Learn How Solar Energy Works and the History in 15 Minutes

What is solar power ?

Solar power is radiant energy which is produced by the sun. Daily the sun radiates, or sends out, an immense quantity of energy. The sun radiates more energy in a second than people have used since the beginning of time!

The energy of the Sun comes from within the sun itself. Like other stars, the sun is really a big ball of gases – mostly hydrogen and helium atoms.

The hydrogen atoms in the sun’s core combine to create helium and generate energy in a process called nuclear fusion.

During nuclear fusion, the sun’s extremely high pressure and temperature cause hydrogen atoms to come apart and their nuclei (the central cores of the atoms) to fuse or combine. Four hydrogen nuclei fuse to become one helium atom. But the helium atom contains less mass compared to four hydrogen atoms that fused. Some matter is lost during nuclear fusion. The lost matter is emitted into space as radiant energy.

It takes an incredible number of years for the energy in the sun’s core to make its way to the solar surface, after which somewhat over eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles to earth. The solar energy travels to the earth at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, the velocity of light.

Simply a small portion of the power radiated by the sun into space strikes our planet, one part in two billion. Yet this volume of energy is enormous. On a daily basis enough energy strikes america to provide the nation’s energy needs for one and a half years!

Where does all this energy go?

About 15 percent of the sun’s energy which hits our planet is reflected back to space. Another 30 percent is used to evaporate water, which, lifted in to the atmosphere, produces rainfall. Solar energy is absorbed by plants, the land, and the oceans. The remaining could be used to supply our energy needs.

Who invented solar energy ?

People have harnessed solar energy for hundreds of years. As early as the 7th century B.C., people used simple magnifying glasses to concentrate the light of the sun into beams so hot they’d cause wood to catch fire. More than a century ago in France, a scientist used heat from a solar collector to produce steam to drive a steam engine. At first of this century, scientists and engineers began researching ways to use solar energy in earnest. One important development was obviously a remarkably efficient solar boiler introduced by Charles Greeley Abbott, an american astrophysicist, in 1936.

The solar water heater became popular at this time in Florida, California, and the Southwest. The industry started in the early 1920s and was in full swing right before World War II. This growth lasted before mid-1950s when low-cost gas took over as primary fuel for heating American homes.

The public and world governments remained largely indifferent to the possibilities of solar energy before oil shortages of the1970s. Today, people use solar power to heat buildings and water and also to generate electricity.

How we use solar power today ?

Solar energy is employed in a number of different ways, of course. There’s two standard kinds of solar power:

  • Solar thermal energy collects the sun’s warmth through 1 of 2 means: in water or in an anti-freeze (glycol) mixture.
  • Solar photovoltaic energy converts the sun’s radiation to usable electricity.

Listed below are the five most practical and popular ways that solar power is used:

1. Small portable solar photovoltaic systems. We have seen these used everywhere, from calculators to solar garden tools. Portable units can be utilized for everything from RV appliances while single panel systems can be used traffic signs and remote monitoring stations.

2. Solar pool heating. Running water in direct circulation systems via a solar collector is a very practical method to heat water for your pool or hot spa.

3. Thermal glycol energy to heat water. In this method (indirect circulation), glycol is heated by the sun’s rays and the heat is then transferred to water in a warm water tank. This method of collecting the sun’s energy is a lot more practical now than ever. In areas as far north as Edmonton, Alberta, solar thermal to heat water is economically sound. It can pay for itself in three years or less.

4. Integrating solar photovoltaic energy into your home or office power. In most parts on the planet, solar photovoltaics is an economically feasible method to supplement the power of your property. In Japan, photovoltaics are competitive with other types of power. In america alone, new incentive programs make this form of solar power ever more viable in many states. An increasingly popular and practical method of integrating solar energy into the power of your home or business is through the use of building integrated solar photovoltaics.

5. Large independent photovoltaic systems. When you have enough sun power at your site, you might be able to go off grid. You may also integrate or hybridize your solar energy system with wind power or other forms of alternative energy to stay ‘off the grid.’

How can Photovoltaic panels work ?

Silicon is mounted beneath non-reflective glass to produce photovoltaic panels. These panels collect photons from the sun, converting them into DC electric power. The power created then flows into an inverter. The inverter transforms the power into basic voltage and AC electrical energy.

PV cells are prepared with particular materials called semiconductors such as silicon, which is presently the most generally used. When light hits the Photovoltaic cell, a specific share of it is absorbed inside the semiconductor material. This means that the energy of the absorbed light is given to the semiconductor.

The energy unfastens the electrons, permitting them to run freely. Solar cells also have one or more electric fields that act to compel electrons unfastened by light absorption to flow in a specific direction. This flow of electrons is a current, and by introducing metal links on the top and bottom of the -Photovoltaic cell, the current can be drawn to use it externally.

Do you know the pros and cons of solar technology ?

Solar Pro Arguments

– Heating our homes with oil or propane or using electricity from power plants running with oil and coal is a cause of climate change and climate disruption. Solar energy, on the contrary, is clean and environmentally-friendly.

– Solar hot-water heaters require little maintenance, and their initial investment could be recovered within a relatively small amount of time.

– Solar hot-water heaters can work in almost any climate, even just in very cold ones. Simply choose the best system for your climate: drainback, thermosyphon, batch-ICS, etc.

– Maintenance costs of solar powered systems are minimal and the warranties large.

– Financial incentives (USA, Canada, European states…) can aid in eliminating the price of the initial investment in solar technologies. The U.S. government, for example, offers tax credits for solar systems certified by by the SRCC (Solar Rating and Certification Corporation), which amount to 30 percent of the investment (2009-2016 period).

Solar Cons Arguments

– The first investment in Solar Water heaters or in Photovoltaic Electric Systems is higher than that required by conventional electric and gas heaters systems.

– The payback period of solar PV-electric systems is high, as well as those of solar space heating or solar cooling (only the solar domestic hot water heating payback is short or relatively short).

– Solar water heating do not support a direct combination with radiators (including baseboard ones).

– Some air conditioning (solar space heating and the solar cooling systems) are expensive, and rather untested technologies: solar air-con isn’t, till now, a really economical option.

– The efficiency of solar powered systems is rather dependent on sunlight resources. It’s in colder climates, where heating or electricity needs are higher, that the efficiency is smaller.

About the writer – Barbara Young writes on RV solar charger in her personal hobby weblog 12voltsolarpanels.net. Her work is devoted to helping people save energy using solar power to reduce CO2 emissions and energy dependency.

Related Articles:

“Light Pipes” Boost Organic Solar Efficiency – Researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have developed a way to more than double the performance of organic solar cells by adding a layer of upright optical fibers that act as sunlight traps. “It’s the same thing as taking a flat device and pointing it directly at the sun all day long.” (MIT Technology Review; May 12, 2010)

Renault Solar Paint Car – An environmentally friendly design car of the Renault combines electric power and renewable energy from solar energy through nano solar paint on car. Renault 2010 Sand Jumper uses next-gen renewable energy technology and recycled, recyclable ecological materials. (Alt Energy News; Apr. 27, 2010)

Drawing inspiration from Mother Nature in designing an ‘artifical leaf’ – A group of Chinese scientists has presented a design strategy based on the chemistry and biology of natural leaves that could lead to working prototypes of an artificial leaf that captures solar energy and uses it efficiently to change water into hydrogen fuel. (GizMag; March 26, 2010)

Scientists turn light into electrical current using a golden nanoscale system – Material scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have demonstrated the transduction of optical radiation to electrical current in a molecular circuit. The system, an array of nano-sized molecules of gold, respond to electromagnetic waves by creating surface plasmons that induce and project electrical current across molecules, similar to that of photovoltaic solar cells. (PhysOrg; February 12, 2010 )

Scientists grow solar cell components in tobacco plants – Over billions of years, plants have evolved very efficient sunlight-collecting systems. Now, scientists are trying to harness the finely tuned systems in tobacco plants in order to use them as the building blocks of solar cells, leading to the production of inexpensive, biodegradable solar cells. (PhysOrg; Jan. 29, 2010)

Note from the website owner:

Thanks to Barbara Young for this guest article. This is only a small list of innovations in solar energy. There are even more environmentally friendly energy technologies under R & D. A number of super efficient energy systems that SHOULD be on the commercial market are not – for reasons I discuss at another time.

There is a reason that Bioenergetic Spectrum used to have a section on energy technology, but no longer: I was shorted on my college education concerning crude oil. The section I had on energy was built on the premise that our planet only had 20 years left of fossil fuel. More than 20 years ago, our chemistry classes taught us NOTHING about Abiogenic Petroleum – not even its existence.

When drilling several miles past the fossil layers, we encounter resevoirs due to fractionation of the earth’s mantle. Fractionation consistently replenishes the oil reserves.

There is NO NEED for further oil exploration, especially offshore drilling. When we drill deep enough into the earth, we will always encounter resevoirs that replenish themselves – including huge, high pressure resevoirs like that in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil Cartel Execs have known for almost a century that there is NO NEED for further “oil exploration.” THEY KNOW how abiogenic petroleum works, but there is more money in it for them to explore rather than tap the same reserves.

This means the eco-disaster in the Gulf DID NOT have to happen and there is NO NEED for offshore drilling. The only reason that oil cartels like BP keep drilling is that there is always more money in new oil well contracts, esp. with the gov’ts.

I have decided to leave the subject of energy technology in the hands of experts like Barbara Young since I have been short changed in my education. Perhaps, you have too if you still believe that there is only fossil fuel. You have been short changed in your education too if you believe we need to constantly explore for oil.

As for me, I prefer to tap the clean energy of the sun. Solar energy is part of the bioenergetic spectrum; we use it to create vitamin D3. The plants use it for photosynthesis. Advanced technology turns it into useful electricity.

TRUE, certain production plants for solar energy panels are polluting, but the more resources and the more advanced the technology becomes, the less polluting the production is. Over the long run, clean energy production out weighs waste and pollution many times over; this is why we need to research and invest in alternative energy.

Production of solar systems is still at least 10,000 times less polluting than any oil production: The proof is in the filthy pudding.

Please support sustainable, environmentally friendly energy. Thanks for your time.

Healing Thoughts,


Attention: The following map is propaganda because it stops at August 4, 2010 making no mention of the on going spread of Corexit by BP to sink crude oil to the bottom of the Gulf including leaks NOT mentioned by the mainstream press.

Gulf Oil Spill Related Articles:

Oil Spill Remote Sensing – IR/UV mapping

Oil reacts to ultra-violet light according to the fluorescence phenomenon. Fluorescing is relatively unique to oil and provides a positive detection mechanism. UV sensors can be used to map sheens of oil as oil slicks display high reflectivity of UV radiation even at thin layers (<0.1 mm)... Scope of Oil Spill Seen through Infrared Camera

But in the very same area, shot exclusively for CBS News with an infrared camera, the Gulf surface is dark an ominous as far as the eye can see – and that darkness is oil…

NASA IR Imagery of Oil Spill

Excerpts on using UV and IR for oil slick identification

This section, interestingly, covers the use of UV and near infrared imaging to identify and characterize oil sheen on water — I’m eager to try our UV camera to detect sheens…

Get Your Digital Camera Converted to UV / IR Detection:

See the True Beauty - Capture the Unseen

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8 thoughts on “Learn How Solar Energy Works and the History in 15 Minutes

  1. Solar water heaters Reduces carbon footprint and it saves fossil fuels. Solar energy is a strong source of green energy which can be regenerated from sun and it doesn’t provide any damage to our environment. solar hot water heater are fueled by sun energy and it doesn’t produce any pollution. An average, solar water heater can supply approximately 70% to 80% of a household’s hot water. Solar water heaters make use of radiation of sun in order to heat the domestic water.

  2. There is a huge variety of solar panel systems available. Some can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and some cost just a couple hundred. This means anyone can get into solar, there’s an entry point for just about everybody.

  3. Solar Panels Increase Home Value – A study by Berkeley National Labs has found that homes sold in California earned a premium for solar panels. The benefit ranged from $3900 to $6400 per kW of capacity. An earlier study found that proximity to solar or wind power may also raise home values. (Venture Beat; April 22, 2011)

    Spray-on film turns windows into solar panels – Norweigan solar power company, EnSol, has patented a thin film solar cell technology designed to be sprayed on to surfaces such as windows and exterior walls. Unlike traditional silicon-based solar cells, the film is composed of metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent composite matrix, and operates on a different principle. (GizMag; April 17, 2011)

    Solar power without solar cells: A hidden magnetic effect of light could make it possible – A dramatic and surprising magnetic effect of light discovered by University of Michigan researchers could lead to solar power without traditional semiconductor-based solar cells. At the right intensity, when light is traveling through a material that does not conduct electricity, the light field can generate magnetic effects that are 100 million times stronger than previously expected. (PhysOrg; Apr. 14, 2011)

    You are all making me crazy with solar power!

  4. Nice article, thanks for sharing. Solar panel system has gained lot of popularity in the recent time, as it has been proved as the best alternative source of energy. It also helps in saving money from the electricity bills.

  5. And here’s another one! A co-generating solar panel / wind turbine from blue energy! That double-helix Solarwind™ turbine is approaching 100% efficiency!


    Soon it will be over-unity, then the NSA will take it away from Americans for concerns of “national security.” More likely because the centralized power companies want to keep their energy monopoly going. They can’t have Americans generating their own commodity or else we would live in a real democracy!

    BTW: There’s still oil at the bottom of the gulf of mexico because of the corexit which is still killing multitudes of animals and poisoning our seafood. Thanks for nothing, BP.

  6. Yet another reason to invest in alternate energy:

    ‘Controlled’ power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid – Officials in Britain and the United States are preparing to make controlled power cuts to their national electricity supplies in response to a warning of a possible powerful solar storm hitting the Earth. The controlled power “outages” will protect the National Electricity Grids against damage which could take months or even years to repair should a large solar storm collide with the Earth without any precautions being taken. (Independent; UK; June 13, 2011)

    Could be Solar Cycle 24 due 21 December 2012.

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