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What is Solar Energy? How it Works and Why

Aug 14, 2008
Solar energy is radiated from the sun through forms of heat and light, this powers the Earth's climate and sustains life. Today's technologies can make use of this energy resource. Simply, solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electric power. The technologies that are used to convert the sunlight into power are called photovoltaics, there are also other technologies that have been used such as concentrating solar thermal devices but a lot of the experimental devices such as thermal converters, solar chimneys and solar ponds have also been used.

Solar energy is a much safer and energy efficient way of creating electricity, the use of solar energy has now become an important component to consider when designing a building. This is what thermal mass is used for; because it preserves the heat that the sunshine delivers to the building and can then transfer that heat into electricity. There are also solar water heaters which are a much more efficient way of heating swimming pools, and are a great idea for large hotels and sports pools, which use up a lot of the earths non-renewable fuels.

We also use solar power in agriculture, in particular greenhouses, in case you've always wondered what they are for, now you know, because they grow specialty crops, which are difficult to grow out side in the normal atmosphere, instead, the greenhouse uses the photovoltaics, which cause the plants to photosynthesize, which causes them to grow faster and stronger. There are also photovoltaic-powered water pumps for grazing cattle. There are also evaporation ponds which can work in the city and in the country; they are used to harvest salt and clean streams of contaminants.

In the poorer areas of the world, solar distillation and disinfection techniques produce potable water for millions of people. Also for families, and large buildings, family-scale cookers and larger solar kitchens concentrate sunlight for cooking, and in the more industrial work places, more sophisticated concentrating technologies magnify the rays of the sun for high-temperature material testing, metal smelting and industrial chemical production. A range of prototype solar vehicles provide ground, air and sea transportation.

How do the solar power technologies work? Here is an example:

The simplest form of solar energy collection is the FLAT PLATE COLLECTOR, this is a long flat rectangle which ideally would be fixed on to a roof or building in a sunny area.

Dark metal plates absorb and preserve the heat. Coils of tubing are looped throughout the collector, next to the metal plates with air, water or an anti-freeze solution circulating within them. The heat is transferred into the coils and thus the fluid/air as it circulates through the tubing. The air or fluid is either used immediately (as hot water or to heat a room, pool, etc.) or it is transferred to a well insulated holding tank for later use.

These are capable of reaching temperatures of 82 degrees Celsius which is great for heating water or a room.
About the Author
Xavier Tikadar is the solar panels expert at EcoSwitch The environmental social network.
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