How much do you love a bright, sunny day? We love the warmth and joy of spring and summer days, when the sun emerges from the winter clouds and celebrate the heat it brings. Nearly every American school child can remember the delight of the summer holidays. The sun has many pleasant and positive memories for many of us.
In the current environmentally conscious culture, we constantly look for sources of clean energy. The sun is a great source of conveniently available radiant energy. Humans have been using the sun as an energy source for centuries. More recently, we have developed solar panels to power our electric devices.
Most of us are aware of solar power and energy, but do we understand how it works?
Do you know how the sun produces energy? You don’t need an advanced science degree. You can understand how the sun warms our world and how we can harness its energy to fuel our cars and power the appliances in our houses.
Follow along as we answer your questions about how does the sun produce energy and how we can use it to our benefit.
What Is the Sun Composed of?
Image From NASA
The first thing we need to understand to find out how the sun produces energy, is what the sun is made of.
The sun is made primarily of hydrogen. It probably formed from a nebula that collapsed on itself, creating a star. The hydrogen in the center of this mass became the core of our sun. Because of the nuclear fusion taking place in the core, some of the sun’s hydrogen is turned into helium.
The core produces most of the sun’s radiant energy. As we move outward from the core, the temperature decreases and becomes less dense.
So, how does this ball of hydrogen and helium produce the radiant energy needed to power our world?
How Does the Sun Produce Energy?
Image From Phys Org
The sun produces energy via nuclear fusion. This might sound complex and difficult to understand, but we’re going to boil it down to the basics for you.
Inside the core of the sun, the hydrogen molecules are packed together so densely, they begin to fuse together, forming helium. This process is called nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion produces a lot of energy. Consider the nuclear bomb. The bomb is also a type of nuclear fusion, but much less powerful that the kind of energy produced inside the core of the sun.
If this energy is so powerful, why has the sun not exploded? The pressure of the fusion reactions is balanced by the gravitational pressure of the core keeping itself together.
While we can use nuclear fusion here on earth to power generators, creating enough electricity to power cities, we can also harness the power of the sun. Scientists have discovered many ways we can use the sun’s nuclear fusion energy to power the devices and systems that run our world.
How Can We Collect Solar Energy?
Almost everyone knows about solar panels and how they can be used to collect the sun’s energy. Solar panels work when exposed to the sun’s light. They use the light of the sun to generate electricity.
How does it accomplish this? Solar panels are made of a silicon-based material. When sunlight hits this material, it excites the electrons in the silicon. As the electrons move, they generate electrical energy. This energy can be used to power electronic devices.
We can also use the sun’s thermal heat to generate energy. This is done on a large scale, in solar-thermal power plants.
In basic terms, these plants have a way to collect the heat of the sun and use it to boil water. The boiling water produces steam, which is used to turn turbines, which generate electricity.
How do these power plants collect the sun’s heat? Some use mirrors to concentrate the rays and focus it on a single area. This area has a material like oil or molten salt that collects and retains the heat.
Once we obtain solar energy, how can we use it?
How Can We Use Sun-Produced Energy?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “How does the sun produce energy?” and we know how to collect that energy, how can we use it to our benefit?
Well, energy experts have developed several ways to employ clean solar energy. They continue to work to find more ways to replace more harmful energy sources, such as coal and fossil fuels in all their applications.
Some of the ways we can use solar energy include the following:
- Solar Panels: Solar panels can be installed on buildings to provide electricity. They can also be installed on trains or cars and used to provide energy for propulsion. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, they can be attached to flashlights, speakers, phone chargers, and radios.
- Solar-Thermal Power Plants: Like nuclear and hydro power plants, solar-thermal power plants can supply thousands of homes and businesses with electricity.
- Heat-Absorbing Materials: Heat-absorbing materials can be used in buildings to collect the heat of the sun during the day and heat the building at night. Heat-absorbent materials can also be used to heat water in lieu of a gas water heater.
The world of solar energy is ever expanding, and consumers can take steps of their own to start using solar power. Homeowners can install solar panels on their own home to reduce energy costs over time. They can also install solar-powered water heaters and pool heaters.
You can find ways to easily incorporate solar-powered devices into your daily routine, but you should carefully weigh the positive and negative aspects of this technology.
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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy?
As with any form of energy, solar energy has advantages and disadvantages. We must consider how difficult it is to collect the energy produced by the sun.
Some Advantages of Sun Energy
Many environmentally conscious consumers favor solar energy because it’s far cleaner than other types of energy. Any source of energy able to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is worthwhile. Solar energy can be used to do anything from heat water to power a vehicle.
In contrast to fossil fuels, solar energy is inexhaustible. The sun will produce energy for many lifetimes to come. It is reliably consistent, since the sun comes up every day. Even when it’s cloudy, some solar energy is available.
Another benefit to solar energy is the financial benefits you can get when you use it. Some cities will buy excess power from buildings and residences with solar panels. In some places, you can get tax incentives, rebates, or grants for installing solar panels.
Additionally, solar panels are versatile and can be installed almost anywhere. A well-made solar panel can be durable and last for many years. This means you can have power in remote or inaccessible locations.
Some Disadvantages of Sun Energy
Despite the positive aspects of solar power, it does have downsides, like any energy source. However, many disadvantages of solar energy are simply inconveniences and can be dealt with by using forethought and making plans.
For example, solar power requires battery storage. For obvious reasons, solar energy can’t be collected at night. Therefore, you need a solar energy system that will store a reserve of energy in batteries. This can be used to create energy at night, after the sun has set.
Also, installation of solar panels can be costly, and they can require a lot of space. If you need a lot of power, you’ll also need a lot of space to install the panels. You’ll also need the funds to pay for installation.
Some may encounter resistance from neighbors when they install solar panels because some people find the panels ugly, especially if you need to install a lot of them.
What’s more, energy experts say solar energy has yet to become as efficient as it needs to be. This isn’t just about how much space solar panels need to collect sun-produced energy. Even though sun energy can still be collected on cloudy days, the amount of energy collected on a cloudy day is greatly reduced.
Similarly, solar energy production is reduced during the winter months, as well.
Furthermore, solar power isn’t used as efficiently as other forms of energy. Solar powered cars have yet to catch on because they can’t move as fast as cars that run on fossil fuels.
Why Should You Use Sun Produced Energy?
Despite the disadvantages to sun energy, it’s becoming more popular. Concern over the long-term impact of more destructive energy sources, such as fossil fuels have driven the market toward solar power and other environmentally friendly energy sources.
Now that you understand how the sun produces energy and how we can use it to our benefit, you know there’s virtually no limit to the versatility and quantity of energy we can get from the sun. As researchers develop more ways for us to capture sun-produced energy, we will be able to harness more of the sun’s power to benefit our world.