Solar energy—power from the sun—is a vast and inexhaustible resource. Just 20 days of sunshine contains more energy than the world’s entire supply of coal, oil, and natural gas.
There are several technologies used to convert the sun's light energy into electricity, including solar collectors and photovoltaic panels.
Direct solar heating allows the light energy to heat a house through
transparent windows or to heat a mass of water which can then
be circulated to heat the home.
Photovoltaics (solar cells) transfer the light energy into electrical
energy by the use of solar panels. You may have seen these panels
attached to the roof of a house. Satellites
use solar panels for their power needs.
Thermal electric energy uses a huge parabolic mirror to reflect and focus sun light. This reflected light energy
can then be used to heat water to create steam which can be
used to drive a turbine to produce electricity just like in
a conventional power plant. Areas
like the southwest United States where the sun shines most of the time
and temperatures are seldom very low are the best candidates to use solar energy.
Over the years the efficiencies of solar cells, which in 2013 are still not very
high, have been increasing. As these efficiencies
improve, solar energy will become increasingly competitive
as an energy resource.
One way most of us can immediately begin using solar energy is to replace our battery powered calculators with a solar calculator.
That eliminates the need to ever buy calculator batteries, saves energy and eliminates the pollution associated with disposing
those calculator batteries.
Reference: Franklin Institute
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