What is solar energy?

Bob Farnham | August 6, 2015 | Industry Knowledge

What is solar energy? Are solar energy and solar power the same? How does solar energy work? Below we will explore the basic process of converting the sun’s rays into electricity.

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is the world’s most abundant renewable resource. In simple terms, solar energy is the power that is created by harnessing the sun’s light and heat. This power is then turned into electricity, creating the cleanest energy option available.

Are solar energy and solar power the same?

Technically, solar energy is radiant energy emitted by the sun. Solar power is power obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun’s rays. However, the terms are generally interchangeable.

How does solar energy work?

Let’s start with the sun, the super power that has been providing heat and light for 4.5 billion years. The sun’s rays shine down on and are captured by an electrical device called a solar cell. Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, are comprised of the same materials used in small electronics. Solar cells are the building blocks of solar panels.

These cells are created to form an electric field, positive on one side and negative on the other side. Electrical conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit. As sunlight hits the solar cell, electrons are knocked loose from the atoms in the material, which are then captured in the form of a direct current (“DC electricity”).

The DC electricity is then converted to alternating current (AC) with the help of a power inverter. Direct current electricity is a constant stream of electrons that only moves in one direction. The alternating current is a stream that reverses (or alternates) direction. The AC power is what connects the power to your home.

A utility meter is used to measure how much power you generate and use. The energy you don’t use can be delivered back to the grid. The “grid” or electrical grid is the system of generating stations that produce power from the source, send it to the demand center, and deliver it to the consumer through power lines.

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