What Is Solar Energy?

What is solar energy, you ask? Simply, it is energy provided from the sun.

Our big friendly giant up there.

Solar power is everywhere.

Good to see you back to discuss the source of most energy on Earth: Solar energy. Elsewhere I tell you about how solar energy works.

If we can leave behind the public wave of denial in the reality of climate change and global warming, as caused by us, people, solar will be increasingly important in future lives as a clean, renewable energy.

So, let’s get on with it.

By the way, if you want to get on with building your own solar panels What is solar energy? The Sun! (photo: NASA)

Energy from the sun is present in fossil fuels, stored in fossilised plant remains that once grew and absorbed the sun’s energy through photosynthesis.

It is also directly experienced in the warmth of the sun and in its light.

The history of solar energy is a long one indeed.
Defining solar energy may be simple but there is not just one answer to the question: what is solar energy? Generally solar energy is divided into two types: thermal energy and electric energy.

In summary, what is solar energy? It is

  1. Energy from the sun

  2. Thermal energy

  3. Electric energy

  4. Stand-alone

  5. Grid connected

It's not enough!

Solar power and other renewable energy sources are not developing fast enough to prevent serious effects of global warming however.

You can do a lot to help by saving on energy you use today.

What Is Solar Energy? Thermal Energy

The sun generously provides free energy to warm our bodies and grow our food. It lights our days and dries our clothes. Thermal energy provides heat.

Thermal solar energy can be used to generate electricity and heat water. There are various technologies to achieve that, including solar hot water generators on domestic roof tops. DIY solar heating for instance is a popular power and emission saver. With solar pool heaters a favorite as they allow extended use of swimming pools and outdoor spas into evenings and colder months. A rather spectacular commercial application of solar heating is the solar tower. A solar tower is a large solar chimney through which heated air rises and so drives the wind turbines that generate electricity. The air is first heated under a large glasshouse, between 2 and 36 kilometres (yes!) in diameter. There is a proposal for such a large solar tower in the centre of Australia. A small research facility in Spain delivers about 50 KW of power per year in this way.

Water can be heated actively or passively.

  • Passive heating occurs simply when water, preheated by the sun, is used by a conventional water heater
  • Active heating occurs when a heating element inside a solar hot water system heats the water on sunny days.

Solar Water Heating Systems

Installing solar energy water heaters is not just a conscientiouspurchase for the environment. It has broader benefits like saving energy bills, and increased hot water. You can actually increase your home value by installing your own solar energy water heater.

Electric Energy

Photovoltaic cells, commonly known as solar cells, are used to capture the sun’s energy and convert it into direct current electricity. This can be used in this form or be converted into alternating current, which is like the electricity that is available from the grid. Of course its purposes are as many as they are for electricity, for lighting, or to run your computer.

Electric energy can be used in several ways, stand-alone or grid connected.

And if you want to know more about PV solar energy, what it is, how it works, take a look here.

As the term suggests, the stand-alone application is not connected to an energy grid. It involves a solar panel or panels, directly connected to the appliance requiring energy. It is used in solar water heating everywhere and is particularly useful in remote areas where there is no power grid. Excess solar energy can be stored in batteries for use at night or other low-sunshine times.

OK, we're almost there now but I have not yet fully answered your question: What is solar energy?

Grid connected
Solar power, including wind-, biomass and hydropower, is fed into the grid, which is also supplied by fossil-fuel electricity generators. The more customers use such accredited ‘green power’ supplies the more energy will be fed into the power grid that comes from clean, renewable sources.

Of course there are many situations where a "stand-alone" solar appliance is supported by power from the grid, whether wholly, or partially powered by renewable sources. It is a matter of doing the best you can in reducing the use of fossil fuels. And if you wonder where you might get some assistance paying for these appliances go here. Find more facts about solar energy here. Keep in touch with what goes on in the area of alternate energy sources or what is solar energy by subscribing to my AES Newsletter or to my RSS feed (see orange button in left margin).

Additionally, if you want to read more about renewable energy, alternative fuel vehicles and alternate energy technologies you may also be interested in Home Power magazine, which is the Hands-on Journal of Home-Made Power in keeping up-to-date.

What is solar energy really?

Continually shining so generously upon all of us without fear or favor does not noticeably deplete the sun’s total amount of available energy, does it.

We can use it again and again. This is so also for wind power, hydropower, and biomass power and is among the prime advantages of solar energy. Of course the sun also will come to the end of its life eventually, in many millions of years time, making it a kind of non-renewable energy source. However you may agree with me that planet Earth’s present environmental problems should be our greatest concern right now!

Do what you can today to live smartly. You already know what to do. Be generous like the sun in your relationships with others, with yourself and with your environment.

Next time anyone asks you what is solar energy, you can answer them by the warmth of your smile and by your actions. Now come along to another page for some more great information on alternate energy sources. All this, just through asking what is solar energy!

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