Sunlight is a clean and renewable energy source. It also has the potential to reduce global warming and increase energy independence.
Solar power can be used on a local scale for electricity generation or for heating water. It’s less disruptive to the environment than fossil fuels and doesn’t produce toxins during manufacturing or operation.
The sun’s gravity keeps Earth in orbit, but it also radiates energy, including light and heat. Solar energy collects this energy and converts it into electricity. This power can be used immediately, stored in batteries or transmitted to other locations using technology such as power beaming.
The most familiar form of solar energy is solar panels, which use photovoltaic cells to turn sunlight into direct current electricity. An inverter then turns this DC electricity into alternating current, the type of electricity most appliances use. Solar storage solutions like batteries store surplus electricity for use at night and help offset a variable output from solar panels.
Solar energy can be used to produce either heat or electricity, though most people are more familiar with systems that provide warm water, such as those found in homes and businesses in many parts of the world. PPPL researchers are working on a different kind of solar power: one that generates electricity without producing greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
Solar energy uses radiant light and heat to generate renewable or “green” electricity. This is done through photovoltaic cells that are arranged edge-to-edge in solar panels (you see these on the roofs of homes and businesses, as well as at power stations). These semiconductor materials absorb the sun’s rays and knock electrons loose from their atoms to create electricity.
These electrons flow through metal contacts on the top and bottom of the panel to produce electricity, which can then be used to power devices like calculators and road signs, or to run traditional electricity-generating turbines at large solar power plants. Solar thermal energy harnesses the sun’s heat for space and water heating, and can be combined with photovoltaics to provide a more efficient overall system.
Unlike fossil fuels, renewables do not emit greenhouse gases during energy production. This makes solar energy a clean, sustainable, and “green” option. It also does not contaminate soil and water ecosystems, and doesn’t emit harmful air contaminants that can cause diseases such as heart disease, cancer and asthma.
Solar energy uses renewable resources to produce electricity, eliminating carbon emissions that cause global warming. Each kilowatt-hour of solar power creates less than one kilogram of CO2. The lack of carbon emissions from this source is good news for human health, as air pollutants can cause asthma, heart disease and cancer.
Solar Energy converts sunlight directly into electricity through photovoltaic (or PV) technology, which involves a grid of solar panels arranged edge-to-edge. When the Sun’s rays hit these cells, they loosen electrons that generate electric current, which then powers devices like home appliances.
Some people worry that cloudy weather or wintertime will prevent them from reaping the benefits of this alternative energy source, but it’s possible to harness this power even in areas with inclement conditions. You just need to have adequate battery backups, as well as plan for the sun’s unavailability during certain times of the year.
The energy generated by a solar power system is clean and can be used to run appliances in the home or sold back to the grid. This can help homeowners save money and protect the environment.
Solar power is also environmentally friendly, as it produces no greenhouse gasses and does not contribute to global warming. However, it’s important to consider all of the pros and cons of using this renewable energy source before making a decision.
Since Thomas Edison’s time, scientists and inventors have believed that the sun’s rays could provide all of humanity’s energy needs. This is the concept that this exhibit explores, through objects from the Smithsonian’s collections as well as new acquisitions. It shows the imaginative ideas that have fueled the development of this green technology. It also highlights how the use of solar energy can make a difference to your electric meter reading, which is an indication of how much electricity you are consuming.