The sun does more than for our planet than just provide light during the daytime – each particle of sunlight (called a photon) that reaches Earth contains energy that fuels our planet. Solar energy is the ultimate source responsible for all of our weather systems and energy sources on Earth!
Enough solar radiation hits the surface of the planet each hour to theoretically fill our global energy needs for an entire complete year.
Where does all of this energy come from? Our sun, like any star in the galaxy, is like a massive nuclear reactor, which produces heat, light, UV, and more. Deep in the Sun’s core, nuclear fusion reactions produce massive amounts of energy that radiates outward from the Sun’s surface and into space in the form of light and heat.
Solar power can be harnessed and converted to usable energy using photovoltaics or solar thermal collectors. Although solar energy only accounts for a small amount of overall global energy use, the falling cost of installing solar panels means that more and more people in more places can take advantage of solar energy. Solar is a clean, renewable energy resource, and figures to play an important part in the global energy future.
A common way for property owners to take advantage of solar energy is with a photovoltaic (PV) solar system. With a solar PV system, solar panels convert sunlight right into electricity that can be used immediately, stored in a solar battery, or sent to the electric grid for credits on your electric bill.
Solar panels convert solar energy into usable electricity through a process known as the photovoltaic effect. Incoming sunlight strikes a semiconductor material (typically silicon) and knocks electrons loose, setting them in motion and generating an electric current that can be captured with wiring. This current is known as direct current (DC) electricity and must be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity using a solar inverter. This conversion is necessary because the U.S. electric grid operates using AC electricity, as do most household electric appliances.
Solar energy can be captured at many scales using photovoltaics, and installing solar panels is a smart way to save money on your electric bill while reducing your dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels. Large companies and electric utilities can also benefit from photovoltaic solar energy generation by installing large solar arrays that can power company operations or supply energy to the electric grid.