Solar energy is getting lots of great publicity these days and rightly so, and the question of how solar energy is produced and used is probably the many questions on people's minds when they start to take a desire for all things solar.
In light of the recent disasters attributable to our continued dependence on fossil fuels (witness the continued massive gushing of oil from the broken well off the coast of Louisiana, and the recent coal mining disaster in West Virginia), the sooner more information concerning solar is made available to more people the better. This way they can see some great benefits of solar not only for themselves also for the environment, and we can move closer to an occasion when disasters like the ones mentioned above will be a subject put to rest.
So, let's start by answering the question, "How is solar energy produced and used?"
Just What Is Solar Energy?
When people talk about solar energy being produced, what they're actually referring to typically is solar power. The dictionary definition of solar states "of or pertaining to the sun" and that solar energy is "energy derived from the sun by means of solar radiation". So, as we discussed, solar energy is actually produced by the sun with no help or interference from man, so it's all natural and provided to us totally free every day as light and heat. Quite remarkable.
The number of direct sunlight we actually used dwarfs compared to how much we actually receive, so what can we do to work with a lot of sun's over-abundant energy?
One thing we can all do is consciously apply the principles of passive solar. I say "consciously" because many of us are applying the principles most days, but just don't realize we're doing it. Do you open your drapes each morning to let the light in? Well, guess what? You're applying passive solar principles, because, when you allow the sun's light and heat into your home, it usually is that a number of the heat is absorbed in your concrete floors and/or walls, reducing the daytime temperature, and that heat will be released later as the temperature cools at night, maintaining the temperature in your house at a comfortable level.
Solar Energy versus Solar Power
So, we've talked about how solar is produced and how technology-not only. But, is that what most people think of when they refer to solar and producing it? They're actually making a common mistake, which would be to confuse the term "solar energy" with the term "solar power".
Solar power is produced due to the conversion of solar energy into a type of usable energy, or power, via man-made means. Take the most frequent example of that, or, at least, the one most people think of these days, that of solar panels. Solar panels contain a semiconductor of some kind, usually silicon, which reacts with sunlight and generates an electrical current. The current is usually DC (Direct Current), which must be converted to AC (Alternating Current) to power household appliances and devices since they run off AC.
Another common example is the application of right from to warm water via solar collectors. That water is then used to supply a home's or business's hot water needs or to provide heat to a building. The same principle is also used to heat swimming pools. Again, this is solar power supplied due to the conversion of solar energy to something usable by man, however hot water.
So, the question "How is solar energy produced and used?" is misleading and the answer will vary depending on whether the term solar energy is used strictly good dictionary definition, or if it's used, as looks like it's the case most of the time, as a synonym for solar power.
Either way, it all comes down to the fact we receive abundant solar energy in the forms of light and heat and it's then up to us as to how we make the most of that, or, if, in fact, we do at all. Not only should we benefit from it, but we must, to prevent further ecological and environmental disasters caused by our increasingly dangerous search for rapidly decreasing supplies of fossil fuels.
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