The sun provides us with a constant energy source.
In this video lesson, you’ll learn how we can harness solar power from the sun. We’ll also take a look at the pros and cons of this renewable energy resource.
What Is Solar Power?
Sunlight is quite possibly the most important form of energy available to us on Earth. It warms our planet, which makes life possible. Plants use it as food when they photosynthesize. They turn sunlight into chemical energy, which then provides us with energy when we eat the plants.
Solar energy can also be harnessed as a renewable energy power source. Renewable energy resources are energy sources that regenerate in a short amount of time, allowing them to be used over and over again. There are two main ways that we can harness solar power: passively and actively.Passive solar power is when solar energy is collected passively through absorption. Most often, this is achieved when buildings are designed to maximize their absorption of sunlight. Passive solar power takes advantage of what’s already there – buildings already sit in direct sunlight, so why not put them to work? This would be like you going to stand in the sun to warm up on a cold day.
You’ll get warm just standing out there, but you’ll get even warmer if you put on dark clothing. Because you can build on what’s already available, this is a fairly effective and efficient way to utilize solar power.In contrast, active solar power is when solar energy is actively focused, moved, or stored with technological devices. These devices not only collect the solar power reaching Earth but work hard to maximize its potential by transporting it as electricity or storing it for later use. Solar energy can be magnified when it is collected over a large area and then concentrated into a smaller area.
A satellite dish on a house works the same way – the dish itself is wide in order to collect the signal and then that signal gets focused in a central point and sent to your TV. When solar power is actively collected, it can be concentrated and magnified so much that it provides a power source for thousands of homes and other buildings in the area.
Pros and Cons of Solar Power
Solar power provides many benefits as an energy source:
- Because the sun will be around for another four to five billion years, there’s really no end to the energy it will supply.
- Solar power is also fairly inexpensive, because, as mentioned before, it can be collected by structures that are already in place. Small changes (like putting on dark clothing to maximize your heat collection in the sun) can make a big difference. Even the technology that actively collects and harnesses solar power is becoming more widespread and less expensive to produce.
- Solar power is also a no-emissions form of energy production.
Unlike burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, solar power doesn’t create air and water pollution.
Solar power does have its downsides, though:
- While solar power itself doesn’t produce pollution, the technology and products that collect solar power do require the use of fossil fuels in production. However, once the collection devices are up and running, no further emissions are produced.
- A major issue with solar power is that the sun has to be shining in order to collect its energy. Some places are just sunnier than others, so not everyone can harness the power of the sun in the same way. Places like Washington State would have a much harder time harnessing enough solar power throughout the year than somewhere like Florida, which is known as the ‘Sunshine State’ for a reason! However, even daily or seasonal variation in sunlight can affect how much solar power is collected. So, while it’s a powerful source of energy, it’s not always consistent or reliable, and a backup may be needed.
- The biggest disadvantage of solar power is the upfront cost of solar collecting products. While manufacturing costs have gone down in recent years, the upfront costs are still pretty high compared with other energy resources, like fossil fuels. It’s like building a building versus keeping the building up and running. Constructing the building takes a lot of time and money up front, but once it’s built, it doesn’t cost that much to maintain it. However, those upfront costs can deter you from building in the first place if they’re high enough!
The sun is a powerful source of energy for Earth.
Each day, the sun is going to shine on us, so we may as well put that energy to good use! We collect solar power in two ways: passively and actively. Passive solar power is solar energy that is collected passively through absorption. Buildings and other structures that are already sitting directly in the sun can be modified to make them better at absorbing (and then utilizing) that energy. Active solar power is when solar energy is focused, moved, or stored with technological devices. Like a satellite dish on your roof, these devices focus all of the sun’s rays that they can collect and concentrate it into a central location. This magnifies the amount of energy available, which can then be sent off through power lines as electricity that will power homes and other buildings.
Solar power is a renewable energy resource because the energy that we harness and use is regenerated in a very short period of time. This resource is so renewable that we can’t even use it up; the sun will keep shining for several billion years, so there’s no risk of using it all! This makes solar power a good source of energy to utilize. It’s also a no-emissions energy resource since it doesn’t pollute air or water.
Once solar power technology is in place, it’s fairly inexpensive to maintain, so the operational costs are relatively low.However, the upfront costs of solar technology products are still fairly high. Solar technology also requires fossil fuels during production, so the manufacturing aspect of solar power is not pollution-free. Solar power also relies on the presence of sunshine, which is not the same everywhere on Earth. Some places, like Seattle, are not nearly as sunny as places like Orlando, so the ability to harness sunshine is dependent on the sun actually shining.
Unless solar power is stored for later use, it can be somewhat unreliable, even on a daily or seasonal time frame.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Explain what renewable energy resources are
- Describe how we harness solar power both passively and actively
- Summarize the pros and cons of solar energy