Radiant energy from the sun has powered life on earth for many millions of years and unless NASA isn’t telling us something, it should continue to do so for millions more.
Capturing and making efficient use of the sun is your job. Making your sun driven systems operate at their optimal efficiency is ours.
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The sun has produced energy for billions of years and is the ultimate source for all of the energy sources and fuels that we use today. People have used the sun’s rays (solar radiation) for thousands of years for warmth and to dry meat, fruit, and grains. Over time, people developed technologies to collect solar energy for heat and to convert it into electricity.
An example of an early solar energy collection device is the solar oven (a box for collecting and absorbing sunlight). In the 1830s, British astronomer John Herschel used a solar oven to cook food during an expedition to Africa. People now use many different technologies for collecting and converting solar radiation into useful heat energy for a variety of purposes.
We use solar thermal energy systems to heat
Solar photovoltaic (PV) devices, or solar cells, change sunlight directly into electricity. Small PV cells can power calculators, watches, and other small electronic devices. Arrangements of many solar cells in PV panels and arrangements of multiple PV panels in PV arrays can produce electricity for an entire house. Some PV power plants have large arrays that cover many acres to produce electricity for thousands of homes.
While the power of the sun has been used for thousands of years in various ways, modern humans have concentrated their commercial interests into 5 primary models.
Solar Photovoltaic Technology
Converts sunlight directly into electricity to power homes and businesses.
Passive Solar Technology
Provides light and harnesses heat from the sun to warm our homes and businesses in winter.
Solar Water Heating
Harnesses heat from the sun to provide hot water for homes and businesses.
Solar Process Heat
Uses solar energy to heat or cool commercial and industrial buildings.
Concentrating Solar Power
Harnesses heat from the sun to provide electricity for large power stations.
For more information about solar energy, visit the following resources:
Solar Energy Technology Basics
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
Energy Kids Solar Basics
U.S. Energy Information Administration Energy Kids
Clean Energy Education and Professional Development
U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Using Solar Electricity at Home
U.S. Department of Energy
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