What is Solar Power?
According to many, solar power is the future of energy use. But what exactly is solar power?
Solar Power, Defined
The sun is 93 million miles away, but the distance between sun and the earth doesn’t affect the importance the sun has on the abundance of life on earth.
Virtually every living organism requires the sun to thrive. People need sunlight to stimulate vitamin D in their bodies, and plants need sunlight for growth and energy. Humankind has learned to harness the sun’s powerful energy to use as a viable source of heat, light, and electricity. This is called solar power.
How Does Solar Power Work?
Sunlight contains energy, and when it hits an object, energy turns to heat. Depending on what type of material the light hits, energy becomes an electrical current. In this way, sunlight can be harnessed for power.
How is Solar Power Harnessed?
To benefit from the sun’s energy, the power it creates must be effectively captured. There are a number of ways scientists have learned to harness the power of the sun.
Silicon crystals are commonly used to collect sunlight because when light hits them, an electrical current is produced. The electrons in silicon crystals heat up and move around, creating energy and electricity. The downside to silicon crystals is they are hard to grow, making them an expensive option to create solar energy.
New technology is being developed in the form of smaller crystals made from materials like copper, indium, gallium, and selenide. When this material is converted to a flexible film, it’s called thin-film solar technology. Though not as expensive as larger silicon crystals, thin film technology doesn’t convert sunlight into electricity as well as crystals do.
Another way to collect sunlight is with photovoltaic cells. These cells, usually made from silicon, are capable of directly converting sunlight electricity. Solar cells are connected to one another, making one big battery used to generate electricity.
How Solar Power Can be Used
Solar batteries are useful for hard to reach places, like navigational buoys and irrigation pumps. Some watches and calculators use small solar batteries for power.
Solar power can also be used to heat water in your home with a special device, usually mounted on the roof. The device contains water pipes which run through heat collectors. As the water heats up, it’s collected in a storage tank. The heated water can then be used in homes or offices. Heat collectors can be used for heating building interiors as well. First, the sun’s heat has to be converted to a fluid via the heat collector. Once this happens, it can be used as a heating source.
The Future of Solar Power
Renewable energy sources are the way of the future. Oil shortages are driving up the cost of fuel, and supply and demand for this natural resource continues to increase as more countries are consuming it. The sun’s power is an endless source, and techniques for harnessing it continue to improve. There are several other reasons why solar power is likely to become more popular over time.
Years ago, solar panels were expensive to install and not aesthetically pleasing. The costs associated with installing solar panels have drastically decreased in recent years by as much as 99%. The steady decrease will make it more affordable for the average home or business owner to consider solar energy as an alternate source. The panels installed on rooftops today are not as large and noticeable as they once were.
While costs have decreased, awareness of finding renewable energy sources has increased. The growing world population and its current oil consumption rate are forcing the issue of finding alternative energy sources. Sunlight is free, and once harnessed, provides an endless supply of power.
Demand is creating the need for new solar technology. Scientists are working on new ways to make collecting energy from the sun more affordable so anyone concerned with the energy crisis can give careful consideration to making the sun the energy source of the future.