Solar Energy Simplified

The sun shines, we collect the sunlight, we convert the sunlight into usable forms, and we enjoy the benefits. You can’t get any simpler than that. But okay, I know you need more explanations. You’ve been looking all over the web for information and you need  more than just a single sentence.

The sun produces huge amounts of energy, and the earth actually gets a pretty small share of that energy. However, even if we get only a minuscule amount, the energy we receive from the sun is more than enough for our needs. Believe it or not, the amount of energy the earth receives in one day (when harnessed properly) could power a country the size of the US for over a year. 

So if can get that much energy from the sun, why do we rely so much on fossil fuels that may be completely gone within 40 to 50 years time? The main problem is that the sun shines all throughout the world; it’s so far spread that harnessing all of it would be nearly impossible. Of course there are other factors at work as well- political, economical, and even cultural in nature- that contributes to the slowing the progress of solar technologies as well.

There are various methods to harness sunlight and which technique is used depends on how we plan to use that energy. Still, we can divide the usage into two general concepts: conversion into heat and conversion into electricity. 

For the first category, we’ll use the example of heating a home. There are two ways this can be accomplished. The first technique relies on the positioning of the house’s windows. If that isn’t possible, the second involves the use of mechanical devices that collect energy and then distribute is as heat throughout the house. 

Solar water heaters are an excellent tool to solar-heat water for your home. You place your solar collector where it will get the most sun exposure throughout the day; that heat is then transferred to the water that comes out of your faucets and showers. 

Converting solar power into electricity requires a bit more explanation. Again, there are essentially two methods. The first one involves the use of photovoltaic cells, and the second utilizes various solar thermal systems. 

Photovoltaic cells (more commonly known as solar cells) are made from silicon wafers and phosphorous. When sunlight strikes the surface of the silicon wafers, free electrons are produced. The electrons are then harnessed by attaching a wire to the cells. As the electrons leave the cells and pass through the wire, an electronic current is produced. 

One downside to solar cells is that they can be pricey (hopefully, as solar power becomes more mainstream, this will change) and as of now, they only convert a small amount of sunlight.

Unlike fossil fuels, which spit out substantial amounts of pollutants into the air and the water, solar energy doesn’t produce any kind of pollution. On top of that, the sun isn’t likely to run out on us any time soon. As opposed to hoping fossil fuels can last us another 40-50 years, we can start utilizing solar power today that will last a lifetime.

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