What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is the energy obtained from the radiation of the sun which is converted into other forms of energy, such as electrical, heat, and chemical energy, and used for various applications.
Is solar energy renewable or non-renewable?
Solar energy is renewable energy. Solar energy is harnessed from the sun which is a natural source that cannot be exhausted and gets replenished as it is used. Utilizing the sun as a source of energy reduces our dependence on non-renewable energy sources like crude oil and coal. This helps reduce the harm and pollution done to our environment and lives by these nonrenewable energy sources.
The sun is a strong source of energy and the largest source of energy acquired by the Earth. Despite this, solar energy is still difficult to harness in some places due to the high price of equipment used in the collecting, conversion and storage of this energy.
How is energy gotten from solar?
The two ways in which solar energy is harnessed and used include photovoltaic panels and solar thermal systems.
Photovoltaic (PV) panels
Photovoltaic panels are made up of collections of solar cells that use an electrical process to convert sunlight directly into electricity which can be used to power anything that requires electricity, both big and small, like road signs, calculators, streetlights, communication systems, water pump, etc.
In these solar cells, when sunlight hits the junction between a metal and a semiconductor, like silicon, or the junction between two semiconductors, a small amount of electric voltage is produced. A single photovoltaic cell is capable of generating power of up to 2 watts.
Solar thermal systems
This involves the use of systems which utilize sunlight to heat a fluid in order to generate electricity or heat. Flat plate collectors are the devices used to collect solar energy for conversion into thermal energy used for solar heating applications. This is mostly used for house heating or solar water heating.
Solar thermal energy is also applied in solar ponds in which salt water is utilized to collect and store solar energy. The heat from this solar pond can be used to generate electricity, produce food, chemicals and textiles, warm livestock buildings, swimming pools and greenhouses.
Solar ovens also convert solar energy into heat via a black-surfaced vessel and utilize it to cook without the requirements of any other fuel inputs.
Benefits of solar energy
- Environmentally friendly: Solar energy does not release harmful emissions such as greenhouse gases, dangerous byproducts, or pollutants, thereby does not contribute to climate change.
- Renewable energy source: Solar energy is inexhaustible and is replenished over a short time as it is used. It is also accessible every day and in all areas of the world.
- Low maintenance costs: Solar technologies such as solar panels require little maintenance after installation. They can withstand bad weather and do not have moving parts that can tear or wear out. They mostly only require cleaning a couple of times a year.
- Cost-effective: Solar energy reduces money spent on fuel and electricity bills. The cost of solar technology has also been decreasing over the years, making it more affordable for different homes and offices.
- Diverse applications: It can be used in various areas and purposes. Solar energy can generate electricity, produce heat, power satellites in space and also be integrated into building materials
Disadvantages of solar energy
- Weather reliability: The reliability of solar energy production is not high due to its dependence on sunlight. This means there is a reduction in the amount of energy produced on rainy or cloudy days. Solar energy is also less useful at night.
- Cost: The initial cost of acquiring and installing solar systems and technologies is quite high. Purchasing large batteries to store solar energy for nighttime is also expensive.
- Lots of space: To produce large amounts of electricity, more solar panels are required which takes up a lot of space and land
- Environmental impact: The production and disposal of solar panels can have negative impacts on the environment if not done properly. For example, silicon is used in the production of solar panels which can impact the environment and also poor disposal or lack of recycling.