Solar electricity is produced from sunlight shining on photovoltaic solar panels. This is different to solar hot water heater or solar heating systems where the power of the sun is used to heat water or air.
If you are planning to use solar power to generate heat, solar heating systems are far more efficient than solar electricity, requiring far smaller panels to generate the same amount of energy.
Solar electricity is often referred to as photovoltaic a solar, or PV Solar. This describes the way that electricity is generated in a solar panel.
Deep in the center of the sun, the intense nuclear activity generates huge amounts of radiating. In turn, this radiation generates photons – quite literally bundles of light energy. These photons have no physical mass of their own, but carry huge amounts of energy and momentum.
Different photons carry different wavelenghths of light. Some photons will carry non-visible light (infra-red and ultra-violet), whilst others will carry visible light (white light).
Over time, these photons are pushed out from the center of the sun. it has been estimated that it can take one million years for a photon to be pushed out to the surface from the core. Once they reach the sun, these photons are pushed out through space at a speed of 670 million miles per hour and reach earth in around eight minutes.
On their travel from the sun to earth, photons can collide with and be deflected by other particles, and are destroyed on contact with anything that can absorb radiation, generating heat. That is why you feel warm on a sunny day; your body is absorbing photons.
Our atmosphere absorbs a lot of these photons before they reach the surface of the earth. That is why the sun feels so much hotter in the middle of the day – when the sun is directly overhead and the photons have to travel through a thinner layer of atmosphere to reach us – compared to the end of the day when the sun is setting and the photons have to travel through a much thicker layer of atmosphere to reach us.
This also explains why a sunny day in winter is so much colder than a sunny day in summer – the earth is angled away from the sun and the photons have to travel through a much thicker layer of atmosphere before they reach the surface of the earth.
Take a look into new ways to generate electricity and even discover how you can build your very own DIY solar panels.
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