Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on Earth. It can be captured and used in several ways, and as a renewable energy source, is an important part of our clean energy future. Deep in the Sun’s core, nuclear fusion reactions produce massive amounts of energy that radiates outward from the Sun’s surface and into space in the form of light and heat.

Solar is a safe alternative which can replace current fossil fuels like coal and gas for generation of electricity that produce air, water, and land pollution. World Wide Fund For Nature, also known as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), notes that electricity generation from fossil fuels causes pollution of air leading to acid rain, damaged forest areas, and affected agricultural production.

Harnessing solar energy for usable power

There are many ways to use energy from the sun. The two main ways to use energy from the sun are photovoltaics and solar thermal capture. Photovoltaics are much more common for smaller-scale electricity projects (like residential solar panel installations), and solar thermal capture is typically only used for electricity production on massive scales in utility solar installations. In addition to producing electricity, lower temperature variations of solar thermal projects can be used for heating and cooling.

Solar is one of the fastest growing and cheapest sources of power in the world, and will continue to spread rapidly in the coming years. With solar panel technology improving each year, the economic benefits of solar improve, adding to the environmental perks of choosing a clean, renewable energy source.

Photovoltaic solar energy

A common way to take advantage of solar energy is with a photovoltaic (PV) solar system. With a solar PV system, solar panels convert sunlight right into electricity that can be used immediately, stored in a solar battery, or sent to the electric grid for credits on your electric bill.

Solar thermal

A second way to use solar energy is to capture the heat from solar radiation directly and use that heat in a variety of ways. Solar thermal energy has a broader range of uses than a photovoltaic system, but using solar thermal energy for electricity generation at small scales is not as practical as using photovoltaics.

There are three general types of solar thermal energy used: low-temperature, used for heating and cooling; mid-temperature, used for heating water; and high-temperature, used for electrical power generation.