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A basic definition of solar power refers to energy obtained from the sun. The sun is an unregulated and environmentally friendly energy source that is used globally in numerous ways.
Solar energy has a wide range of application such as the heating and cooling of buildings, cooking food and heating water. In order to utilize solar power, the energy must first be collected and transformed into a usable state because solar energy arrives at the earth’s surface in a widely-diffused form of radiation. It is necessary to collect and convert the radiation into heat energy that may be stored in receptors such as batteries or used to energize devices that are powered by heat.
There are several methods of collecting solar energy and converting it into forms that are usable. A conversion system may include a collector which is designed to absorb the solar radiation and tubes that transfer the radiation to a carrier such as a gas or liquid. This carrier then transports the heat to storage sites or to devices that use heat energy.
The use of mirrored surfaces is another means of concentrating and directing sunlight to receptors that absorb the heat. Solar cells or photovoltaics (PV) are semiconductors that are employed to absorb radiation which is then converted into solar electricity. Small amounts of heat and electricity travel through the semiconductors to provide power to other devices. Single solar cells provide small electrical currents at low voltages. In order to generate enough electricity to power large devices such as space satellites, it is necessary to use solar panels. Solar panels are made up of numerous solar cells that are joined together.
The use of solar energy has both positive and negative impacts globally. Among the advantages of using solar power is the fact that it is an eco-friendly energy source due to its sustainability, renewability and cleanliness. Solar power does not release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere unlike such energy sources as coal, oil or gas. Solar energy is also economical in that it does not use fuels or generate radioactive wastes that require costly clean-up methods.
There are several disadvantages in using solar energy. For example, installing solar energy systems can be very costly initially. System reliability is dependent upon the position of the sun at any given time. Overcoming this negative may require the addition of expensive devices to the system. Power is produced only during the daytime and the system must be supplemented devices such as backup batteries. The fact that solar power can be reduced by the presence of pollution in the atmosphere may help the argument for wider use of solar energy versus the use of fuels that harm the environment.