Explain it like I’m 5: How Does Solar Power Work?
Solar power is positioned to be one of the main energy sources of the future- along with wind turbine power, hydro power and a host of other green, natural sources of energy. But, at the same time, solar power has come under much scrutiny and criticism because the technology is viewed by some as being inefficient, insufficient, ineffective and very expensive.
The United States government has attempted many times to get solar power into the mainstream on energy use in homes and businesses around the country; but, for the most part, the attempts have been unsuccessful.
The most recent example was the case of Solyndra, which was a solar power company that was heavily sub subsidized by federal government funds. The business went bankrupt and the hopes of solar power entering the mainstream, in the near future, were crushed in the process. But, you can bet that it will not be the last time we see solar power, and sure enough, as the technology gets better and better over time, solar power will eventually be a main source of energy in the future.
Obviously, the sun is the source of energy for solar powers. The sun contains so much power, which just needs to be stored, harvested and converted into electrical energy. That is the basic idea behind solar power, in a nutshell. Energy from the sun is free and it is one of the cleanest sources of energy known to man. We have all heard about how we may be running out of fossil fuel, but the sun will be around for a long, long time- we can feel assured by that.
How the Energy from the Sun Can Be Used
There are two main ways in which solar energy can be used: heat and electricity. The heat energy is called solar thermal energy. Heat from the sun can be used in much the same way as a water heater or electric heater: it can heat the air and it can heat the water. The electricity from the sun is called solar cell energy. This is the most common type of energy associated with solar because of the familiarity people have with solar panels, which can be placed on roofs and other places where the sun shines the most.
Solar Thermal Power Plants
These are the places that store solar energy, turn it into electricity, and then unleash it upon the masses. These plants work by capturing the heat and energy from the sun, and then put that heat and energy into water, which then turns to steam. The steam is then used to power generators, which can create energy outputs on a very large scale. The largest plant of this type is in the Mojave Desert of California, where there are 9 plants that cover more than 1,000 acres.