|Tapping the Sun's life-sustaining energy is more than using the light and heat that we see and feel. It is conversion from solar energy to electricity that powers our homes, cars, and the computer that enables you to observe this web site. The area of solar energy is so broad that to cover all of the information that those two simple words cover would take many books. Fortunately that is not what we did. We have broken the solar energy section down into the 8 basic types of solar energy and provided a brief synopsis of each of the types of solar energy on this page.||
Photosynthesis - Sunlight provides energy through photosynthesis. This energy is recoverable through burning of wood and fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas which are created through the process of photosynthesis.
Wind Energy - Sunlight heating the ground and lower atmosphere produces the wind which powers wind turbines.
Hydroelectric power - Sunlight stored as the gravitational energy of water through the water cycle can be extracted with dams and electric generators. Hydroelectric power is renewable and considered a "clean" energy since no burning is required, but it is limited in quantity.
Hydroelectric power station Baie James,
Hydroelectric Dam Diagram
Ocean Energy - The use of the ocean tides have been harnessed to make electricity along with a variety of other methods which make use of the motions and thermal gradients in the ocean. The temperature difference between the sun-warmed surface layers of the ocean and the colder depths through the use of a heat engine can derive useful energy, in a process called ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). This technology is complex, therefore limiting the use of the tremendous amount of stored energy in the ocean thermal gradients.
Picture of an OTEC power plant
Passive Solar Heating - Direct heating of a building by maximizing the solar gain in the winter and minimizing it in the summer is called passive solar heating. Designs of northern homes and buildings use rock, water, and other materials to store solar heat in the day to release later at night.
Active Solar Heating - In contrast to passive solar heating is active space and water heating. A water or air solar collector is used to heat a fluid that is used as the heating system or water heater for a building. In larger active thermal power generating systems, focused mirrors are used to concentrate and direct the sunlight into a boiler that produces steam to generate electricity.
Electric Photovoltaic Cells - Sunlight can be converted directly into electricity with a photovoltaic cell, or "solar cell." Solar cells, which have no moving parts, are expensive, but are an ideal method too directly, convert sunlight into electricity. Today's typical calculator uses a solar cell for it's power.
©Copyright 1998 Elizabeth
Beckett, Holly Bernitt, and Vishwa Chandra.