Solar Energy Conversion
It all starts by converting a single energy unit from the sun, a photon (a particle that carries electromagnetic force). A photon particle released from the sun takes about 8 minutes to reach the earth. Once reaching earth, it (the photon) can be used to convert its energy to perform useful tasks for us humans.
Contained within each square meter of sunlight that reaches the earth’s upper atmosphere, there are 1,400 watts of available energy. After beaming through the atmosphere, the available energy is reduced to 1,000 watts per square meter by the time it reaches the surface of the earth. Additional factors reduce this number further, such as one’s geographical location, season, time of day, weather, and the efficiency of the solar energy system that you are using.
Solar Energy Systems
There are different types of solar energy systems. When thinking of solar power, most people think of the solar panels often seen on rooftops that generate electricity (photovoltaic solar panels).
There are also solar panel systems that use heat absorption properties to heat water, providing hot water for homes or even for heating swimming pools.
In the desert southwest, large solar electric power generating systems have recently been built that direct the sun’s energy using a huge bank of mirrors, creating a powerful solar beam that focuses on to a boiler that produces steam, which in turn spins a turbine that generates electricity.
There are also a wide variety of solar oven cookers out there, which is a great way to take advantage of the sun’s energy. (Note: solar cooking typically retains most of the moisture and nutrients of foods – which makes them taste great!).
Solar Systems can be Simple
Solar systems, be it for electric power or for other energy conversion systems, do not need to be large and overwhelming in order to be useful. The truth is, even small systems are useful, and can be an effective energy solution to assist your needs during a short-term power grid failure, or even longer term. Having just enough to power a refrigerator and/or freezer, some lights and a radio, may be all you need to save your food and to make it through an event. A larger system will of course increase your creature comforts and could be put to use in many ways. It’s all scalable.
Probably the simplest and most affordable way to harness the sun’s energy is with a solar oven cooker. These can be built fairly easily and there are many plans and designs available on the Internet (and for sale by some manufacturers). If you are interested in solar energy, this is where I would start. Building a solar oven can be a fun and rewarding project. Even if building things aren’t your thing, buying and using one is also very rewarding, while saving money on electricity and having an emergency method of cooking food.
Building a small electric power generating system with photovoltaic solar panels does not have to be very expensive, although unfortunately they are not cheap either. A significant amount of money can be saved if you have the skills to plan, purchase, and install the system yourself. Most electric solar power systems can be expanded upon, so you can start small and add on later if you wish. Solar panels come in a wide range of power-generating sizes, and are priced accordingly. Some systems are designed to tie into the electric power grid and ‘back feed’ the electricity that you are not consuming back to the power utility company for credit. Other systems are stand-alone and are usually tied in with a battery storage bank to store and provide power for when the sun is not generating electricity.
The point is, if you are interested in becoming less dependent upon external systems for your energy needs, consider solar. Do some Internet research and discover this alternative energy world and what it can do for you.