The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year. Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This energy can be used to generate electricity or be stored in batteries or thermal storage.
Below, you can find resources and information on the basics of solar radiation, photovoltaic and concentrating solar-thermal power technologies, electrical grid systems integration, and the non-hardware aspects (soft costs) of solar energy. You can also learn more about how to go solar and the solar energy industry. In addition, you can dive deeper into solar energy and learn about how the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office is driving innovative research and development in these areas.
Solar Energy 101
Solar radiation is light – also known as electromagnetic radiation – that is emitted by the sun. While every location on Earth receives some sunlight over a year, the amount of solar radiation that reaches any one spot on the Earth’s surface varies. Solar technologies capture this radiation and turn it into useful forms of energy.
There are two main types of solar energy technologies—photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP).
You’re likely most familiar with PV, which is utilized in solar panels. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.