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What is Solar Energy?

Solar panels can be installed on buildings to create energy from the sun's rays.
Many homes that feature solar power are also tied in to the power grid.
A closeup of a solar panel.
Article Details
  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Solar energy is an alternative energy source that involves harnessing the radiant light energy emitted by the sun and converting it into electrical current. Since the middle of the 20th century, the ability to harness and utilize solar energy has greatly increased, making it possible for homes and businesses to make use of the renewal energy source rather than rely on more conventional means of generating power. Research into the applications of solar energy continue, along with the development of more cost-effective ways to capture and store the energy for future use.

At present, the most common means of harnessing solar power is the utilization of a system involving a series of solar panels and storage batteries. The panels collect the radiant light and store the captured energy in the batteries. While energy is stored, it can also be used real time to operate various types of machinery and home appliances. The excess is stored for use at night or in other situations where radiant light is not readily available for some reason.

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In a home powered by solar energy, batteries are now capable or maintaining a power supply that will maintain the operation of appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, computers and entertainment devices such as television sets. At the same time, the solar powered home can also use the stored energy to heat and cool the home or operate a hot water heater. Some homes today use a hybrid power system that integrates the use of solar energy along with power supplied by a traditional power grid. While the home is not completely dependent on solar power, this type of system can minimize utility bills and provide an excellent backup system in the event that a section of the local power grid should fail.

Along with homes, health care facilities are becoming increasingly open to the idea of solar energy as a source of power in an emergency situation. This would allow a hospital to continue functioning even if the power failed for some reason and a backup generator system was unable to meet the current demand for power.

Once considered extremely expensive to build and install, the price for solar energy systems is considerably less than in the last decades of the 20th century. In addition to being more affordable, the newer solar energy systems are also much more efficient than previous generations, which helps them to be more appealing to homeowners and business owners alike.

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Discuss this Article

anon282707
Post 17

Great stuff, great article and I enjoyed reading the comments. So much potential we can tap into.

Renewable energy made fun! --Bec

anon279795
Post 16

In the U.S., solar energy is becoming very popular, so I believe the price of solar energy will come down. However, I also believe doing it yourself is the way to go so you know how it works and you can service any problems that may come up. It saves you a lot of money in installation, service, and upgrades knowing how to do it yourself.

wikesupply
Post 13

If the generating power cost of solar energy is lower than by oil or gas, which will push people to use solar energy, the cost is the key point. How long will this come true? I think it is not far away.

KhOptimist
Post 12

Very worthy information in this article about solar energy. Solar energy is very effective and environmentally friendly. So as to consider the cost of it, every person can afford with a margin of efficiency.

solarsun
Post 7

In the UK we need to spread the word about solar energy because many people think that due to our climate, it won't work. This obviously is not true, I have a client who is offering free solar panels to companies throughout the UK.

Amphibious54
Post 4

@Glasshouse, Alchemy - Don’t forget about passive solar. It is not a new technology at all, in fact; it is making a comeback in modern residential and commercial structures. Passive solar has more to do with design than technology. Structures can be built to use the sun’s energy and thermodynamic properties to reduce the amount of 'other' energy used. Knowing how the sun will heat the air can allow a architect to use the airflow within a structure to perform some of the heating and cooling functions. Passive solar also uses the building’s design to replace artificial lighting with natural solar lighting. Passive solar design can incorporate things like thermal chimneys, window louvers, solar reflective films, and thermal reactive materials (i.e. water columns, brick, tile, concrete, etc.); all while taking into account weather patterns, and landscape of the structures site.

Alchemy
Post 3

@ Glasshouse - Utility scale solar energy comes in two basic forms: Photovoltaic solar and thermal solar. Commercial scale photovoltaic farms are similar to the residential photovoltaic systems described in this article. The key differences between the two are the number of panels, and the installation of the panels. Unlike most residential rooftop systems, utility scale systems are mounted on motorized racks that track the sun through the sky to achieve maximum efficiency. Thermal solar systems use rows of mirrors that reflect focused beams of sunlight at a large boiler that runs a steam turbine. Think ants under a magnifying glass. There are also parabolic systems that use curved mirrors bouncing a focused beam of sunlight at a small stirling engine attached to the end (Looks like a giant satellite dish). A stirling engine is basically an external combustion engine that works by heating and cooling gas trapped within a closed system which then moves a piston. These types of utility scale solar energy systems can produce large amounts of energy, and they have already been proven in the field.

Glasshouse
Post 2

This article was informative, but I thought that there were more options when it came to using the suns energy. What about using solar energy on a large scale? How do solar farms work? Do solar farms use the same types of panels as residential properties? If solar energy is supposed to help wean our nation off of fossil fuels then I assume that we will have to think bigger than roof top panels. Can anyone give me more information on other types of solar technologies?

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