Solar Energy

Solar energy is energy derived from the sun’s rays by means of some kind of conversion and/or storage system. This can be electrical energy, thermal energy (heat), or light energy, but most frequently the term “solar energy” is used as shorthand for solar-derived electricity or Solar Photovoltaics. The most plentiful form of stored solar energy on Earth is actually Biomass_Energy or plant matter, which converts sunlight to carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis.

However, when people refer to solar energy they are most commonly speaking of man-made equipment for the purpose of converting sunlight into heat, light or electricity. Such solar energy technologies can be divided into active solar and passive solar technologies, which refers to the level of responsiveness of the equipment to the sunlight. A passive solar energy system simply sits, absorbing sunlight without using any electrical, mechanical, or other responsive equipment. The most common example of passive solar is building construction which is designed to take advantage of natural daylight and radiant heating from the sun. This concept was used by ancient peoples such as the Aztecs, by carving grain storage facilities into stone caves with south faces, so that the sunlight shining on the rock face would heat and dry the grain stored on the other side of the wall. The same techniques are used today in advanced solar engineering and architecture, allowing the construction of homes with minimal energy requirements.

Solar Photovoltaics

Solar Photovoltaics or PV most commonly uses silicon to produce a photovoltaic reaction in the presence of sunlight, generating direct current (DC) electricity which can be stored in a battery for later use. In order to use this electricity with standard household appliances, an inverter is needed to produce Alternating Current (AC) at the local voltage and frequency. In North America, this is 120 Volts and 60 Hertz.

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal technology seeks to harness the energy of the sun for heating. At present, this is most commonly used for heating domestic hot water or swimming pools, but air heating systems also exist. The most popular solar thermal systems for household hot water tend to use evacuated tubes which collect radiant solar energy even in colder climates. There is very little to say about these systems – they work efficiently and they are already cost-competitive with natural gas or electric systems for the same purpose. Essentially everyone, everywhere could begin using solar thermal for heating hot water, and they would save money. While the same is not true for Photovoltaics, that is not to say that the technology is deficient. Modern energy markets are heavily distorted by government policies and heavy subsidies to the relevant industries, and so trying to tease apart the true cost of the energy sources we already make heavy use of is a difficult proposition at best.

My Own Experiences With Solar Energy

I have lived in a home powered by solar and wind energy for over seven years. This system produces electricity quietly, reliably and with minimal maintenance. The electricity which it provides is highly predictable on a yearly timescale, although there are times when it seems like the sun may never come out again and I question the need to fire up a generator.

I am not a hippy, and my reasons for setting up such a system were not as simple as “saving the environment” or “saving money”, although both were to some degree a factor. Given my location, the billing policies of the local utility company, and my extremely low electrical usage, I was paying more money each month for fees and delivery charges than I was for electricity. It was on this basis that I was able to make the investment in the solar energy equipment make sense. In addition, this equipment allows me to live with effectively no ongoing expenses. That alone is a radically valuable thing in terms of the feeling of safety and security that it brings myself and my family.



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