Solar power energy is the result of running absorbed sunlight through a system designed to create electrical currents or transfer heat. As one of many renewable energy sources being explored in the 21st century, many experts believe that solar power energy has the potential to be a major factor in the replacement of unsustainable fossil fuel use. Solar power energy is already in use around the globe, quietly taking clean, plentiful energy from the sun and using it to heat and power gadgets, homes, businesses and even whole communities.
There are two main forms of solar power energy: thermal and photovoltaic. Both uses are currently the subject of much research and discovery in the advent of global warming and a vanishing supply of fossil fuels. The renewable energy available from the sun can be processed to do just about anything that other forms of heat and electricity can manage. Since the sun is a fairly reliable source of energy in sunnier places, this makes solar power energy a key player in the future of energy technology and use.
Thermal solar power energy is used to generate heat. Commonly found in solar-heated pools, water heaters, and home heating systems, thermal energy works by absorbing heat from the sun and transferring it to another medium. A basic thermal power system used for water heaters consists of absorbent solar panels connected to tubes in which liquid or antifreeze can circulate. As the sun heats the panels, the panels in turn heat the circulating water, which then can transfer the heat to household water. In solar pools, small discs can sit on the surface of the water, absorbing sunlight and transferring the heat to the pool water.
For more expansive solar power energy production, photovoltaic systems come into play. Photovoltaic systems convert sunlight into energy through the use of solar panels. When sunlight hits the panels, electrons in the panel material rise to an excited state and bounce off additional panel layers. The action of the electrons creates an electrical current, which can then be channeled through an inverting system and used just like any other electricity.
It is a common mistake to think that photovoltaic-generated energy can only be used while the sun is out. In fact, most photovoltaic systems use batteries that can store solar energy throughout the day, allowing it to be used even when the sun is not out. Photovoltaic solar power energy is an important technology, as it requires sunlight rather than heat. This means that cooler climates can still generate solar power as long as they receive sufficient light from the sun.
Although solar energy is rapidly gaining in popularity, it still remains a relatively minor source of the world's power. Some countries, such as Spain, Japan, Australia and the United States, are making strong efforts to incorporate photovoltaic systems into large-scale power grids to reduce fossil fuel use. Yet small scale solar grids are also becoming popular installation in new and retrofitted homes. In the United States alone, some estimates suggest that over 10,000 homes are now largely or completely run on solar power energy.