How Does Solar Energy Work?

By Heide Braley
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Everyone understand that sunlight warms whatever surface it comes in contact with; that is the basic premise for solar energy. There are actually two parts of sunlight that are intrinsic to its character: light waves and heat energy.

Using the heat energy found in sunlight is usually called thermal application, as it uses the heat to warm up surfaces that can then transfer the heat into usable applications. Solar hot water heaters use this form to heat water in coils arranged on a panel. The water is stored in a tank and then used as needed.

Other processes that use sunlight to conduct current are called photovoltaic applications. A simple solar panel is constructed of silicon which conducts electricity and another positively or negatively charged substance to produce a 'magnetic pull'. Light particles called photons hit the silicon and electrons are knocked off their molecular framework and flow in the direction of the 'pull'. A current is thus started and collected for later use in batteries, or put back into the grid for others to use.

Understanding solar power has never been as critical as it is now, in a world finding it increasingly difficult to continue using fossil fuels. Scientists and researchers are hard pressed to keep up with the demands for developing solar power generators. Costs continue to drop as avalability increases. Most states now offer initiatives to entice homeowners and business to install solar energy aplications.

The use of solar power is not new. Builders have known for centuries to build houses in relation to their sun exposure, either for warmth or for coolness. The extent of their knowledge is still being discovered as we return to using forms of energy that are readily available to everyone. New inventions are being developed, such as paint that contains substances that can conduct electricty formed by sunlight. Solar panels that are flexible and easy to mold to surfaces for increased application are on the design table. Sunlight is a form of energy that each of us should be trying to utilize in place of fossil fuels in order to help improve the environment we are leaving for our children.

About the Author

Maryland resident Heide Braley is a professional writer who contributes to a variety of websites. She has focused more than 10 years of research on botanical and garden articles and was awarded a membership to the Society of Professional Journalists. Braley has studied at Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University.