Solar energy is simply energy derived from the sun, which can be converted to electricity or thermal (heat) energy. Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert the sun's energy to electricity. Solar thermal panels convert the sun's energy to thermal (heat) energy. Solar thermal panels, or evacuated tubes, capture the sun's energy for heating domestic hot water and, sometimes, to provide space heating through systems like radiant floor heating.
Sunlight is a relatively infinite source of energy. The sun is expected to burn out in approximately five billion years, but it will continue to radiate an abundance of energy in the meantime. The amount of energy radiating from the sun will not change, whether we choose to harness it's energy or not. The average amount of solar energy reaching the Earth's surface at any given time is about 174.7 W/m2. Worldwide, this amounts to about 89,300 TW. This theoretical potential means that there is more energy striking the Earth’s surface in one and a half hours, than there is of our entire energy consumption worldwide. In 2001, the energy striking the Earth’s surface in one and a half hours was 480 EJ, and worldwide energy consumption was 430 EJ (source: Sandia National Laboratory Fact Sheet).
This theoretical potential makes solar one of our most promising renewable energy sources. Unlike the heat or electricity generated by fossil fuels, the heat or electricity generated by solar thermal or PV systems creates no noise, air, or water pollution. More importantly, these renewable energy systems do not contribute to carbon pollution. It should be noted, however, that the energy input required to make these solar energy systems, and their components, come with some concerns about the harmful chemicals used in their manufacture. These systems are a fundamental part of the energy solution, an attempt to reverse the damage done by greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emission, as well as the resulting climate change. Visit this link to learn more about climate change.
For more information on PV panels and how they work, please watch the video below:
Last updated January 12, 2021