Solar energy is a vast source of power naturally produced by the Sun. Solar energy production usually refers to the scientific and technological pursuits of harnessing solar energy in usable form. In the 21st century, solar energy production has become a major focus of research and development, as dwindling fossil fuel supplies have led to a critical search for alternative energy sources.
The development of advanced forms of solar energy production has risen to prominence thanks to several reasons. For most of the 20th century, power generation has relied almost solely on the use of finite resources, such as coal, gasoline, and oil. These resources, though closely tied to human advancement, have the disadvantage of being both non-sustainable and heavily polluting. Additionally, the instability of supply and demand within the oil market has led to an outcry for more accessible, fairly distributed energy resources. Solar energy, in addition to being inexhaustible through use and completely non-polluting, is well-distributed across the globe. Solar energy production is possible on a large scale, such as from power plants, but anyone with a few solar panels and a battery can create a person solar energy production plant.
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The most basic form of solar energy production is known as passive solar energy. Passive solar technology usually relies simply on amplifying the warmth of sunlight and using it in place of traditional heating elements such as gas heaters or fires. Solar discs in swimming pools and passive solar housing are two common examples of this form of solar energy production.
Active solar power production can be far more complicated. Solar thermal concentration and photovoltaics are two major systems frequently used for large-scale solar energy production. Thermal concentration involves the use of mirrors to vastly increase the heat received from the sun. This heat can then be converted into electricity and stored for later use. Photovoltaic solar power uses cells composed of materials that generate electricity when hit with sunlight, such as certain forms of silicon. The electric power created can be stored in large batteries, providing a consistent power supply.
In the early 21st century, technology has not yet mastered solar power production on a large scale. While single-home or building systems are in use all over the world, the creation of efficient large power plants that rely on solar energy hasn't been fully perfected. Early solar power plants take up an immense amount of space, due to the large amount of cells or thermal concentration troughs needed to power a large station. Additionally, a tremendous amount of power is lost when transferred over distances, making the process somewhat inefficient. Nevertheless, solar energy production is on the rise throughout the world, with many nations vowing to vastly increase solar power use throughout the next century.