The sun: a clean, reliable, renewable energy source
In 1839, Edmond Becquerel first observed the photovoltaic effect: the creation of electrical energy in a material upon exposure to light. But the world would have to wait until the conquest of space in the 1960s and the oil crisis of the 1970s for solar technology to be fully understood, developed and mastered. Today, with sustainable development a growing concern, solar energy is increasingly being seen as a viable solution to our energy needs.
Solar energy is produced as a result of nuclear fusion within the sun. This energy travels outward into space in the form of rays. The sun’s rays transmit two main forms of energy:
– thermal energy, or heat, which we have always used to heat our homes and greenhouses, for example. This “passive solar gain” can result in significant energy savings.
– light energy, in the form of photons, which can be converted to electricity using certain materials that naturally release electrons when exposed to light. This phenomenon, known as the “photovoltaic effect” is the basis of all solar energy systems.
The effectiveness of a solar energy system depends on a number of factors: the number of hours of sunshine, the season, weather conditions, albedo (the reflecting power of the surrounding surface), etc. Solar panels are always tilted and oriented to capture a maximum of light.
The sun is a highly stable and predictable resource, which makes solar technology correspondingly reliable and easy to use. And because the sun’s energy is converted directly into electricity by a semiconductor, and requires no fuel or moving parts, it creates no pollution. As a result, solar energy is one of the cleanest, most renewable forms of energy around.