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A Guide to Solar Light, Heat, and Energy

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When the sun is shining, it emits light and heat. This light and heat is a form of energy that is called solar energy. When it reaches the Earth, it can be used to create electricity. Because it comes from the sun, which is a constant, it is known as a renewable power source and can be used in the same ways as the energy created by using fossil fuels. The history of utilizing the sun dates back to Egyptians who created homes and other buildings that would retain the heat from the sun to keep people warm at night. In Rome, bath houses were known to have south-facing windows to help keep them heated. In the late 1800s it was discovered that sunlight could be used as a power source. Specifically, electricity could be produced by exposing a material called selenium to light. In modern times, the first silicon solar cell was discovered in the early 1950s. Unlike the solar cells of today, they were only able to power small devices. By the 1960s, solar cells were used to provide power to both United States and Soviet Union satellites. From the 1970s forward, the use of solar cells and panels has become increasingly more common both commercially and privately, although the cost for adding solar paneling to homes remains high. Today, greater numbers of people are looking to solar panels as a way to become energy independent and to help save the environment.

Harnessing Solar Energy

Solar energy has many uses and can be a renewable, alternative source for electrical lighting, heating, cooling, and other electrical needs. To use solar energy, it must first be harnessed. The methods to do this are classified as either active or passive. The use of photovoltaic cells is a common example of an active method. The sun may also be harnessed in a passive way. This is a method that people have both intentionally and unintentionally accomplished for centuries. How a home or building is designed, the materials that are used and even certain colors are classified as passive ways to harness solar energy. For example, the placement of a window or even a sky light can passively harness the heat of the sun to warm a room or a building. Passive solar energy is limited, however, in the amount of heating or cooling that is accomplished. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious advantage of harnessing solar energy is that it does not create greenhouse gases, which are harmful in terms of personal and environmental health. Another benefit is that it is renewable energy and won't use up natural resources. Unfortunately, the need for energy is constant, day and night, rain or shine. This is a problem when it comes to solar energy as the sun does not shine at night and during heavily clouded days. Storing electricity created from solar energy has not been perfected and continues to be problematic.

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