Solar Basics

You have felt the true power of Solar if you’ve ever...

  • turned on a water hose on a hot, summer day
  • opened your car door after being parked for hours in the heat
  • walked on asphalt in your bare feet in the afternoon

There’s no denying the power of Solar Energy and harnessing this energy is not a new concept; Solar thermal energy was used by ancient civilizations and Solar panels have been around since the early part of the 20th century. Thankfully, recent advances in technology have increased the efficiency and cost effectiveness of Solar energy exponentially. Projections show it will be possible for the United States to meet 100% of its energy needs using Solar power within the next 14 years.

What is Solar Thermal?Solar Energy can be converted into many different forms of power, but the two most common types are Thermal and Electric. The systems required for each process of conversion take up little space and require almost no maintenance. Additionally, both processes are completely emission-free, so there is minimal impact to the environment.

Solar Energy ↔ Thermal Power

We have all felt the sun's power to produce heat. Just remember walking barefoot across black asphalt on a sunny day! Solar thermal energy is a technology which harnesses solar energy to produce useful heat for residential, commercial and industrial uses. Solar thermal systems absorb the sun's radiation in flat plate collectors, much like the road absorbs sunlight. There, a heat transfer fluid is circulated through the collectors, heating it to temperatures as high as 200 Fahrenheit. The heated fluid can be used for domestic hot water, industrial process heat or for space heating.

Solar Energy ↔ Electric Power

convert sunlight directly into electricity

On a typical sunny day, the sunshine delivers approximately 1,000 watts of energy per square meter of the earth's surface. Solar panels collect this energy and convert it into electricity we can use. Solar radiation is converted into electricity by photovoltaic, ("photo" = light, "voltaic"=power) cells, or PV for short. These devices rely upon the same silicon materials and semiconducting physics as the computer chips you are using right now. The cells are group into panels, and by combining the proper number of these panels and a device called an inverter a solar installation converts the suns energy into alternating current (AC) electricity used in residences or commercial facilities. The number of panels needed for a facility is determined by the facilities load and the amount of the current electricity load you want to offset with renewable solar energy.

For more in-depth information regarding Solar Energy, please go to:
http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_solar.html