How Does Solar Work?
The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth's surface in an hour and a half is
enough to handle the entire world's energy consumption for a full year. Solar
technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic
(PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This energy can
be used to generate electricity or be stored in batteries or thermal storage.
Solar Energy 101
Solar radiation is light – also known as electromagnetic radiation – that is emitted
by the sun. While every location on Earth receives some sunlight over a year, the
amount of solar radiation that reaches any one spot on the Earth’s surface
varies. Solar technologies capture this radiation and turn it into useful forms of
There are two main types of solar energy technologies—photovoltaics (PV)
and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP).
You're likely most familiar with PV, which is utilized in solar panels. When the sun
shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in
the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an
internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.
Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Basics
Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems use mirrors to reflect and
concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to
heat, which can then be used to produce electricity or stored for later use. It is
used primarily in very large power plants.
Systems Integration Basics
Solar energy technology doesn’t end with electricity generation by PV or CSP
systems. These solar energy systems must be integrated into homes,
businesses, and existing electrical grids with varying mixtures of traditional and
other renewable energy sources.
Soft Costs Basics
Several non-hardware costs, known as soft costs, also impact the cost of solar
energy. These costs include permitting, financing, and installing solar, as well as
the expenses solar companies incur to acquire new customers, pay suppliers,
and cover their bottom line. For rooftop solar energy systems, soft costs
represent the largest share of total costs.
Going Solar Basics
Solar energy can help to reduce the cost of electricity, contribute to a resilient
electrical grid, create jobs, and spur economic growth, generate back-up power
for nighttime and outages when paired with storage, and operate at similar
efficiency on both small and large scales.
Solar Industry Basics
Solar energy systems come in all shapes and sizes. Residential systems are
found on rooftops across the United States, and businesses are also opting to
install solar panels. Utilities, too, are building large solar power plants to provide
energy to all customers connected to the grid.
Solar Energy can be used in agriculture to power various processes. The application of solar is considered a prominent one in emerging economies. Agriculture uses solar both in a natural and artificial form.
Naturally, farmers time their crops based on the season and availability of light and water.
Artificially, solar power can be used to pump water for irrigation and powering equipment. Solar technologies can provide light, heat and ventilation for livestock and farmhouses.