Solar energy as the name suggests is energy obtained directly from the sun. We use the heat from the sun to dry the washing on the line, grow crops and have a very nice holiday – but what about the opportunities that solar provides in terms of power?
Let’s look at a few solar facts that might surprise you
- The Sun is 150 million kilometres away but just the tiny fraction of the Sun’s energy that hits the Earth is enough to meet all our power needs
- Every minute, enough energy arrives at the Earth to meet our demands for a whole year
- Only about half of the incoming solar energy actually reached the Earth’s surface. It is reflected back out in to space or absorbed by clouds and oceans.
So with this abundant energy available why do we worry about energy efficiency and conservation?
The simple answer is we need to be able to harness that energy. The tricky question is how do we go about it?
There are three main ways we can harness that solar energy
Solar cells that convert light directly in to electricity. A really simple but effective use of this is the humble calculator. Satellites run on energy from solar cells, providing us with many everyday essentials such as telephones, navigation, weather forecasting, the internet and TV channels.
Solar water heating where energy from the sun is used to heat water in glass panels on your roof. This means you reduce the amount of gas or electricity used to heat the water in your home, thereby saving on your energy bills. This system works better in areas with a sunny climate.
Solar panels can be fitted to south facing roofs. These can be expensive to install but the government can pay you for any extra energy you produce and feed back into the National Grid.
So summing up what we know about solar energy, it seems too good not to take advantage of. After all it is free, clean, waste free and renewable. However, it has its limitations. It is no good at night and it can be expensive to set up the equipment needed to harness the energy. The amount of energy that can be harnessed depends on the distance from the equator.
Here in the UK, with our cloudy skies and dull weather, technology is starting to make the use of solar energy more viable.