What is solar energy?
What is solar energy? The simple answer is energy from the sun. Solar energy takes two different forms, thermal and electric energy.
If you have ever noticed the warmth of the sun on your face, you have experienced thermal solar energy. Every day the earth is bombarded by this thermal energy.
Mankind has used thermal energy for ages, in home design, in drying clothes and food preservation. The ancient Greeks took advantage of thermal energy by facing their homes southward for maximum winter warmth.
Eco-friendly builders incorporate this time tested technique into passive solar building design. Today thermal energy from the sun warms green houses and swimming pools at no extra cost to the owner.
Electric solar energy is energy produced from the sun’s radiation. The two major methods of converting the sun’s energy into usable electricity are directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP).
Let’s discuss concentrated solar power first. CSP systems focus a large amount of sunlight into a small beam of light, using lenses or mirrors and tracking systems. This concentration produces heat, which is used to heat water turning a turbine to produce electricity.
Concentrated solar power systems were first developed during the 1980′s. Today the world’s largest CSP power plant, the 354 MW SEGS plant, is located in California’s Mojave Desert.
The second method of converting the sun’s raw energy into electricity is through the photovoltaic effect. The photovoltaic effect is the creation of voltage or a corresponding electric current in a material, upon its exposure to light. The material to which the sunlight is exposed to is called a photovoltaic (PV) cell, or a solar cell. Solar cells are used to power simple calculators, complex orbiting satellites and when configured into panels and arrays of panels, buildings. For most folks, this is what they think of when you ask them, what is solar energy.
The Arab oil embargo of the seventies and the resultant upward spike in all energy prices created an immense interest in alternative energy resources. Wind power turbines and solar power systems were viewed as viable, but expensive alternatives to imported foreign oil. Interest in solar panels information surged. However, when oil supplies increased and prices fell in the eighties, interest and commercial development waned.
Today we face even higher energy prices than the seventies. Governments and utility companies have finally realized that to rely on fossil fuels for our future energy needs is foolish. Federal and state governments now encourage the adoption of alternative energy production methods. Utility companies are being required to produce a certain percentage of their power from renewable resources. Wind power and solar energy are considered the most feasible ways to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Thousands of people are now interested in reducing their dependence on high cost non-renewable sources of energy. Using the information available on the Internet you can discover for yourself the answer to the question, what is solar energy.