What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a form of energy that is obtained directly from sunlight. It is harnessed by using solar panels. The panels used are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells that chemically convert the solar energy into electrical or thermal energy for everyday use. It is the most abundant form of energy while also being the most environmentally conscious.
Where Did Solar Energy Come From?
The sun has been a part of our galaxy for over four billion years. Solar energy is only possible because of the sun and how we have been able to harness its energy to sustainably use. The man responsible for this groundbreaking technology is Edmond Becquerel. He accidentally made the discovery in 1839 while experimenting with different photography techniques in his father’s laboratory. His discovery came to be once he realized that certain materials generate electrical currents when exposed to light.
This discovery was revolutionary, but at the time did not result in functioning technology. It was later in 1873 when England’s Willoughby Smith found that the use of a material called Selenium could effectively create a charge. Only nine years later, an American inventor named Charles Fritts is accredited with the first commercial solar panel with just a 1% rate of efficiency. Although the first real panel couldn’t power much today, the success of Fritts’ technology was enough to start the journey for a cleaner source of energy.
What Can Solar Energy Be Used For?
Solar energy can be used for just about anything! It can be used to heat your home and water. It can be used for electricity and lighting, appliances, pools, etc. The panels allow you to produce energy straight from your rooftop and convert it into everyday electrical power for your preferred usage.
When you pair your solar panels with a solar battery, you gain the best solar energy experience. The solar battery holds excess energy and allows you to power more things in your home, whenever you need.
Solar energy can also be used on a smaller scale for additional purposes as well. For example, in some countries such as Spain, France, Greece, and Italy, solar energy is used to power the evaporation of sea water in order to produce salt without using any chemicals or electricity. Solar evaporated salt makes up approximately 10% of all salt in Europe.
Solar energy can also be used to pasteurize water. This means water can be disinfected, much like through the process of boiling, without using any heat or radiation. Water is placed into a solar cooker, which reflects light directly onto the water. Solar pasteurization requires approximately six minutes of exposure of sunlight at an average of 158 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be successful.
How Common is the Use of Solar Energy?
Approximately 3 million homes in the United States are running on solar systems. The use of solar energy is drastically increasing. The annual rate of growth in the industry is about 33%. At this rate, solar energy is becoming increasingly accessible and the most practical choice out of any energy source.
Why Solar is the Best Choice for our Environment
Solar is the most abundant renewable energy source available, as it is unlimited unlike many of the other options for energy, also making it the cheapest! The use of solar energy reduces the amount of methane and carbon emissions into our atmosphere. It decreases pollution overall on all plains, being land, air, and sea. Solar energy is available every day and can be harvested from anywhere in the world.
Photovoltaic vs. Solar Panels
Photovoltaic cells dive deeper into the science of solar energy. People often use the two interchangeably, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. Photovoltaic cells were first discovered accidentally in 1839 when a scientist realized that when the electrons were conducted, they were able to create a current. In 1954 the first successful prototype of a photovoltaic cell was created, giving us hope for a greener future.
Photovoltaic cells consist of multiple layers, with the middle being the most crucial to the conducting process. These cells are the science behind solar electricity and make up each solar panel. On its own one cell cannot create much of an electrical current, but by creating a panel of multiple attached cells they can all work together to generate higher levels of electricity. Each size differs, but the most common sizes hold 60-72 photovoltaic cells per panel. These panels also work as a protective casing for the cells and help to protect them from inclement weather.