In its simplest form, solar energy can be defined as the energy collected from the sun using solar panels that’s then converted into electricity for use in homes and businesses. Today, solar energy considered to be a leading form of renewable energy that can reduce the amount of electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Though such a characterization is technically correct, it’s also limited in terms of the true scope, application, and potential of solar power. For this reason, we’ve collected 5 “did-you-knows” about solar energy to help you deepen your understanding of this renewable source of energy and how it can transform the energy industry and, ultimately, our planet.

1) Solar Energy is Actually Solar Radiation

While most people have a basic understanding of how solar energy works, generating it for use in your home or business involves more than sunlight falling on a solar panel and magically becoming electricity. The process works like this:

  • The sun is basically a humongous nuclear fusion reactor constantly generating energy.
  • A photon of that energy radiates from the surface of the sun and travels with billions and billions of other photons throughout the solar system.
  • A few billion of those photons travel 93 million miles to Earth in only 8 minutes.
  • 30% of that energy reflects off Earth and back into the solar system.
  • The rest hits the surface of Earth as either visible light or infrared radiation.

It’s this last point where the solar energy industry sees the most room for improvement. Not only does the industry fail to maximize where and when solar energy is collected, solar panels convert only 15% of the light that hits them into electricity. We’ll address this point in more detail later in the article.

2) Solar Energy Has Been Around for a Long Time

Humanity has been reaping the sun’s energy for centuries. It just hasn’t always been about generating electricity. Historically, we’ve harnessed solar energy for tasks like cooking food, heating water, drying agriculture, and warming buildings. It’s only in the past several decades that we’ve developed the technology to collect solar radiation to generate the electricity that can fulfill those assorted tasks with greater efficiency.

3) Solar Panels Aren’t the Only Way to Generate Solar Energy

When you typically read an article about solar energy, it will be accompanied with a picture of solar panels in some form or fashion. It could be the roof of a residential home containing a few panels, a school or governmental building covered in hundreds, or an enormous empty field or desert packed with thousands of the things.

As popular as this photovoltaic technology is with solar energy aficionados, it’s not the only game in town. There are three additional methods for extracting electricity from solar energy include:

  • Solar heating and cooling – Collect heat to warm water and homes without electricity
  • Concentrated solar power – Uses mirrors to focus sunlight so it converts hot water into steam that turns turbines in generators
  • Solar architecture – Includes passive technology like radiant barriers, green roofs, and cool roofs

Admittedly, photovoltaic solar panels remain the most effective means of both harnessing solar power and then generating electricity for public consumption, especially as a way to replace fossil fuel technology. Moreover, research into concentrated solar power reveals that making more efficient production methods necessitates regular access to water and developing large-scale operations – requirements often in conflict with each other.

For example: The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) states that solar energy production of this nature only becomes cost-effective when it generates 100 megawatts (MW), and you need 5-10 acres of contiguous land for each MW of generating capacity. While you can easily think about large stretches of uninhabited land throughout the world that could be used for huge solar farms (the Sahara Desert is a common example), many of these places lack the necessary water and infrastructure.

But as we’ll read below, the solar energy is actively developing solutions.

4) The Limitations of Solar Energy are Real (but We Can Overcome Them)

As we just discussed, expanding the power and potential of solar energy generation doesn’t come without issues. Some of the more frequent restrictions brought up by fans and critics alike include:

  • You can’t generate solar power at night.
  • You can’t generate solar power in bad weather.
  • Solar energy storage capacity is limited.
  • Electricity is lost when transmitting from large farms to urban centers.
  • Current photovoltaic technology uses rare elements that must be mined.

Thankfully, these concerns are currently being addressed through concentrated research efforts and global cooperation. These projects and recommendations range from installing rooftop solar on all available public buildings and increasing funding to solar power battery storage, to developing recyclable and renewable technology that reduces the mining of rare earth minerals often found only in developing countries across the Global South.

5) You Can Promote Solar Energy Without Installing Solar Panels

Using solar energy in one’s home used to be reserved for a small group of people. Either you could afford to install solar panels on your roof, or you paid a premium for “green electricity” plans from retail electricity providers (REPs). Both were limited options that often hurt the public perception of green energy in general and solar energy specifically. In turn, the limited demand kept the prices high for the technology and electricity generation.

This is what Chariot Energy seeks to change in the Texas electricity industry. This upstart company offers access to affordable solar electricity without needing to install solar panels. By increasing the demand for reliable green energy resources, they bring down both the price of the commodity and technology creating the electricity. Since using 100% solar energy is your home is truly affordable for the first time, you can now do your part to reduce humanity’s dependence on electricity generated by fossil fuels.

And to think that it started with a single photon travelling to Earth.
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