Ecology

What is solar energy

Since energy is one of the main sectors that contributes the most to climate change, it is time that we begin to replace fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with other alternatives. Luckily, there are other sources of energy that do not generate as much impact on the environment, one of them is energy from the sun.

What is the energy of the sun and what is it for

In this section we will develop what the sun’s energy is, what it is for and its types. To better understand the subject, we will divide the content into three parts. Let’s get started!

What is the energy of the sun

Energy from the sun, also called solar energy, is radiant energy from the Sun that reaches planet Earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation . It is generated by nuclear fusion reactions. It is worth mentioning that solar energy is a type of renewable energy, therefore, it is considered a type of clean energy, that is, it does not generate pollutants (or at least not as many as those produced by non-renewable energies), and it is inexhaustible, at least on the human timescale.

Types of solar energy

The sun’s energy can be divided into two types according to how it is used:

  • Solar thermal energy : here the energy from the sun is transformed into thermal energy, also called heat energy.
  • Photovoltaic solar energy: in this case, solar energy is transformed into electrical energy from so-called solar panels.

What is solar energy for

Regarding the uses of solar energy, we cannot fail to mention its biological importance since all living beings that inhabit planet Earth need solar energy to live. In principle, the rays that strike the planet, among other factors, increase the temperature of the Earth’s surface, making life on Earth possible. Also, they allow to regulate the temperature of those ectothermic organisms, such as reptiles that are not capable of regulating their own temperature. In addition, using energy from the sun, autotrophic organisms (that is, plants, algae and cyanobacteria) carry out photosynthesis, a key process within the food chain.

On the other hand, the sun’s energy can be used for people’s daily activities, replacing the fossil energy sources that are typically used. Let’s see here how solar energy can be harnessed.

  • Electricity: possibly the most widespread use. As we mentioned before, thanks to solar panels, the sun’s energy is transformed into electricity. This electricity can be used to supply a home or other type of building, as well as for public lighting, traffic lights and more.
  • Means of transport: since there are already means of transport whose fuel is electricity, the electricity produced from the sun’s energy can be used as fuel.
  • Heating: in this case solar thermal energy is used. In this way, solar energy can be used to air-condition rooms and avoid the use of other fuels.
  • Artificial irrigation: here solar water pumps are used with which crops are irrigated from the energy generated by solar panels.

How does solar energy work

As we have seen in the previous section, there are two types of solar energy and each of them works in a different way. In the next two items we will talk about how photovoltaic and thermal solar energy is obtained .

  • Photovoltaic solar energy is one in which the sun’s energy is transformed into electricity from photovoltaic panels or solar panels. This transformation occurs thanks to the silicon in the photovoltaic cells that are part of the panels. When cells receive sunlight, electrons move and generate an electrical current, known as the photovoltaic effect.
  • In solar thermal energy, that energy from the sun that is transformed into heat energy, panels called thermal solar panels are also used. These panels absorb and concentrate the sun’s energy in order to heat some type of fluid that will later be used, for example, to heat rooms.

Advantages and disadvantages of solar energy

Like any energy source, energy from the sun has certain advantages and disadvantages. We will develop both below.

Advantages of solar energy

  • It is an inexhaustible source of energy.
  • It is a source of clean energy, since it does not generate waste or negative impacts on the environment.
  • It allows to produce energy even in places where there is no electricity grid.
  • In the long term it is cheaper than other types of energy.
  • The facilities do not require much maintenance.

Disadvantages of solar energy

  • Solar energy is not constant, it depends on the time of day and geographic location.
  • Being discontinuous, solar accumulators are needed to store energy.
  • Harvesting systems, such as solar panels, occupy considerable surfaces.
  • Although it is economical in the long term, initial investments are required.

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