Although solar power is regarded as a fairly recent technology and one of the most viable renewable power sources, it is something which has actually been with humans in one form or another since ancient times. Solar energy is considered to be the ability to harness heat and radiant light from the sun. This was used in ancient architecture to align buildings with the sun for religious reasons along with allowing heating and lighting to be effective in the structure. Today of course our concept of solar energy is completely different with the development of solar power panels to convert radiant light to electricity.
Passive Solar Energy
Passive solar energy is one of the types that has been used in ancient times and can be easily explained with the exampled of a green house. This process works by capturing sunlight using typically glass and a reflective interior to distribute the light throughout a structure. When building with the intention of using passive solar power it is important to take into consideration the sun’s location by season because the winter’s sun angle is typically different from the summer’s sun angle. Although electricity is not produced during this process heat energy can be distributed throughout a building without requiring the use of electricity thus providing conservation for the power grid.
Active Solar Energy
Active solar energy is what is commonly thought of when one ponders about how solar power works which includes photovoltaic systems. Converting sunlight to electricity through the use of solar panels is referred to as a photovoltaic system. This type of system can be applied to a structure like a home or office building to produce energy for the building or it can be used on a device such as a calculator to power just an appliance in a building.
How does solar power work?
Light contains energy which is released when its photons collide with an object which can usually be felt in the form of heat. It was discovered however that certain objects instead produce an electric current rather than heat when sunlight collides with it, one of these being silicon. When light hits an object it will normally speed up the particles and cause them to “jiggle” in place which is felt as heat to humans. Silicon however reacts in a completely different manner by actually having the crystals move instead of vibrate in one place. The movement of these silicon crystals can be used to generate electricity. The problem with using silicon is that it is a costly material and is very expensive to grow larger crystals require to capture solar energy for the conversion into electricity.
Newer developments have allowed a wider array of cheaper and more effective materials to be used to capture power from our sun. One of the leading materials used today is copper-indium-gallium-selenide which utilizes smaller crystals allowing it to be thinner and easier to apply onto surfaces. This can be used in flexible film strips which can be applied to a variety of surfaces to capture power. This substance, although easier and more cost efficient to produce is not as effective as the silicon versions of solar technology.