What Is Solar Energy
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What Is Solar Energy

Why ask the question, "What is solar energy?"

Well, when you are looking at the option of using solar power, whether it is for a small solar-powered gadget or a large system to power
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your home or business, it helps to understand that question as well as "how is solar energy produced?"

With some basic information, it is easier to understand the limitations of use as well as the potentials of this unlimited source of energy and power.  

What is Solar Energy - Production of Energy by the Sun

The definition of solar energy according to the American Heritage Science Dictionary is:
  1. The radiant energy emitted by the Sun.
  2. Energy derived from the Sun's radiation. 
Solar energy is energy produced by the sun as a result of nuclear fusion.
It is radiant energy, or energy that comes in the form of electromagnetic waves. In this form, energy can cross the hundreds of thousands of miles of space from the sun to our planet without losing its energy.
Since the sun is round, the energy is radiated out in all directions and only a very tiny part of the sun’s total energy ever hits the earth.
Solar energy also travels a great distance across space at the speed of light and only reaches earth after 8-1/2 minutes.

What is Solar Energy - Three Basic Parts

The energy coming from the sun can be divided into three basic parts as it affects the earth.

Here they are stated in a somewhat simplified manner that is easy to understand: 
  • Visible light - Electromagnetic waves that we can see
  • Thermal energy - Longer waves that are sensed as heat
  • Ultraviolet solar energy - Shorter waves that cause skin damage, for example.

What is Solar Energy - Solar Energy and the Earth

As you can see from the chart below, about a third of the sun's energy is reflected back out into space.

incoming solar energy graph
So about two-thirds of the sun's energy that hits the earth is absorbed by the earth's surface, the clouds, and bodies of water.
Although, as we have seen, only a tiny portion of the sun's total energy reaches the earth, that small part is really an amazingly-huge source of energy.
For example, if we could capture and use the sun's energy that reaches the earth in just one hour, we could supply the whole world's demand of energy for one full year.
Needless to say, that is just not possible at this point in time.


Solar Energy - Potential for Renewable Energy Alternative

Solar energy in its natural form only reaches portions of the earth during daylight hours; however, the heat stored by water and the earth-s surface continues to be released during the dark hours.
The fact that solar energy can be stored and used when needed is what makes it such a potential source of usable energy.

Next see:
Solar Energy Efficiency

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