* The sun has produced energy for billions of years. Solar energy is the sun’s rays (solar radiation) that reach the Earth. This energy can be converted into other forms of energy, such as heat and electricity. * In the 1830s, the British astronomer John Herschel famously used a solar thermal collector box (a device that absorbs sunlight to collect heat) to cook food during an expedition to Africa. Today, people use the sun's energy for lots of things. solar energy can be used to:
* Heat water — for use in homes, buildings, or swimming pools * Heat spaces — inside homes, greenhouses, and other buildings * Heat fluids — to high temperatures to operate a turbine to generate electricity
* Photovoltaic (PV devices) or “solar cells” change sunlight directly into electricity. Individual PV cells are grouped into panels and arrays of panels that can be used in a wide range of applications ranging from single small cells that charge calculator and watch batteries, to systems that power single homes, to large power plants covering many acres. Solar Thermal/Electric Power Plants generate electricity by concentrating solar energy to heat a fluid and produce steam that is used to power a generator. In 2011, solar thermal-power generating units were the main source of electricity at 13 power plants in the United States
* The amount of sunlight that arrives at the Earth's surface is not constant. It varies depending on location, time of day, time of year, and weather conditions. * Because the sun doesn't deliver that much energy to any one place at any one time, a large surface area is required to collect the energy at a useful rate. Solar Energy Is Everywhere the Sun Shines
Solar energy is by far the Earth's most available energy source. Solar power is capable of providing many times the total current energy demand. But it is an intermittent energy source, meaning that it is not available at all times. However, it can be supplemented by thermal energy storage or another energy source, such as natural gas or hydropower. Concentrating solar power technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the solar energy and convert it to heat. This thermal energy can then be used to produce electricity via a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator. Another solar generating technology uses photovoltaic cells (PV) to convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV cells are made of semiconductors, such as crystalline silicon or various thin-film materials. Photovoltaics can provide tiny amounts of power for watches, large amounts for the electric grid, and everything in between. Low-temperature solar collectors also absorb the sun's heat energy, but instead of making electricity, use the heat directly for hot water or space heating in homes, offices, and other buildings.
Covering 4% of the world's desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world's electricity. A photovoltaic cell, commonly called a solar cell or PV, is the technology used to convert solar energy directly into electrical power. A photovoltaic cell is a nonmechanical device usually made from silicon alloys. Sunlight is composed of photons, or particles of solar energy. These photons contain various amounts of energy corresponding to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum. When photons strike a photovoltaic cell, they may be reflected, pass right through, or be absorbed
When the electrons leave their position, holes are formed. When many electrons, each carrying a negative charge, travel toward the front surface of the cell, the resulting imbalance of charge between the cell's front and back surfaces creates a voltage potential like the negative and positive terminals of a battery. When the two surfaces are connected through an external load, such as an appliance, electricity flows.