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SOLAR ENERGY

Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, has been harnessed by humans since
ancient times using a range of ever-evolving technologies. Solar radiation, along with
secondary solar-powered resources such as wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and
biomass, account for most of the available renewable energy on earth. Only a minuscule
fraction of the available solar energy is used.

Solar powered electrical generation relies on heat engines and photovoltaics. Solar
energy's uses are limited only by human ingenuity. A partial list of solar applications
includes space heating and cooling through solar architecture, potable water via
distillation and disinfection, daylighting, solar hot water, solar cooking, and high
temperature process heat for industrial purposes.To harvest the solar energy, the most
common way is to use solar panels.

Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar
depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Active solar
techniques include the use of photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors to harness
the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting
materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces
that naturally circulate air.

The Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW) of incoming solar radiation (insolation) at the
upper atmosphere.[1] Approximately 30% is reflected back to space while the rest is
absorbed by clouds, oceans and land masses. The spectrum of solar light at the Earth's
surface is mostly spread across the visible and near-infrared ranges with a small part in
the near-ultraviolet.[2]

Earth's land surface, oceans and atmosphere absorb solar radiation, and this raises their
temperature. Warm air containing evaporated water from the oceans rises, causing
atmospheric circulation or convection. When the air reaches a high altitude, where the
temperature is low, water vapor condenses into clouds, which rain onto the Earth's
surface, completing the water cycle. The latent heat of water condensation amplifies
convection, producing atmospheric phenomena such as wind, cyclones and anti-cyclones.
[3]
Sunlight absorbed by the oceans and land masses keeps the surface at an average
temperature of 14 °C.[4] By photosynthesis green plants convert solar energy into
chemical energy, which produces food, wood and the biomass from which fossil fuels are
derived.[5]

The total solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses is
approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year.[6] In 2002, this was more energy in one
hour than the world used in one year.[11][12] Photosynthesis captures approximately
3,000 EJ per year in biomass.[8] The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the
planet is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from
all of the Earth's non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium
combined.[13]

From the table of resources it would appear that solar, wind or biomass would be
sufficient to supply all of our energy needs, however, the increased use of biomass has
had a negative effect on global warming and dramatically increased food prices by
diverting forests and crops into biofuel production.[14] As intermittent resources, solar and
wind raise other issues.

Solar energy can be harnessed in different levels around the world. Depending on a
geographical location the closer to the equator the more "potential" solar energy is
available.[15]
Yearly Solar fluxes & Human Energy Consumption
Solar 3,850,000 EJ[6]
Wind 2,250 EJ[7]
Biomass 3,000 EJ[8]
Primary energy use (2005) 487 EJ[9]
Electricity (2005) 56.7 EJ[10]
All objects emit or radiate
energy in the form of electromagnetic waves as a function of their
temperature. The amount of energy radiated is described by Stefan's law. The
higher an object's temperature, the more energy it radiates. You know the
burner on a stove is hot because it glows red. Because of the sun's temperature,
it radiates primarily in the visible and ultraviolet regions of the electromagnetic
spectrum. Earth's temperature is much lower and radiates in the infrared region.

An important feature of Earth's atmosphere is that it is transparent to visible


light, but certain components of the atmosphere absorb infrared radiation.
These components of the atmosphere, called greenhouse gases, consist
primarily of water vapor, CO2, CH4, NO2, O3 , and various CFCs and HCFCs.
The effective heating of Earth's atmosphere due to these gases is called the
greenhouse effect in analogy with the warmth one feels in a greenhouse on a
sunny day.

So the surface of the Earth re-emits the sun's energy in the form of infrared
radiation (IR) back up into the atmosphere. Some of this IR is absorbed by the
greenhouse gases and is re-emitted. But molecules in the atmosphere can emit
radiation in all directions, so some energy is directed back towards Earth's
surface to help keep it warm. The effect of the greenhouse gases is to keep
Earth's surface temperature 33° C warmer than it would otherwise be. For
Earth's temperature to remain constant (currently about 15° C on average
worldwide), the amount of incoming solar radiation absorbed must be balanced
by outgoing infrared radiation. Any change in this energy balance will cause
Earth's temperature to change, and a new equilibrium will have to be reached.

What could cause a change in this delicate balance? An increase in the amount
of water vapor or cloud cover can have both a positive and negative effect on
temperature, since clouds reflect incoming solar radiation and absorb outgoing
IR. Which effect would dominate is still the subject of much research.

The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is considered to be in


equilibrium. So , water vapor alone does not change the temperature of the
Earth. The amount of water vapor would change, however, if something else
caused the temperature to increase or decrease. This is known as a feedback
response to an introduced temperature change. An increase in the other
greenhouse gases would cause more outgoing IR to be absorbed in the
atmosphere and hence should lead to a heating of the Earth.
Solar Electricity

Solar power is produced by


collecting sunlight with photovoltaic solar panels and converting its power into
electricity. A photovoltaic (photo = light, voltaic = electricity) panel is formed by
sandwiching thin layers of positive and negative silicon beneath a layer of non-reflective
glass. Silicon is a semi conductive substance that is able to alter the sun’s energy into
electricity. When the 2 sheets are sandwiched together there exists an energy field
between them. When sunlight strikes the silicon sandwich this energy field becomes a
hotbed of electrical activity. Photons from the sunlight collide with the atoms contained
in the layers, freeing charged electrons and bumping them into the energy field. Like a
waterfall, the electrons are able to move in only one direction causing a buildup on one
side of the energy field.

To give those crowded electrons somewhere to go, an external circuit (wire leading out of
the over full side and around to the other) is created and directs the charged electrons out
of the panel and back in to the other side. When reaching that side they are in the form of
raw electricity. The resulting electricity can be used in its natural form (DC or 12 volt) if
you have appliances that use 12 volt energy. However DC is not useable for most
common purposes. So, next the DC power is transformed through an inverter to
alternating current, or AC at 120 Volt, a common-use voltage. A small amount of solar
energy is lost in this DC to AC conversion but is now ready for distribution to the
household.
household solar map

Sometimes the term solar cell is reserved for devices intended specifically to capture
energy from sunlight, while the term photovoltaic cell is used when the light source is
unspecified.

Fundamentally, the device needs to fulfill only two functions: photogeneration of charge
carriers (electrons and holes) in a light-absorbing material, and separation of the charge
carriers to a conductive contact that will transmit the electricity. This conversion is called
the photovoltaic effect, and the field of research related to solar cells is known as
photovoltaics.

Solar cells have many applications. They have long been used in situations where
electrical power from the grid is unavailable, such as in remote area power systems,
Earth-orbiting satellites and space probes, consumer systems, e.g. handheld calculators or
wrist watches, remote radiotelephones and water pumping applications. More recently,
they are starting to be used in assemblies of solar modules connected to the electricity
grid through an inverter, often in combination with a net metering arrangement.

Solar cells are regarded as one of the key technologies towards a sustainable energy
supply. They are constantly under research development to achieve maximum efficiency
at minimum cost. We are now at the third generation of solar power development. This is
an exciting time for solar science and solar power generation is at an all time peak. From
here on solar power will only get cheaper and cheaper, empowering us to have energy
independence.