Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Many Uses of Solar Energy and How it Really Works

Before diving into the vast number of uses for solar energy, it is important to have a solid understanding of solar energy itself. Solar energy is electricity generated by the Sun's radiation which is absorbed through square material known as "solar cells".

To put it simply: the Sun's rays heat up solar cells, and the heat's energy is converted into electricity to power anything from small devices such as laptop bags to entire buildings.

Four Classes of Solar Energy

There are four major styles of solar energy: direct, indirect, active and passive.

Direct solar energy systems convert the thermal energy once, while indirect systems convert the energy multiple times. Active solar means there are mechanical and electrical parts. Passive systems do not use any mechanical parts to convert the energy to electricity.

"So how does solar energy actually work?"

There are many methods for capturing the power of the Sun's energy, but the most common devices are "Photovoltaic cells". These are commonly known as solar cell semiconductors that produce electricity whenever the external material is exposed to heat. The cells also naturally store thermal (heat) energy so the device the cells are powering can work when it is dark as well.

Basically, the Sun's heat is absorbed by the silicon cells, and the energy is stored and converted for use by the semiconductor inside the cells.

"How can solar energy help me?"

When solar energy cells were first introduced in 1941 by Russell Ohl, people hardly realized how this simple invention could change the World. The biggest problem with the energy technique has been the initial cost. However, while silicon is expensive, people have been recently turning to powering their entire house with solar cells!

Yes, there is a large initial investment, but by eliminating your electric bill for the rest of your life, there is a good chance you'll recoup the loss. Many people use solar energy to heat their water (tap, showers, swimming pools, etc.) without powering their entire home. This is much cheaper, but it can still have a positive impact on utility bills and the environment.

There have been many other smaller uses, too. In 2006, a small electronics company invented a solar cell laptop bag that could not only carry your laptop, but constantly charge it on the go!
There practically an infinite number of possibilities for small devices being charged with solar energy and eliminating the need for charging every night for hours just to get a few hours of use.

As solar cell production costs decrease, more companies will be able to produce solar-powered devices and accessories the public can afford. Either way, solar energy is a reliable, natural source of energy that can be used to power practically anything, and it won't run out until the Sun does!

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