What is solar energy?

The term “solar energy” has been gaining momentum and popularity over the past few decades. An increasing rate of individuals are investing and utilizing solar energy for both residential and commercial purposes. However, what exactly is solar energy? At the current moment, a large majority of conglomerates and governments use fossil fuels as their primary energy source. There is much discussion and debate surrounding the continued use of fossil fuels. The reason being that fossil fuels have several negative impacts and harmful consequences on the environment such as land degradation, water pollution and, most notably, air pollution or carbon emissions. Solar energy is a form of renewable energy. Renewable energy is an energy source that derives from renewable resources, such as sunlight, waves, rain, tides, wind and more. Solar energy is considered to be the cleanest form of energy that is both effective and sustainable. In addition, solar energy has been emphasized as the most abundant energy resource on Earth. Due to the fact that the sun is an enormous nuclear reactor and deep within the sun’s core contains massive amounts of energy that radiate in the form of light or heat. Thus, solar energy is generated via the conversion of sunlight particles (known as photons) into thermal or electrical energy. This energy can be harnessed for a variety of functions such as generating electricity, heating water and producing light.

Brief history of solar energy

In recent years, solar energy has been increasingly accessible to many and is becoming a dependent, alternate source of energy for both residential and commercial purposes. Large buildings and companies are using solar panels for electricity whereas residential housings have implemented solar paneling for water heating and electricity as well. However, solar energy is not relatively new; it has been around as early as the 7th Century in which sunlight was used to start fires, via a reflective material. Subsequently, in the 3rd Century, the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations harnessed solar power with mirrors in order to light torches for religious and cultural ceremonies. In the late 1700s and 1800s, solar energy was used within the concept of sunrooms. These were essentially massive windows that allowed direct sunlight to fall upon one concentrated area, similarly for the purposes of light and heat. Eventually in 1873, advancing technology and research resulted in the discovery of selenium as having photoconductive potential which would facilitate the conversion of sunlight to thermal or electrical energy. This discovery is known to play an integral role in how we use solar energy to this day.

How does solar energy work?

There are two main processes in which solar energy is possible. Firstly, via photovoltaics. The photovoltaic solar system is a process that requires the use of solar panels. Solar panels will convert the sunlight directly into electricity that can be used immediately. Alternatively, the electricity generated via the solar panels can also be stored in a solar battery or sent to the electrical grid for credits on the electricity bill. Secondly, another method of solar energy is through the process of solar thermal. This method captures heat from solar radiation (sunlight) directly and uses up the mentioned heat in a variety of ways. There are three main types: low-temperature which is intended for heating and cooling, mid-temperature which is  for heating water and high-temperature which is used for generating electricity.

Importance of solar energy and its benefits

Renewable and sustainable energy

With the profound environmental movement that has been gaining traction over the past decade, more individuals have been attentive about their consumerism and its environmental impact. Solar energy is a form of renewable and clean energy. This refers to solar energy having a lack of greenhouse emissions produced, in comparison to its fossil fuel counterparts. Clean energy is synonymous with being sustainable as it is better for the environment in a number of ways. Solar energy is self-sufficient whereas it can be renewed continuously. Additionally, it does not generate negative waste products. Neither does it contaminate water nor emit toxic substances or contaminants.

Less energy lost during long-distance transport

Being on the electrical power grid, there are moments of vulnerability. As the distance between a power source and its destination increases in length, there is a possibility of reduced efficiency or increased energy loss. It is estimated that approximately 3-5% of energy is lost. This is especially pertinent in condensed areas, such as large cities, metropolitans and so on. Long distance transport can affect the overall performance of the system, therefore converting to solar energy can prevent such losses. Solar energy allows for increased efficiency of the electrical system due to bypassing transport issues.

Reduce electricity bills

One of the biggest and most convenient reasons that individuals convert to solar energy is the large sums of money saved from paying high electricity bills. Solar energy generates energy immediately and purposefully. The time during the day in which electricity is highest in demand is noted to be from 10am to 5pm (office hours). Coincidentally, this time also concurs with peak sunlight hours (midday). It becomes a lot more convenient to utilize solar energy during these hours as the sunlight is more readily available. Hence, the large drop in electricity bills.

Low maintenance cost

Solar panels are an investment. In the long run and grand scheme of things, solar panels will ultimately save you money rather than costing you money. The purchase and installation of solar panels are where most of the money is spent. Otherwise, in terms of maintenance, solar panels have little costs. Typically, solar panels and their systems are serviced once every ten years by the manufacturer. Otherwise, once every year, the solar panels have to be cleaned, checked for damages and some minor repairs which can be done by the individual in question or by a professional.

Improves grid security

As mentioned prior, the power grid proves to have some vulnerabilities. In addition to energy loss, a few mishaps that can occur are blackouts, overloads or fires. These can be either natural causes (such as an earthquake, tsunami etc) or man-made disasters. Having solar panels equipped and installed will make it easier to combat such incidents from occurring as solar energy can be used immediately or subsequently stored in a solar battery.

Solar energy has been inclining and progressing further than ever before. Many conglomerates and individuals have begun to commit to solar energy, and other forms of renewable energy, due to the plethora of benefits backing it. In addition to being more accessible, with more demand and supply, the option is becoming more cost-effective as it attains more popularity.

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