Category Archives for Solar Energy Basics

Solar Energy Basics

solar flare

Solar is the Latin word for sun - a powerful source of energy that can be used to power our homes and our general environment. More energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in a year. The most commonly used solar technologies used today are: solar water heating, passive solar design for space heating and cooling, and solar photovoltaics for electricity (the products featured on this website utilize photovoltaics as their energy/electricity source).

The solar industry is changing rapidly as it experiences unprecedented growth and is used as an alternative, in part, to nonrenewable energy sources such as fossil fuels. Here are 6 facts that may surprise you about this increasingly popular source of energy, according to the Department of Energy.

  • 1. California's Mojave Desert is home to Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, the world's largest operating solar thermal energy plant. It uses concentrating solar power (CSP) technology to focus 173,500 heliostates, each containing two mirrors, onto boilers located in three power towers. The plant, which came online in 2014, has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts (MW).**
  • 2. As prices continue to fall, solar energy is increasingly becoming an economical energy choice for American homeowners and businesses. Still, the biggest hurdle to affordable solar energy remains the soft costs -- like permitting, zoning and hooking a solar system up to the power grid.
  • 3. Today, demand for solar in the United States is at an all-time high. The amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased more than 23 times over the past eight years -- from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2008 to an estimated 27.4 GW at the end of 2015. The U.S. is currently the third-largest solar market in the world and is positioned to become the second.
  • 4. The space industry was an early adopter of solar technology. In the 1950s, the space industry began to use solar technology to provide power aboard spacecraft. The Vanguard 1 -- the first artificial earth satellite powered by solar cells - remains the oldest manmade satellite in orbit -- logging more than 6 billion miles.
  • 5. The first silicon solar cell, the precursor of all solar-powered devices, was built by Bell Laboratories in 1954. On the first page of its April 26, 1954 issue, The New York Times proclaimed the milestone, "the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of manking's most cherished dreams -- the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization."
  • 6. Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth -- 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That's more than 10,000 times the world's total energy use.

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** How many homes 1 megawatt (MW) of solar generated power can supply is somewhat controversial and would seem to vary. The best estimate that I could find was 650 homes/1 MW. That would translate to 650 homes/1 MW X 392 megawatts = 254,800 homes could be potentially supplied by this California plant; which in my mind is quite impressive.