The sun provides us with all we need to live comfortably. In the form of energy, heat, and light, the sun is irreplaceable. Unfortunately, the process of obtaining solar energy from the sun is not always straightforward, and sometimes it requires a little bit of work.
Where Does The Energy Come From?
It stems from the fact that our planet isn’t the same as others. While we have similar elements (e.g., oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and iron), we also have some that are more abundant in our planet than in the rest of the universe (e.g., argon, krypton, and xenon).
These elements are found in the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, where the temperature is close to absolute zero and the gas composition is almost equal parts hydrogen and helium. When sunlight reacts with these gases, it releases energy.
How Do I Capture The Energy?
This process is called photosynthesis. It was first theorized by Louis Camille Maillard in 1896, and is still used to this day. During photosynthesis, sunlight is absorbed by the plants’ pigment molecules. These molecules then convert the light energy to chemical energy.
In photosynthetic organisms, the generated chemical energy is then stored in the form of sugars. In animals, like us, sugars are stored as glycogen. The difference is that while we use sugars to generate energy, plants use them as a building block for their cells. In our bodies, sugars are essential for many chemical processes, such as creating new cells or synthesizing DNA.
Where Does The Heat Come From?
The sun is a nuclear fusion reactor. At its core, the temperature is hundreds of millions of degrees. The extreme heat is so great that it vaporizes any atom that comes in contact with it. This is how the sun creates plasma – a state of matter in which the particles are so energized that they’ve ceased moving as individual units and have combined to form a new substance.
In a nutshell, the sun creates energy through nuclear fusion, the process by which two hydrogen atoms unite to form a single helium atom. Over a period of several million years, the continual process of energy production results in a steady supply of heat.
How Is Light Made?
When light is used as an energy source, it’s called photovoltaic energy. During this process, sunlight is converted to electricity with photovoltaic cells.
These cells are made of semiconductors. When light strikes a semiconductor, it can change the material’s electrical properties – in much the same way that water can change the surface tension of a glass of water to make it ripple.
When the light is turned off, the electricity produced by the photovoltaic cells can be stored in rechargeable batteries or in a capacitor. In the summertime, when the sun isn’t directly overhead, we lose a lot of this energy to space. This is why building a well-designed roof rack on which to store water tanks is so advantageous – it helps capture and store the energy that would otherwise be lost to space during those hot summer days.
More Than Meets The Eye
The sun is far more than we could ever use. Its thermal energy alone is enough to provide us with all the energy we need for countless generations. What’s more, we get to enjoy the benefits of having a natural heat source year round.
The sun is actually a source of chemicals as well. The photochemical reactions it initiates create substances like oxygen and water which we need for life. Furthermore, some chemicals are created in such high quantities that they become a health concern. These compounds enter the air we breathe and are absorbed by plants and animals, including humans. In many cases, these chemicals can be highly toxic. However, understanding of and precautions against these toxins continues to grow.
So, as you can see, the sun provides us with a lot – a lot of stuff. We just have to figure out a way to capture it all and put it to use.