The harnessing of solar power to provide electricity and heat in a controlled way is a major subject of research for the years ahead. How much do you know about one of the oldest, and newest, forms of energy known to man?
Sometimes referred to as "PV devices," or "solar cells," photovoltaic devices are often used in locations that are not hooked up to the electric grid.
California is first, with 10 known solar electric plants, and Arizona runs second, with five. Between the two states, they house all of the 15 known solar power plants. Plants producing less than one megawatt of energy are not tracked, however, so other states may house smaller plants.
Photon is the name for a particle of solar energy. Since it acts as both a particle and as a wave, it is described as having "wave-particle duality." But in brief, photon means "a discrete bundle of electromagnetic energy."
The U.S. began this practice in the 1950s and continues to use solar energy to power, for instance, the Hubble Space Telescope!
North of the equator, windows and solar panels facing south receive the most sunlight throughout the day. The use of windows to provide heat to a structure via sun exposure is an example of what is called "passive space heating," a kind of dispersal of heat which requires no mechanical equipment.
Researchers at MIT feel that in just three years they should be able to begin collecting solar energy on the windows of large buildings. With their recent innovation, the energy would be transferred out to the edges of the windows, where it would be collected on panels.
Both the current state of solar battery technology, and the cost of solar panels, are hindrances to more thorough harnessing of this vast, renewable source of energy.
Research on plastic solar cells indicates that they hold great promise in reducing the cost of solar power. As for plants, they do collect sunlight and convert it into energy through photosynthesis, but the only way humans know how to tap that energy so far is the old-fashioned way: by eating them!