Solar energy seems like an almost magical concept. Power is extracted from the light around us and converted so that it can run things like computers, cell phones, lightbulbs, and televisions. Solar power harnesses the energy of the sun which is sent down to the Earth in the form of light. Science has given us the ability to capture this light and turn it into the energy which sustains our society.
Electricity is typically generated by motion, heat, or light. Dams use motion to create energy. Water flows over turbines which rotate and generate energy. Solar power can use both the heat and light methods for creating electricity. Luckily for us, both heat and light are readily provided by the hottest, largest, and most powerful thing in our solar system – Sol, or as it is more commonly known, the sun.
The sun’s power, as delivered to us by light, is converted into electricity through the photovoltaic process. While this process is incredible complex and scientific it can be boiled down to a few easy to understand steps. Photovoltaic cells (solar panels) which are built out of a silicon-based material absorb light. Solar energy excites electrons in the solar panels and electricity is produced. The electricity which is produced by these panels is a DC current. DC current is unusable for most household purposes. DC is next convert to AC which is what runs standard household appliances.
Solar thermal is a second way to generate electricity using the sun. This method uses the heat produced from light to generate electricity. The warmth that you feel on your skin during a nice day on the beach? Yup, the solar thermal method converts that into the electricity which runs your cellphone!