid light fixtures. This is efficient because no energy conversions are required. Concentrating solar power is a relatively new method in which power plants generate electricity by using mirrors to focus the sun's energy and convert it into heat. The heat is then channeled through a conventional generator.

Using Solar Energy

Solar energy is a clean power source that, unlike fossil fuels, does not produce harmful pollution. In addition, solar power will never be depleted. In fact, it is estimated that the amount of sunlight that hits the earth in a single day, exceeds the amount that is being used in an entire year. Widely incorporating the use of solar energy will result in the reduction of dependency upon foreign sources for power. Instead of paying money to import energy, dollars can be spent domestically to create jobs for the manufacturing and service of renewable energy products. Many believe this to be one of the most important facts about solar energy. Another important detail to be aware of is the ability solar and other renewable energy systems have to be stand-alone, not requiring connection to power or natural gas grids. Solar power uses less energy to accomplish the same task as conventional energy sources and reduces the size and the cost of the renewable energy system needed to power homes and businesses. One of the most intriguing facts about solar energy is that the energy from the sun is virtually free, after the initial cost has been recovered.

The application of solar energy is increasing as the environmental costs and limited supply of other power sources such as fossil fuels are recognized. We should all become aware of the important facts about solar energy.

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