Solar Energy Facts: A Guide to Solar Energy Information

Looking for a new source of energy to power our daily lives may be as simple as turning our eyes toward the sky. Solar energy is one of the steadiest and most passive forms of energy available on the planet.

So, what is the definition of solar energy?

With increased awareness of climate change and more clean energy initiatives taking hold not just in America but around the world, it’s no wonder more people are looking up solar energy facts.

Solar Energy Facts

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It seems everything has gone solar: from cell phone chargers to backpacks and, pretty soon, shingles. It has left many a bit lost, searching for a solar energy definition and facts about solar energy.

Solar will become vital as more and more technologies switch from coal and fossil fuels to electric energy. Automobiles are the first to make the switch, but other heavy machinery and tools will also go solar.

Many of these new technologies will get their power, directly or indirectly, from solar energy. Solar energy information will become vital.

Solar energy, many scientists argue, will be a major component in weaning humanity off of carbon dioxide-creating fuels. Solar trumps current power sources in terms of environmental impact and, in some cases, cost.

This decades-old technology has stepped into the spotlight thanks to government subsidies and lowering production costs, making solar energy a viable option for many households. People can afford to go solar now.

But before anyone lets the sunshine in, getting a clearer picture about the definition of solar energy may help consumers make a more informed decision.

The web is awash in solar energy facts, often offering detailed views of only one aspect of solar energy. We’ve curated that solar energy information into this helpful guide, which will:

  • Give a definition of solar energy you can understand.
  • Offer facts about solar energy for both potential consumers and the merely curious.
  • Explore the many uses of the ever-changing technologies which match the solar power definition, as enhancements and evolution expand the capabilities of the solar energy.

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Solar Energy Facts in Everyday Life

Have you ever opened a curtain or lifted blinds to let sunlight in? Congratulations, you’ve just met the very definition of solar energy’s use. Many solar energy facts focus on solar photovoltaic devices like solar panels. But it starts way more than that.

The definition of solar energy is any form of energy created — or transformed and stored — by the sun’s radiation. This solar energy definition fits all the various uses we have for the sun: light, heat, electricity, etc.

Do not limit your definition of solar energy to some shiny black panels that help charge your cell phone.

Do you step out on a sunny day to get recharged? That’s the definition of solar energy.

Do you place frozen food on a windowsill so sunlight can help defrost it? That meets the definition of solar energy.

Have you hung your laundry outside to dry on a sunny day? There’s a solar power definition which won’t cost you much besides a clothesline — certainly cheaper to operate than a dryer!

Do you have a garden? A greenhouse? You’re exploiting solar energy. In fact, that’s the most common solar energy definition people overlook.

People have known these solar energy facts for years and exploited the sun’s bounty to cultivate plants, dry and store foods, and even light and heat their homes.

Our ever-present sun powers many of planet Earth’s naturally-occurring processes as well. Solar energy helps create and disperse heat, grow plants, and fuel or even toy with weather patterns.

The sun, according to National Geographic, also in a single minute beams enough solar energy on the Earth to power humanity’s energy needs for a year.

Some early solar energy uses included a “solar oven,” essentially a black box with food inside which the sun would heat, cooking its contents.

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The Modern Definition of Solar Energy: Solar Energy Facts for Today

It’s only in recent human history that the definition of solar energy has expanded. Today, solar energy can:

  • heat water
  • warm homes
  • produce electricity for homes and offices
  • produce extremely high temperatures in solar thermal power plants

These are just some of the modern additions to the definition of solar energy.

Perhaps the best-known and ubiquitous modern use of solar energy is photovoltaic devices — or solar cells, commonly known as solar panels.

This altered the solar power definition to include something practical and immediate: the sun could power all or part of your home. It’s now so well-known, solar energy information usually revolves around this technology.

But don’t get any solar energy facts mixed up: while solar energy information has only been spreading in recent years, the technology itself is more than half a century old.

History is full of fascinating facts about solar energy. The first useable version of solar PV cells came in 1954, created by Bell Telephone company, one of the lesser-known solar energy facts.

The first solar cells were used to power space satellites, bringing the very definition of solar energy a little closer to its original source.

Solar PV cells then moved on to smaller consumer electronics in the 1970s, which is when solar energy information and use reached the mainstream.

By the end of the decade, solar panels began meeting the fullest definition of solar power: powering homes and facilities in remote locations, well off the grid and away from power plants.

Solar Energy Information

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That solar panels kept the lights on for certain homes and facilities since the late 1970s is not a well-known solar energy fact. Solar energy use for commercial and consumer homes began to spread almost three decades later, when PV panels were being added to existing electrical grids.

Small solar PV cells have been around for decades, most commonly found on simple calculators and other small electronics. Those tiny solar cells’ ability to work together is one of the most fascinating facts about solar energy: they can be compounded.

A large enough gathering of the small solar cells powering a keyboard can create PV panels. These solar panels’ dexterity makes them one of the most written-about topics of solar energy information.

Solar energy gathered from these panels can create enough electricity to heat or cool your home, run your appliances, or perhaps even charge your electric car, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Gather enough of these panels together, and you’ll form a solar array powerful enough to run an average home. A large enough solar array could power thousands of homes.

Solar Energy Information: How Green Is It?

Solar energy information abounds when it comes to its environmental impact. Put bluntly: it may be one of the cleanest forms of energy available. From an eco-friendly standpoint, some solar energy facts include:

  • Solar energy does not produce any carbon dioxide.
  • Solar systems do not produce other common air pollutants to make electricity.
  • Solar energy requires a large amount of surface area to produce electricity, since such a small amount of sunlight hits any point of the Earth.
  • Sunlight and solar energy, while constant in aggregate, are still unreliable on a day-to-day basis, one of the main solar energy facts used by opponents of working to stop climate change.

But the solar energy facts surrounding PV cells aren’t always positive. The production of solar panels includes the use of some harmful and toxic materials. And the resources required to make these uncommonly large solar arrays can disturb the environment, including wildlife.

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Solar Energy Facts: How PV Technology Works

As much solar energy information about PV cells centers around consumer concerns such as cost and benefits, not many people know how this technology works.

Let’s explore the solar energy facts about PV cells and how they work (we’ll try to make sure this doesn’t devolve into a physics lesson).

The most basic solar energy information states PV cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Some solar cells can even convert artificial light from, say, a bulb, into electricity. But how?

Solar energy, as we experience it, is mainly photons being fired at the Earth from the sun.

PV cells are made of a semiconductor material which allows solar photons to dislodge atomic bits called electrons from one end of the panel and send them toward the front, generating direct current (the well-known DC current, which must then be inverted into alternating current, or AC).

The movement of these electrons creates an imbalance, which generates a voltage charge. It’s one of the more fascinating solar energy facts that the whirring machines, nuclear reactors, and smoke-creating power plants creating electricity can be ditched for serene and clean solar arrays.

One of the lesser-known solar energy facts: not all solar PV cells are the same. Some solar panels are more efficient than others, depending on the semiconductor material they’re made out of. Still, all solar panels maximize their output by facing the sunlight directly.

Modern solar arrays and panels can track the sun’s progress across the sky using solar energy information. Even if fixed at a certain angle, solar panels can produce enough energy to meet the definition of solar energy.

These panels still meet the solar energy definition they first fulfilled, as remote locations and homes continue to rely on solar technology for power, like they did decades ago.

The panels’ definition of solar energy isn’t limited to earthly uses. Solar energy still powers most of the satellites circling the earth today.

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Solar Energy Information: Beyond PV Cells

Panels aren’t the only modern use of solar energy. Several other technologies manage to harness the power of the sun while still meeting the definition of solar energy.

Solar heating and cooling, for example, uses the sun’s thermal energy to warm or cool a home or building. Instead of a gas or electric hot-water heater, these technologies meet the definition of solar energy by using the sun instead, reducing the need for fossil fuels.

Contrary to some beliefs, solar energy facts show that these heating and cooling units can begin saving their owners money as soon as three years after they are installed, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Much less solar energy information is shared about concentrating solar power. These mass-production electrical plants use mirrors to increase the sun’s energy. The added heat from this solar energy then drives traditional steam turbines.

There are also other, “passive” forms of solar energy. These do not directly turn solar energy into power, instead allowing the sun to do its own natural work to affect a change.

For example, strategically placing windows in locations which maximize sunlight meets the definition of solar energy and increases the energy efficiency of the structure.

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While solar energy information abounds, the use of solar comes down to the most basic of solar energy facts: the sun will continue to fire photons at the planet well after humanity’s finite supply of fossil fuels has run out.

Solar energy information provides a convincing case for the sun to be one of our main replacements of fossil fuels. Solar energy facts prove that the electricity generated by PV cells and solar arrays creates less carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, despite some of the downsides.

But the best way to find out the full benefits of solar energy? Apply it to your home as often as possible.

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