Solar Energy

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Solar energy is the light and heat radiated from the Sun. It influences Earth's climate and makes life possible. Since ancient times solar energy has been harnessed for human use through a range of technologies. Solar radiation along with secondary solar resources such as wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and biomass account for most of the available flow of renewable energy on Earth. Solar energy technologies can provide electrical generation by heat engine or photovoltaic means, space heating and cooling in active and passive solar buildings; potable water via distillation and disinfection, daylighting, hot water, thermal energy for cooking, and high temperature process heat for industrial purposes.
The Earth receives 174 petawatts (1015 watts) of incoming solar radiation at the upper atmosphere. Approximately 30% is reflected back to space while the rest is absorbed by clouds, oceans and land masses. The spectrum of solar light at the Earth's surface is mostly spread across the visible and near-infrared ranges with a small part in the near-ultraviolet. The absorbed solar light heats the land surface, oceans and atmosphere. The warm air containing evaporated water from the oceans rises, driving atmospheric circulation or convection. When this air reaches a high altitude, where the temperature is low, water vapor condenses into clouds, which rain onto the earth's surface, completing the water cycle.