Many people that are not immersed in the world of solar energy know what it is, but necessarily don’t know how it works. They also don’t quite understand how exciting is it either! The sun is our largest source of clean, renewable energy. The reason for this is due to the sun giving off two different types of energy – light and heat. The differences play a vital factor in how we can harness those energies and turn them into electricity. Before we dive into how it works, let’s talk about just how MUCH power the sun possess.

The Sun’s Power

Let’s start by putting things into perspective. If you wanted to light up the whole world only using only the sun’s energy, you could place a powerful table lamp on every square surface of the earth and the sun alone would power them all. That’s astounding! If you still aren’t convinced of how much power that is, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “just 18 days of sunshine on Earth contains the same amount of energy as is stored in all of the planet’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas.” Impressive, right?

At this point in time, we can’t yet harness the light and heat the sun gives off to directly power anything. Until that day, we have to take the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. How do we do that? I’m glad you asked. There are two different systems currently in use.

Photovoltaic Systems

Photovoltaic Systems are what you probably are most familiar with. PV systems use the sun’s light and solar cells to turn the energy into electricity. Solar panels are what’s used to harness this power. The panel’s themselves are made up of solar cells. Now solar cells are able to turn light into electricity in a fascinating way.

Solar cells are typically made up of silicon. We use silicon because the silicon atoms react to light in order to create electricity. When the light from the sun hits a solar cell, the light causes the atoms to jump around and great electricity rather than wiggling around and creating heat like other materials.

Concentrating Solar Power

Concentrating Solar Power technology (CSP) on the other hand takes the heat from the sun and uses it to convert the energy into electricity. They way to harness this energy is by pointing large mirrors up at a central tower. The mirrors reflects the heat of the sun up to a tower containing liquid salt and another liquid. The salt absorbs the heat and with the other liquid, creates steam within the tower. The pressure from steam turns an electric turbine. The turbine creates the electricity which is then ready to be harnessed.

To Wrap Up

Now that you’ve had my crash course, I hope you have a better understanding and appreciation of just how powerful solar energy is. It is an unlimited source of power and may be the most stable form of alternative, clean energy we have the technology to harness. We are set for a bright future ahead of us.