Solar Energy Information
What is Solar Energy?
Indirectly, the sun and other stars are responsible for pretty much all other forms of energy. The fossils fuels we use today are a result of the sun decaying plants millions of years ago. Nuclear energy comes from uranium atoms which are the result of a star exploding somewhere in the universe. We use the sun as a direct source of heat and energy and it is responsible for life as we know it. The Solar Energy Information section of this site touches briefly upon the many uses of solar energy. To get more in-depth information, go to the bottom of the section and look for a detailed article on the topic(s) you're interested in.Advertisement:
Passive solar technologies use sunlight without converting it to electricity. These technologies include the use of materials that absorb or reflect sunlight, natural circulation of air and positioning building so they can best use the sun to stay warm or cool. Active solar technologies capture sunlight and convert it into energy.
The first thing most people think of when they think of solar energy information is photovoltaic cells. Also called solar cells, photovoltaic cells transform light into electricity. They can be found in a number of small appliances, and chances are you own a calculator powered by one of these cells.
PV cells are made of silicon that reacts to sunlight. When sunlight hits the treated front, electrons move from the back of the silicon to the surface, creating an electron imbalance. The front is connected to the back by a wire through which the electrons flow to restore the balance, creating a current of electricity. This form of solar energy is used in everything from lights to small electric cars.
Solar Water Heaters
One popular use of solar energy is to heat water. Solar water heating systems have been around since the late 1800's, when they were invented as an alternative to expensive natural gas and electricity. As low cost fuels became available in the 1920's, solar systems were replaced by fossil fuel-burning system.
Fast-forward almost a hundred years and solar systems are back in vogue. California alone features between 500,000 and 1,000,000 systems, and they are gaining popularity in states that see a lot of sun like Florida, Texas and Nevada. They are used to heat water for use inside homes and businesses, and are becoming a popular means of heating swimming pools.
A typical solar water heater sits on the roof of a building, located in direct sunlight. The water is pumped into pipes, which are warmed by sunlight throughout the day. The warm water is pumped into the building or swimming pool as needed.
Solar Thermal Electricity
The sun's rays can also be used to create electricity. Large mirrors focus sunlight on a tube filled with liquid. The liquid inside the tube vaporizes into steam, which then is used to turn turbines that generate electricity. In the Mojave desert in California, one solar power plant generates enough electricity to power over 300,000 homes.
The downside to using solar plants is that no electricity can be generated when there's no sun. They either have to store power during the day or burn natural gas at night to continue boiling enough water to make electricity.
Solar Water Treatment
Solar distillation is the process of exposing water to sunlight in order to make it potable. One method of doing this is exposing polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles full of water to sunlight for a time period of 6 hours to 2 days. Solar energy can also be used to treat wastewater in stabilization ponds without the addition of chemicals.
Additional Solar Energy Information
- 2 billion people world-wide have no electricity. This number could be drastically reduced through use of solar energy in countries with large amounts of sunlight.
- Sunlight reaches the Earth in 8 minutes, and more sunlight reaches the planet in one hour than is used worldwide in 1 full year.
- Home solar systems are available for around ten thousand dollars, not factoring in government incentives. They will generate between 750 and 1600 KWh of power yearly, and will prevent the burning of 170 pounds of coal monthly. When you consider the fact that the average American family consumes just under 900 KWh of power monthly, you can all but eliminate your monthly electricity bill with a solar system.
You can save money by building a solar electric system at home. Click on the blue text for more solar energy information.
Solar Energy Articles
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