Thursday, April 1, 2010

How Solar Energy Works

Most people know that solar energy is produced by converting sunlight into electrical energy but many people are unfamiliar with just exactly how solar energy works. Our sun is a colossal source of energy that produces an enormous amount of energy. Much of this energy reaches the earth in the sun's rays.

Approximately eight minutes and ten seconds pass before the energy from the sun reaches the earth. The earth stores the energy from the sun in plant life, oceans, and our atmosphere. Winds are then formed between the energy from the sun and the places energy is stored. The winds can then produce electricity by using wind machines such as wind mills.

There are two forms of solar energy :

1 . Solar Thermal Conversion
Uses sunlight to create heat and electrical power.

If you would hold a magnifying glass flat under the sun and put your hand under it, you would need to move your hand away very quickly in order to avoid burning yourself.

Solar thermal conversion systems use mirrors or reflectors to concentrate sunlight onto containers full of liquid. Sometimes water is used. Sometimes other liquids are used, which retain heat better than water.

The liquids are heated up to high temperatures, and this produces steam. The steam is used to turn a turbine. The turning motion of the turbine is used to create electricity.

2 . Photovoltaic Conversion
Uses sheets of special materials to create electricity from the sun. "Photo-" means "light," and "voltaic" means "producing electricity."

A “cell” is a device that produces electricity. An example of an electrical cell is a flashlight battery. Photovoltaic cells produce electricity when they are exposed to light. They usually consist of panels. The panels contain two layers of different materials.

When light hits these two layers, one of the layers becomes positively charged, and the other becomes negatively charged. This works similarly to a regular flashlight battery, which has a positive end and a negative end. When a wire connects the two ends, they produce an electric current.

An advantage to solar power is that it can reduce expenses. It can also be portable. When one is backpacking in the wilderness or traveling far from power grids, solar power can provide a means of powering electronic equipment.

Another advantage is, of course, the lack of pollution created by solar energy production. In fact, if all of our electrical energy were produced by such means, we might not be worrying about global warming and the other destructive effects of pollution on our environment.