The sun is one of our oldest and most reliable sources of heat and light. It gives plants the food they need for photosynthesis and controls our climate and weather. And since fossil fuels such as coal and oil are decayed plant and animal matter from millions of years ago, the sun is even a large part of these non-renewable sources. Simply put, the sun is a renewable energy source for all life on Earth.
What is solar energy?
Solar energy is energy derived from the sun. Used synonymously with solar power, it is the ability of the sun to convert sunlight into electricity.
What are the different types of solar energy?
Solar energy can come in two main forms:
Also known as solar heat energy, this is the sun’s ability to provide elevated levels of heat in the form of radiation. Thermal energy is used to heat:
- Home water
- Swimming pools
- Washing machines
- Internal space in buildings
Heating systems often use a collector to trap the sun’s light and radiation, and then a fan or pump circulates the heat to the fluid.
Electric energy, also known as photovoltaic energy, is energy that is used to make electricity directly from the sun. Electric energy uses solar cells to absorb the sunlight, which in turn transmits an electrical charge through metal wires and circuits. Any extra energy can be stored in a battery and used when there is no sun. Solar electric energy can be used for:
- Small appliances
- Communication equipment
Many power plants use solar panels to transfer the energy from the sun into electricity. These solar panels trap the sun’s light, which is used to heat a fluid. This fluid produces steam, which is converted into mechanical energy and then into electricity by a generator. This is an excellent way to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used by the plants.
Solar energy can even be used to power cars. Solar cars are a type of electric car that have solar panels on the surface of the car. These panels consist of many photovoltaic cells that capture the sunlight and convert it into energy. When there is no sun to power the car, a back-up battery is used. You can read more about solar vehicles at the Solar Electric Vehicle website.
What are the benefits of solar energy?
Here are some benefits of using solar power:
- Energy from the sun is limitless
- Less greenhouse gas emissions
- Conserves energy
- Doesn’t harm natural habitats
- No air pollution
- Cheaper than other energy sources
- Lower power bill
- Less dependence on foreign oil
- It’s free
Solar energy is the most reliable renewable energy that we have because it will always be around. To learn more about solar energy and other energy efficiency technologies you can visit the American Solar Energy Society website.