How Does Natural Solar Energy Work?

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand how solar energy works. All you need is a little bit of sunshine and some sand. When sunlight hits the surface of the Earth, it is scattered by dust and aerosols in the atmosphere, causing about half of it to be reflected back to space. The rest of it is absorbed by the surface, creating internal heat which can be used to move things around or to produce electricity via conventional means. The difference between conventional and natural solar energy is how they are generated and obtained. Conventional solar energy is derived from fossil fuels and, in the most cases, from nuclear power. In contrast, natural solar energy is obtained directly from the Sun and its byproducts (e.g., wind and rain). The following will teach you about natural solar energy and its various applications.

What Is Natural Solar Energy?

Simply put, natural solar energy is the energy that our planet receives from the Sun. In practice, it is very difficult to fully quantify the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface, so much of what we know about is based on theoretical calculations and observations of the Sun’s behavior. Theoretically, about 14% of the solar energy that reaches the Earth is reflected back into space. The rest is absorbed by the surface (e.g., oceans, landmasses, or atmospheres) and utilized for various purposes, depending on the situation. 

There is a wide spectrum of actions that the Earth takes in relation to the Sun. For example, when the Earth is closer to the Sun, more solar flares are observed as the Sun’s magnetic field becomes more intense. This, in turn, has significant ramifications for geomagnetism and for the behavior of solar system planets, such as Mars and Jupiter. The amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth also affects the climate of the planet. Theoretically, the Earth receives about 10% more solar energy when it is at its closest point to the Sun (perihelion) than it does when it is at its farthest point from the Sun (aphelion). During perihelion, the atmosphere is particularly turbulent, as the Earth’s rotation causes it to squish in on itself like a beach ball. The following video shows you what happens atmosphere during perihelion (and how it is different from aphelion).

So, as you can see, there are numerous ways in which the Earth’s distance from the Sun influences the planet. This is why you need to keep track of when the Earth is at perihelion and when it is at aphelion in order to properly understand how the Sun affects our world. Also, the Earth’s distance from the Sun is often used as a standard unit for Solar system astronomy. This is because one astronomical unit (AU) equals the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. Therefore, the Earth is one astronomical unit away from the Sun at perihelion and it is one astronomical unit away from the Sun at aphelion.

How Is Natural Solar Energy Converted To Electrical Energy?

When the bulk of solar energy reaches the Earth’s surface, it is either reflected back into space or absorbed by lands, oceans, or atmospheres. The former is highly inefficient and, in most cases, impossible to utilize. The latter two options, however, allow for the efficient conversion of solar energy into electrical energy. So how does one go about converting solar energy to electricity? The answer to this question lies in photovoltaic (PV) cells. These are the basic elements that make up the solar cells in your smartphone or tablet. When light (e.g., from the Sun) strikes a solar cell, it creates excitons (an electron–hole pair) which can be transported to another part of the cell where they can be reduced to electricity via a process known as photo-induced charge separation (PICS). Essentially, this is what happens when you bring a solar cell to the Sun: When light strikes the surface of the cell, it creates an electron–hole pair which are transported to an adjacent wire where they can be reduced to electricity via PICS. So, if we were to follow this basic principle, then anywhere there is light (e.g., from the Sun) there should be PV cells which can be used to convert sunlight into electricity. In reality, this is not the case. Even though sunlight is plentiful, the amount of electricity that can be generated by PV cells is limited by the cells’ efficiency. The efficiency of a solar cell is defined as the ratio of output to input, the output being the difference between the amount of electricity that was generated and the amount of electricity that was consumed during the process of generating it. The efficiency of a solar cell can range between 15% and 20%

Are All Solar Cells Created Equal?

Although all solar cells have the ability to convert sunlight into electricity, not all solar cells are created equal. As we discussed above, the amount of electrical energy that can be obtained from solar cells is directly affected by the efficiency of a particular cell. In general, solar cells with a higher refractive index (n) obtain more electrical energy per unit area than those cells with a lower n. This is why glass is usually the preferred material for storing energy in solar cells, as it has the highest n of any common polymer (1.59). So, what is the highest n of any polymer that one can use to create a solar cell? You guessed it – solar cells made of silicon! This is because silicon, like glass, has a very high n. Therefore, if we were to use silicon instead of glass to create a solar cell, it would allow for more efficient conversion of incident sunlight into electricity or else, as we would say in class, let the light in more efficiently! Simply put, when n increases, the energy that can be extracted from sunlight increases – but only to a point. Eventually, you reach a limiting efficiency – and at that point, additional n actually decreases the energy that can be extracted from incident light!

Where Does The Power Go Once It Is Generated?

Once the electrical energy is generated (e.g., from the photoelectric effect in solar cells), it is used for various purposes, depending on the situation. Those who are near the Sun generally use it to light their neighborhoods and businesses, while those who are farther away from it utilize the energy to power their electronic devices. If the energy is not be used immediately after it is generated, then it can be stored in large batteries or else transferred to another use (e.g., for transportation). Of course, this power will be lost over time unless it is stored properly (e.g., in a battery). 

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