What is Alternative Solar Energy?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Many people think of alternative solar energy as a new technology, but humans have been using this process to heat homes and baths for thousands of years. Alternative solar energy refers to energy from the sun that can be captured and used just like energy created by fossil fuels. The great benefit of solar energy is that its source, the sun, is not diminished by use of the energy, therefore making this type of power system sustainable.

Solar panels pointed at the sun to absorb solar energy.
Solar panels pointed at the sun to absorb solar energy.

There are several different methods of collecting and using alternative solar energy. One of the best known is photovoltaic cells, usually seen as solar panels. Solar panels can be a very good means of collecting solar energy, but do have some drawbacks. While panels have the advantage of quickly turning absorbed solar radiation into usable energy, they are extremely inefficient. This means that much of the potential power of absorbed light is lost in the transfer process.

Thermal solar energy is primarily used to create heat, such as for homes, baths, and swimming pools. In a thermal system, the collected energy is used to heat a fluid, which then passes through a pipe system where it mixes with water, generating steam. Steam is then passed through a turbine system, which turns it into usable energy. Despite sounding like a more complex process than photovoltaic systems use, thermal alternative solar energy is often far more efficient and is able to retain and use more of the collected energy directly for heating.

To solve the problem of somewhat inefficient collection and transfer system, alternative energy scientists have been trying for many years to perfect space solar power, or SSP systems. Space solar power would use large solar panels in orbit above the Earth, which would be able to collect energy normally dispersed when sunlight passes through the Earth's atmosphere. Additionally, Earth-based power can only be collected during daylight, whereas orbiting satellites would be able to collect energy around the clock. The system has yet to be perfected, but many experts claim it may be the efficiency solution of the future.

Alternative solar energy, however it is collected, can do anything fossil fuel energy can do, with far less pollution involved. The production of solar energy creates no greenhouse gases and does not add pollution to nearby air or water. In addition, since solar energy is a sustainable energy source, humans do not risk draining natural resources and running out by using it.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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