HOW DOES SOLAR ENERGY WORK

Green DIY EnergyIn order to get a grasp on how solar energy works, one must have a grasp on exactly what solar energy is. There is solar thermal, photovoltaic (see Solar Photovoltaic Systems), direct and indirect solar energy, passive and active solar energy systems, then we could get into focus types, which we won’t in order to keep things somewhat simple. But as you can see there are a number of different energy types, all of which have different purposes and uses. To cut to the chase and give you a basic definition to sink your teeth in… solar energy is the light and heat that the sun provides.

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Easy enough for you? Not satisfied? Really, how does solar energy work?  Ok Ok…here we go.

THE BASICS

Between the sun and the earth there is a lengthy journey of 93 million miles. The sun’s energy passes through many layers of atmosphere, different conditions such as dust, clouds, ice crystals, pollution, etc before it even hits the surface of the earth where it can be harnessed and used. This energy is absorbed by the ocean, creating currents, wind, storms, waves etc.  Land masses absorb a large part and of course plants through a process called photosynthesis, plants are able to create energy for them to grow along with a valuable by product that humans breathe; oxygen. All this occurs by default; by design. There isn’t anything we need to do in order to enable it. However, with human intervention and modern technologies, we are able to maximize this energy in many ways. Next is some explanation regarding the different types of solar energy and uses behind it.

TYPES OF SOLAR ENERGY

The most popular of these energy types is of course solar electricity.  Growing on an average of 48% every year since 2002, this energy type is the most well know and utilized. PV cells, AKA.. photovoltaic cells.. AKA..solar cells are the technological interface that turn the sun’s energy into electricity. The science behind photovoltaics (see Solar Photovoltaic Systems) involves capturing sunlight (photons) which agitates, shakes, knocks around electrons and raises their energy level. When electrons increase in energy they end up becoming potential energy, which if given the opportunity to flow ; (current) they will. This flow of electrons is now electrical energy, or solar power… simple enough? When you go further and couple together multiple solar cells you’ve created a solar panel (see How To Build A Solar Panel) which has a higher electrical output. Connect multiple solar panels together and you’ve  got even more electrical potential, store this energy in batteries or use it to directly power just about anything. The beauty behind this energy is that it’s basically FREE, not counting the initial investment into the system of course. Solar energy technology is now being and will continue to be expanded upon because of its simplicity and efficiency.

CAPTURING AND HARNESSING THE ENERGY

When it comes to harnessing the sun’s heat vs harnessing its light as with solar, we have the solar thermal method. To keep this simple, the solar thermal method takes the sun’s energy and harnesses it to create heat. This heat is most commonly captured by a “panel-type” method, where pipes filled with a anti-freeze type liquid are positioned to capture and maximize the sun’s heat. This heated liquid can be passed into a tank where it can be stored and further circulated into the walls of homes or buildings. This is a great alternative to gas heaters. (see Solar Water Heaters)

When it comes to direct and indirect solar energy, there is less explanation needed. Direct solar energy involves a single step when transforming it from sunlight to an energy source that can be used. Some basic examples would be a solar cell,  solar collectors which heat up upon sunlight striking them, and fiber optics that create a light source for a building interior. Indirect solar energy, as you’ve probably figured out, just involves more than a single step. Some examples include ocean currents, hydro electric dams and photosynthesis. All of which have multiple steps involved from the sun’s direct energy to the final energy source to be used.

This article could go on for several more pages in talking about passive, active, point focus, line focus, non focus, be I won’t drag you through that. There are several other sources out there that can go into explanation behind those terms. From the information above, you should have a grasp on the basics of solar energy.

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