What is Solar Electric Energy?

Mitch Morgan

Solar electric energy refers to power derived from the sun’s radiation that is used to generate electricity. Since ancient times, the sun’s heat and light has been harnessed in many ways. Only within recent decades, however, have technologies like the photovoltaic or solar cell allowed solar energy to help power electrically dependent equipment, vehicles, and even entire homes. Since it is a renewable resource, solar energy is generally favored over non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and oil. In addition, most solar technologies used to collect and convert solar electric energy have no moving parts, and emit no noise or pollutants, making them an attractive alternative energy source to fossil fuels.

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

Some applications of solar technology include sustainable architecture, agriculture, and water treatment. Depending on the way these technologies capture, convert, and distribute solar energy, they are considered either active or passive solar. Photovoltaic and solar thermal units are considered active solar, as these devices directly collect, convert, and distribute the sun’s energy as electric power. Passive solar methods might include home designs that incorporate the presence of abundant sunlight to provide both natural light and heat within a structure.

A closeup of a solar panel.
A closeup of a solar panel.

Countries throughout the world have begun to adopt solar electric energy as a fossil fuel alternative. While the installation costs of solar power plants like photovoltaic arrays and solar troughs may be considerable, the long-term benefits of solar electric energy include less dependence on non-renewable resources, and therefore fewer pollutants or byproducts. Solar electric energy is an intermittent source of energy, which means one may easily forecast when the sun will and will not generate energy in specific regions. This ability has helped solar engineers and devise the best technologies and locations for harnessing the most amount of solar energy.

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Aside from the use of solar electric energy to power, heat and cool a home, there are various other applications of solar energy. Continents including Australia and the United States have held competitions since the 1980s to construct solar-powered cars that can achieve average speeds of almost 60 mph (96.56 kph). There have been similar competitions held for solar-powered boats and other vehicles.

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