Solar energy means energy that is derived from the sun. As fossil fuels continue to pollute our planet, it is time to move away from these harmful energy sources and instead to find cleaner, greener, natural sources of energy.
Solar energy is one such energy source which is proving very attractive across the globe. These fascinating 25 facts on solar energy will get you up to speed with all of the key statistics and things to know about deriving energy from the sun.
25 facts on solar energy.
1. The word ‘solar’ comes from the Latin word ‘sol’ which means ‘sun’. So, solar energy is energy from the sun. ‘Energy’ comes from the Greek word for ‘work’ – ‘ergon’. So, solar energy makes the sun work for us. It also makes machines work and move.
2. Solar energy is renewable. This is another way of saying that the sun is an inexhaustable energy source: the process of harnessing the sun’s energy does not in and of itself deplete the sun. This can be contrasted with non renewable energy sources such as fossil fuel. Mining for coal and using it for energy does, by contrast, deplete our coal reserves.
3. Solar energy can provide us with a whole lot of energy. Scientists have calculated that every day, the earth receives 174 pW of solar power. The unit pW stands for Petawatts. A Petawatt is one quadrillion watts (or 10 to the power 5 watts): a truly huge amount. Think how many 10 watt lightbulbs that could power, for example!
4. You can harness solar energy even on a cloudy day. It does not matter if the sky is a little cloudy, or if you live in a region which is not very hot and sunny – solar energy generators can still be used to get you some handy solar energy. This is because the clouds can never completely block out all of the sun’s rays from the earth (we can see this because light still penetrates through the clouds).
5. Solar generators use photovoltaic panels to capture solar energy and convert it into electricity. This electricity can then be used for whatever we desire, from powering a car to charging up our phones.
6. Solar energy can also be harnessed in the form of solar thermal energy. This quite simply means the heat given off by the sun. Solar thermal energy can be used for all kinds of heating jobs, including heating up your home.
7. The earth and the seas already absorb in one hour more solar energy than the whole human population uses in a day. This illustrates just how vast our potential reserves of solar energy are.
8. Solar energy does not produce greenhouse gases. Again, this leads us to contrast it with fossil fuels, as these energy sources produce harmfully large amounts of greenhouse gas.
9. The first solar thermal energy plant was built by the US engineer Frank Schuman in 1897. He used boxes filled with water and ether to harness solar energy. Working in sunny Egypt over the next couple of decades he expanded and improved his solar energy machines.
10. The two countries leading the way in terms of heating our homes using solar thermal energy are Israel and Cyprus. In these countries, 90% of homes use solar hot water heaters to heat both cooking water and bath and shower water, and to provide water based heating systems.
11. The first photovoltaic cell, which is a panel capable of transforming sunlight into electricity was developed in 1931. The developer was the German scientist Bruno Lange. Though Lange’s original cell, which used selenium, was able to convert only 1% of sunlight into electricity, modern photovoltaic cells are much more efficient.
12. Solar powered vehicles are getting faster and faster. There are regular races to see which model can hit the highest speeds. In 2007 the record was just over 56 mph.
13. Solar power started off as being a bit fo a niche project for scientists and environmentalists. Nowadays, however, governments and private individuals are increasingly considering it as a mainstream source of energy.
14. Solar energy can be stored in a thermal storage system. This is useful for seasonal climates when there is less sunshine in the winter and so energy reserves derived from sunnier seasons can be tapped into instead.
15. Solar energy became a more interesting option for governments in the 1970s, when an energy crisis in 1979 led them to start thinking seriously about alternative energy sources compared to oil and coal.
16. The International Energy Agency has calculated that by 2060, it is possible for solar energy to provide the world with a third of its energy needs. However, for this to take place governments would need to make a positive commitment to the project.
17. Africa and the Middle East have the greatest potential for using solar energy. In this region, a maximum amount of 11, 060 Exajoules of solar energy could be harnessed every year.
18. The region with the lowest potential for harnessing solar energy is Central and Eastern Europe, where a minimum of 4.5 Exajoules and a maximum of 154 Exajoules could be harnessed annually.
19. You can start using solar energy right now by fitting solar panels to the roof of your home.
20. You can also purchase handy solar energy forms of your usual mobile phone chargers or battery chargers.
21. Augustin Mouchot unveiled the first solar powered steam engine in Paris in 1878. However, his idea did not take off commercially as coal was very cheap as a power source at the time.
22. Solar cookers can reach huge maximum temperatures of 315 Celsius – enough to burn a cake.
23. Solar energy can also be used to desalinate seawater to make it safe to drink.
24. Solar energy systems are made more efficient by the use of CSP systems. CSP stands for Concentrating Solar Power and these systems use mirrors to focus rays of sunlight so that their energy can be efficiently harnessed by a photovoltaic cell or other piece of equipment.
25. You can take action to promote solar energy now by writing to your government or local authority to ask them to consider it seriously as a cleaner and more sustainable source of energy.