How Does Solar Power Work?
Solar power is quickly becoming popular nowadays. And so is the question ‘How does solar power work?‘ The earth orbits the sun at a distance of approximately 92,960,000 miles (1,496,000, 000 km), a distance referred to as one astronomical unit (AU). The sun generates its power through a method called nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is when two nuclei collide at high speeds and merge into a new type of nucleus. One of the byproducts of this collision is to create the light that reaches Earth about eight minutes later. That light is one of the requirements for life to exist on Earth, along with things such as water and a food source. So how does solar power work? About 30% of solar radiation is reflected into space, but the rest of it hits the atmosphere and is absorbed by the clouds, land masses and oceans. This energy is calculated to be about 3,850,000 EJ (exajoules) annually. An exajoule is equal to one quintillion joules, which are themselves a metric unit of measurement used to calculate units of energy or heat. To a modern audience the term solar energy is synonymous with solar electricity and may have well-explored on the answers to the question ‘How does solar electricity work?’ But that is only one application of solar power.
How does solar power work in different applications?
- Absorption and Dispersal of heat – How solar heat can be collected and dispersed.
- Distilling Water – Using the properties of solar heat to purify water
- Food Preparation – Using reflection and collection to heat and cook food.
Absorbing and Dispersing Heat
How does solar power work in the absorption and dispersal of heat? The rays of the sun and the heat it produces have been a consideration of architecture since the very beginning. The main aim in this case is to maximize the amount of solar energy in the winter months to help heat a building while attempting to limit the amount of light a structure absorbs in the summer in order to keep it cool. A familiar example of the latter is a building that features an overhang. The overhang absorbs the solar heat without transferring that heat into the rest of the building, while also providing shade which helps to keep the building even cooler.
How does solar power work in distilling water? Those who have seen survival shows on TV may be familiar with the concept of a solar still. The process of making a solar still is very easy, and it illustrates on a small scale the way that rain is formed in the atmosphere. To make one, a person needs only to dig a square pit about 12in (30cm) deep, and 12in on each side. Place a cup in the center of the pit, then place a clear plastic sheet over the pit. Weigh down each corner with stones and place a final weight over the center of the hole where the cup was placed. The energy of the sun will cause the moisture of the surrounding soil to evaporate where it is then collected by the plastic (in this case representing the upper atmosphere). When the condensation is heavy enough it will flow toward the low point in the still and drip into the cup, the same way that rain will fall out of clouds. The process can also be used to purify water as impurities will not evaporate, in the same way that the water itself will. That’s how solar power works in distilling water.
How does solar power work in food preparation? In much the same way, solar energy can be used in food preparation. These devices are called solar cookers. They are often used by campers as a way to cook that doesn’t require the building of a fire, and in parts of the world where electricity is scarce, but sunlight is plentiful. Though they come in variety of shapes, the idea is similar in all of them: to gather reflected sunlight in the form of heat and focus it toward a specific point where the object to be cooked is placed.
How does solar power work? In the global time scale, humans are just beginning to harness the immense power of the sun which provides enough energy in a single hour to meet the needs of the entire population for a year. Simple technologies such as these are the basis for more advanced sources of solar power. As more advanced techniques are developed, more of that energy can be collected, and less energy from other sources will be required.
So, how does solar power work? Simply amazing.
For a related read to ‘How does solar power work?’, take a look into How Solar Panels Work.