How Does Solar Energy Work?

Most of us know that solar energy is good – it is non polluting, renewable, sustainable and virtually inexhaustible and that after the initial outlay of buying and installing solar batteries, this energy source is virtually free. We probably have a vague idea that the those solar panels on rooftops and elsewhere soak up the sun’s rays by day and transform them into energy for lighting up homes, for boilers and our other energy needs.

Solar energy is not only clean and green; it is also a practical solution for remote places or places that are off the grid. But how exactly does solar energy work? How do the rays of the sun help to turn on a light bulb at night or heat water or turn the blades of a fan?

Solar cells or photovoltaic batteries

Whether it is a solar power calculator or massive solar energy systems in the desert, they work in the same basic manner. Photovoltaic batteries or solar batteries help generate energy for our various energy needs and helping power various appliances. The word photovoltaic comes from photo which means light and voltaic which means electricity.


So simply put, the solar energy works by converting the sun’s light energy into useable electricity; converting photons into electrons. This is done with the help of semiconductors built into a structure or frame which we recognize as a solar cell. The material most commonly used for making these semiconductors is silicon or rather silicon crystals which absorb the sunlight and store this energy for immediate or later use.

Concentrated solar power

This is another way in which solar power can be utilized for our energy needs. Here, lenses or mirrors are used to concentrate sun beams. Large areas of the sun’s thermal or heat energy are condensed into a smaller area. This produces electrical power that can help drive steam turbines and this steam creates what is known as solar thermoelectricity.

Solar power is an evolving field

While a lot of research and development has gone into harnessing the power of the sun for our domestic and industrial needs, there is still a long way to go before it can be a widely used, cost effective solution. As it is, solar energy is still in a nascent stage and far more research is required before it can replace traditional energy sources. If for instance we can figure out a way to harness sunlight in the same way that plants use it for photosynthesis, we would be able to increase use of solar energy exponentially.

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