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Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as
solar heating A solar thermal collector collects heat by absorbing sunlight. The term "solar collector" commonly refers to a device for solar hot water heating, but may refer to large power generating installations such as solar parabolic troughs and solar tow ...
,
photovoltaics Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry. The photovoltaic effect is commercially u ...
,
solar thermal energy Solar thermal energy (STE) is a form of energy and a technology for harnessing solar energy to generate thermal energy for use in industry, and in the residential and commercial sectors. Solar thermal collectors are classified by the United State ...
,
solar architecture Solar architecture is an architectural approach that takes in account the Sun to harness clean and renewable solar power. It is related to the fields of optics, thermics, electronics and materials science. Both active and passive solar housing ski ...
, molten salt power plants and
artificial photosynthesis Artificial photosynthesis is a chemical process that biomimics the natural process of photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. The term artificial photosynthesis is commonly used to refer to any ...
. It is an essential source of
renewable energy Renewable energy is useful energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, including carbon neutral sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. The term often a ...
, and its technologies are broadly characterized as either
passive solar In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, reflect, and distribute solar energy, in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. This is called passive solar design because, unlike ...
or
active solar Solar trackers may be driven by active or passive solar technology Solar hot water systems use pumps or Mechanical fan, fans to circulate fluid (often a mixture of water and glycol to prevent freezing during winter periods) or air, through ...
depending on how they capture and distribute solar energy or convert it into solar power. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar power, and solar water heating to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light-dispersing properties, and designing spaces that Ventilation (architecture), naturally circulate air. The large magnitude of solar energy available makes it a highly appealing source of electricity. The United Nations Development Programme in its 2000 World Energy Assessment found that the annual potential of solar energy was 1,575–49,837 Joule#Multiples, exajoules (EJ). This is several times larger than the total world energy consumption, which was 559.8 EJ in 2012. In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries' energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible, and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating global warming, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared".


Potential

The Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW) of incoming solar radiation (insolation) at the upper Earth's atmosphere, atmosphere. Approximately 30% is reflected back to space while the rest is absorbed by clouds, oceans and land masses. The electromagnetic spectrum, spectrum of solar light at the Earth's surface is mostly spread across the visible light, visible and near-infrared ranges with a small part in the near-ultraviolet. Most of the world's population live in areas with insolation levels of 150–300 watts/m2, or 3.5–7.0 kilowatt-hour, kWh/m2 per day. Solar radiation is absorbed by the Earth's land surface, oceans – which cover about 71% of the globe – and atmosphere. Warm air containing evaporated water from the oceans rises, causing atmospheric circulation or convection. When the 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. The latent heat of water condensation amplifies convection, producing atmospheric phenomena such as wind, cyclones and anticyclones. Sunlight absorbed by the oceans and land masses keeps the surface at an average temperature of 14 °C. By photosynthesis, green plants convert solar energy into chemically stored energy, which produces food, wood and the biomass from which fossil fuels are derived. The total solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 Joule#Multiples, exajoules (EJ) per year. In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year. Photosynthesis captures approximately 3,000 EJ per year in biomass. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth's non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined, The potential solar energy that could be used by humans differs from the amount of solar energy present near the surface of the planet because factors such as geography, time variation, cloud cover, and the land available to humans limit the amount of solar energy that we can acquire. Geography affects solar energy potential because areas that are closer to the equator have a higher amount of solar radiation. However, the use of
photovoltaics Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry. The photovoltaic effect is commercially u ...
that can follow the position of the Sun can significantly increase the solar energy potential in areas that are farther from the equator. Time variation effects the potential of solar energy because during the nighttime, there is little solar radiation on the surface of the Earth for solar panels to absorb. This limits the amount of energy that solar panels can absorb in one day. Cloud cover can affect the potential of solar panels because clouds block incoming light from the Sun and reduce the light available for solar cells. Besides, land availability has a large effect on the available solar energy because solar panels can only be set up on land that is otherwise unused and suitable for solar panels. Roofs are a suitable place for solar cells, as many people have discovered that they can collect energy directly from their homes this way. Other areas that are suitable for solar cells are lands that are not being used for businesses where solar plants can be established. Solar technologies are characterized as either passive or active depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute sunlight and enable solar energy to be harnessed at different levels around the world, mostly depending on the distance from the equator. Although solar energy refers primarily to the use of solar radiation for practical ends, all renewable energies, other than Geothermal power and Tidal power, derive their energy either directly or indirectly from the Sun. Active solar techniques use photovoltaics, concentrated solar power, solar thermal collectors, pumps, and fans to convert sunlight into useful outputs. Passive solar techniques include selecting materials with favorable thermal properties, designing spaces that naturally circulate air, and referencing the position of a building to the Sun. Active solar technologies increase the supply of energy and are considered supply side technologies, while passive solar technologies reduce the need for alternate resources and are generally considered demand-side technologies. In 2000, the United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and World Energy Council published an estimate of the potential solar energy that could be used by humans each year that took into account factors such as insolation, cloud cover, and the land that is usable by humans. The estimate found that solar energy has a global potential of per year ''(see table below)''.


Thermal energy

Solar thermal technologies can be used for water heating, space heating, space cooling and process heat generation.


Early commercial adaptation

In 1878, at the Universal Exposition in Paris, Augustin Mouchot successfully demonstrated a solar steam engine, but couldn't continue development because of cheap coal and other factors. In 1897, Frank Shuman, a US inventor, engineer and solar energy pioneer built a small demonstration solar engine that worked by reflecting solar energy onto square boxes filled with ether, which has a lower boiling point than water and were fitted internally with black pipes which in turn powered a steam engine. In 1908 Shuman formed the Sun Power Company with the intent of building larger solar power plants. He, along with his technical advisor A.S.E. Ackermann and British physicist Sir C. V. Boys, Charles Vernon Boys, developed an improved system using mirrors to reflect solar energy upon collector boxes, increasing heating capacity to the extent that water could now be used instead of ether. Shuman then constructed a full-scale steam engine powered by low-pressure water, enabling him to patent the entire solar engine system by 1912. Shuman built the world's first Solar thermal energy, solar thermal power station in Maadi, Egypt, between 1912 and 1913. His plant used parabolic troughs to power a engine that pumped more than of water per minute from the Nile River to adjacent cotton fields. Although the outbreak of World War I and the discovery of Petroleum industry, cheap oil in the 1930s discouraged the advancement of solar energy, Shuman's vision, and basic design were resurrected in the 1970s with a new wave of interest in solar thermal energy. In 1916 Shuman was quoted in the media advocating solar energy's utilization, saying:


Water heating

Solar hot water systems use sunlight to heat water. In middle geographical latitudes (between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south), 60 to 70% of the domestic hot water use, with water temperatures up to , can be provided by solar heating systems. The most common types of solar water heaters are evacuated tube collectors (44%) and glazed flat plate collectors (34%) generally used for domestic hot water; and unglazed plastic collectors (21%) used mainly to heat swimming pools. As of 2007, the total installed capacity of solar hot water systems was approximately 154 GWth, thermal gigawatt (GWth). China is the world leader in their deployment with 70 GWth installed as of 2006 and a long-term goal of 210 GWth by 2020. Israel and Cyprus are the per capita leaders in the use of solar hot water systems with over 90% of homes using them. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, heating swimming pools is the dominant application of solar hot water with an installed capacity of 18 GWth as of 2005.


Heating, cooling and ventilation

In the United States, HVAC, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems account for 30% (4.65 EJ/yr) of the energy used in commercial buildings and nearly 50% (10.1 EJ/yr) of the energy used in residential buildings. Solar heating, cooling and ventilation technologies can be used to offset a portion of this energy. Thermal mass is any material that can be used to store heat—heat from the Sun in the case of solar energy. Common thermal mass materials include stone, cement, and water. Historically they have been used in arid climates or warm temperate regions to keep buildings cool by absorbing solar energy during the day and radiating stored heat to the cooler atmosphere at night. However, they can be used in cold temperate areas to maintain warmth as well. The size and placement of thermal mass depend on several factors such as climate, daylighting, and shading conditions. When duly incorporated, thermal mass maintains space temperatures in a comfortable range and reduces the need for auxiliary heating and cooling equipment. A solar chimney (or thermal chimney, in this context) is a passive solar ventilation system composed of a vertical shaft connecting the interior and exterior of a building. As the chimney warms, the air inside is heated, causing an updraft that pulls air through the building. Performance can be improved by using glazing and thermal mass materials in a way that mimics greenhouses. Deciduous trees and plants have been promoted as a means of controlling solar heating and cooling. When planted on the southern side of a building in the northern hemisphere or the northern side in the southern hemisphere, their leaves provide shade during the summer, while the bare limbs allow light to pass during the winter. Since bare, leafless trees shade 1/3 to 1/2 of incident solar radiation, there is a balance between the benefits of summer shading and the corresponding loss of winter heating. In climates with significant heating loads, deciduous trees should not be planted on the Equator-facing side of a building because they will interfere with winter solar availability. They can, however, be used on the east and west sides to provide a degree of summer shading without appreciably affecting winter solar gain.


Cooking

Solar cookers use sunlight for cooking, drying, and pasteurization. They can be grouped into three broad categories: box cookers, panel cookers, and reflector cookers. The simplest solar cooker is the box cooker first built by Horace de Saussure in 1767. A basic box cooker consists of an insulated container with a transparent lid. It can be used effectively with partially overcast skies and will typically reach temperatures of . Panel cookers use a reflective panel to direct sunlight onto an insulated container and reach temperatures comparable to box cookers. Reflector cookers use various concentrating geometries (dish, trough, Fresnel mirrors) to focus light on a cooking container. These cookers reach temperatures of and above but require direct light to function properly and must be repositioned to track the Sun.


Process heat

Solar concentrating technologies such as parabolic dish, trough and Scheffler reflectors can provide process heat for commercial and industrial applications. The first commercial system was the Solar Total Energy Project (STEP) in Shenandoah, Georgia, US where a field of 114 parabolic dishes provided 50% of the process heating, air conditioning and electrical requirements for a clothing factory. This grid-connected cogeneration system provided 400 kW of electricity plus thermal energy in the form of 401 kW steam and 468 kW chilled water, and had a one-hour peak load thermal storage. Evaporation ponds are shallow pools that concentrate dissolved solids through evaporation. The use of evaporation ponds to obtain salt from seawater is one of the oldest applications of solar energy. Modern uses include concentrating brine solutions used in leach mining and removing dissolved solids from waste streams. Clothes lines, clotheshorses, and clothes racks dry clothes through evaporation by wind and sunlight without consuming electricity or gas. In some states of the United States legislation protects the "right to dry" clothes. Unglazed transpired collectors (UTC) are perforated sun-facing walls used for preheating ventilation air. UTCs can raise the incoming air temperature up to and deliver outlet temperatures of . The short payback period of transpired collectors (3 to 12 years) makes them a more cost-effective alternative than glazed collection systems. As of 2003, over 80 systems with a combined collector area of had been installed worldwide, including an collector in Costa Rica used for drying coffee beans and a collector in Coimbatore, India, used for drying marigolds.


Water treatment

Solar distillation can be used to make saline water, saline or brackish water potable. The first recorded instance of this was by 16th-century Arab alchemists.Tiwari (2003), pp. 368–71 A large-scale solar distillation project was first constructed in 1872 in the Chilean mining town of Las Salinas.Daniels (1964), p. 6 The plant, which had solar collection area of , could produce up to per day and operate for 40 years. Individual still designs include single-slope, double-slope (or greenhouse type), vertical, conical, inverted absorber, multi-wick, and multiple effect. These stills can operate in passive, active, or hybrid modes. Double-slope stills are the most economical for decentralized domestic purposes, while active multiple effect units are more suitable for large-scale applications. Solar water disinfection (SODIS) involves exposing water-filled plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to sunlight for several hours. Exposure times vary depending on weather and climate from a minimum of six hours to two days during fully overcast conditions. It is recommended by the World Health Organization as a viable method for household water treatment and safe storage. Over two million people in developing countries use this method for their daily drinking water. Solar energy may be used in a water stabilization pond to treat waste water without chemicals or electricity. A further environmental advantage is that algae grow in such ponds and consume carbon dioxide in photosynthesis, although algae may produce toxic chemicals that make the water unusable.


Molten salt technology

Molten salt can be employed as a thermal energy storage method to retain thermal energy collected by a Solar power tower, solar tower or solar trough of a concentrated solar power plant so that it can be used to generate electricity in bad weather or at night. It was demonstrated in the Solar Two project from 1995 to 1999. The system is predicted to have an annual efficiency of 99%, a reference to the energy retained by storing heat before turning it into electricity, versus converting heat directly into electricity. The molten salt mixtures vary. The most extended mixture contains sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and calcium nitrate. It is non-flammable and non-toxic, and has already been used in the chemical and metals industries as a heat-transport fluid. Hence, experience with such systems exists in non-solar applications. The salt melts at . It is kept liquid at in an insulated "cold" storage tank. The liquid salt is pumped through panels in a solar collector where the focused irradiance heats it to . It is then sent to a hot storage tank. This is so well insulated that the thermal energy can be usefully stored for up to a week. When electricity is needed, the hot salt is pumped to a conventional steam-generator to produce superheated steam for a turbine/generator as used in any conventional coal, oil, or nuclear power plant. A 100-megawatt turbine would need a tank about tall and in diameter to drive it for four hours by this design. Several parabolic trough power plants in Spain and solar power tower developer SolarReserve use this thermal energy storage concept. The Solana Generating Station in the U.S. has six hours of storage by molten salt. The María Elena plant is a 400 MW thermo-solar complex in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta Region, Antofagasta employing molten salt technology.


Electricity production

Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using
photovoltaics Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry. The photovoltaic effect is commercially u ...
(PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. PV converts light into electric current using the photoelectric effect. Solar power is anticipated to become the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, with solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power contributing 16 and 11 percent to the global overall consumption, respectively. In 2016, after another year of rapid growth, solar generated 1.3% of global power. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, in the Mojave Desert of California, is the largest solar power plant in the world. Other large concentrated solar power plants include the 150 MW Solnova Solar Power Station and the 100 MW Andasol solar power station, both in Spain. The 250 MW Agua Caliente Solar Project, in the United States, and the 221 MW Gujarat Solar Park, Charanka Solar Park in India, are the List of photovoltaic power stations, world's largest photovoltaic plants. Solar projects exceeding 1 GW are being developed, but most of the deployed photovoltaics are in small rooftop arrays of less than 5 kW, which are connected to the grid using net metering or a feed-in tariff.


Photovoltaics

In the last two decades,
photovoltaics Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry. The photovoltaic effect is commercially u ...
(PV), also known as solar PV, has evolved from a pure niche market of small scale applications towards becoming a mainstream electricity source. A solar cell is a device that converts light directly into electricity using the photoelectric effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s. In 1931 a German engineer, Dr Bruno Lange, developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide. Although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity, both Ernst Werner von Siemens and James Clerk Maxwell recognized the importance of this discovery. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the crystalline silicon solar cell in 1954. These early solar cells cost US$286/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%. By 2012 available efficiencies exceeded 20%, and the maximum efficiency of research photovoltaics was in excess of 40%.


Concentrated solar power

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish, and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage. Designs need to account for the risk of a dust storm, hail, or another extreme weather event that can damage the fine glass surfaces of solar power plants. Metal grills would allow a high percentage of sunlight to enter the mirrors and solar panels while also preventing most damage.


Architecture and urban planning

Sunlight has influenced building design since the beginning of architectural history.Schittich (2003), p. 14 Advanced solar architecture and urban planning methods were first employed by the ancient Greece, Greeks and Feng shui#Archaeology, Chinese, who oriented their buildings toward the south to provide light and warmth. The common features of
passive solar In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, reflect, and distribute solar energy, in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. This is called passive solar design because, unlike ...
architecture are orientation relative to the Sun, compact proportion (a low surface area to volume ratio), selective shading (overhangs) and Thermal mass (Building), thermal mass. When these features are tailored to the local climate and environment, they can produce well-lit spaces that stay in a comfortable temperature range. Socrates' Megaron House is a classic example of passive solar design. The most recent approaches to solar design use computer modeling tying together daylighting, solar lighting, solar heating, heating and solar air conditioning, ventilation systems in an integrated solar design package. Active solar equipment such as pumps, fans, and switchable windows can complement passive design and improve system performance. Urban heat islands (UHI) are metropolitan areas with higher temperatures than that of the surrounding environment. The higher temperatures result from increased absorption of solar energy by urban materials such as asphalt and concrete, which have lower albedos and higher heat capacity, heat capacities than those in the natural environment. A straightforward method of counteracting the UHI effect is to paint buildings and roads white and to plant trees in the area. Using these methods, a hypothetical "cool communities" program in Los Angeles has projected that urban temperatures could be reduced by approximately 3 °C at an estimated cost of US$1  billion, giving estimated total annual benefits of US$530  million from reduced air-conditioning costs and healthcare savings.


Agriculture and horticulture

Agriculture and horticulture seek to optimize the capture of solar energy to optimize the productivity of plants. Techniques such as timed planting cycles, tailored row orientation, staggered heights between rows and the mixing of plant varieties can improve crop yields. While sunlight is generally considered a plentiful resource, the exceptions highlight the importance of solar energy to agriculture. During the short growing seasons of the Little Ice Age, French and Solar power in the United Kingdom, English farmers employed fruit walls to maximize the collection of solar energy. These walls acted as thermal masses and accelerated ripening by keeping plants warm. Early fruit walls were built perpendicular to the ground and facing south, but over time, sloping walls were developed to make better use of sunlight. In 1699, Nicolas Fatio de Duillier even suggested using a Solar tracker, tracking mechanism which could pivot to follow the Sun. Applications of solar energy in agriculture aside from growing crops include pumping water, drying crops, brooding chicks and drying chicken manure.Leon (2006), p. 62 More recently the technology has been embraced by Winemakers, vintners, who use the energy generated by solar panels to power grape presses. Greenhouses convert solar light to heat, enabling year-round production and the growth (in enclosed environments) of specialty crops and other plants not naturally suited to the local climate. Primitive greenhouses were first used during Roman times to produce cucumbers year-round for the Roman emperor Tiberius. The first modern greenhouses were built in Europe in the 16th century to keep exotic plants brought back from explorations abroad. Greenhouses remain an important part of horticulture today. Plastic transparent materials have also been used to similar effect in polytunnels and row covers.


Transport

Development of a solar-powered car has been an engineering goal since the 1980s. The World Solar Challenge is a biannual solar-powered car race, where teams from universities and enterprises compete over across central Australia from Darwin, Northern Territory, Darwin to Adelaide. In 1987, when it was founded, the winner's average speed was and by 2007 the winner's average speed had improved to . The North American Solar Challenge and the planned South African Solar Challenge are comparable competitions that reflect an international interest in the engineering and development of solar powered vehicles. Some vehicles use solar panels for auxiliary power, such as for air conditioning, to keep the interior cool, thus reducing fuel consumption. In 1975, the first practical solar boat was constructed in England. By 1995, passenger boats incorporating PV panels began appearing and are now used extensively. In 1996, Kenichi Horie made the first solar-powered crossing of the Pacific Ocean, and the ''Sun21'' catamaran made the first solar-powered crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in the winter of 2006–2007. There were plans to circumnavigate the globe in 2010. In 1974, the unmanned AstroFlight Sunrise airplane made the first solar flight. On 29 April 1979, the ''Solar Riser'' made the first flight in a solar-powered, fully controlled, man-carrying flying machine, reaching an altitude of . In 1980, the ''Gossamer Albatross#Solar-powered variants, Gossamer Penguin'' made the first piloted flights powered solely by photovoltaics. This was quickly followed by the ''Solar Challenger'' which crossed the English Channel in July 1981. In 1990 Eric Scott Raymond in 21 hops flew from California to North Carolina using solar power. Developments then turned back to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) with the ''NASA Pathfinder, Pathfinder'' (1997) and subsequent designs, culminating in the ''Helios Prototype, Helios'' which set the altitude record for a non-rocket-propelled aircraft at in 2001. The ''QinetiQ Zephyr, Zephyr'', developed by BAE Systems, is the latest in a line of record-breaking solar aircraft, making a 54-hour flight in 2007, and month-long flights were envisioned by 2010. As of 2016, Solar Impulse, an electric aircraft, is currently circumnavigating the globe. It is a single-seat plane powered by solar cells and capable of taking off under its own power. The design allows the aircraft to remain airborne for several days. A solar balloon is a black balloon that is filled with ordinary air. As sunlight shines on the balloon, the air inside is heated and expands, causing an upward buoyancy force, much like an artificially heated hot air balloon. Some solar balloons are large enough for human flight, but usage is generally limited to the toy market as the surface-area to payload-weight ratio is relatively high.


Fuel production

Solar chemical processes use solar energy to drive chemical reactions. These processes offset energy that would otherwise come from a fossil fuel source and can also convert solar energy into storable and transportable fuels. Solar induced chemical reactions can be divided into thermochemical or photochemical. A variety of fuels can be produced by
artificial photosynthesis Artificial photosynthesis is a chemical process that biomimics the natural process of photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. The term artificial photosynthesis is commonly used to refer to any ...
. The multielectron catalytic chemistry involved in making carbon-based fuels (such as methanol) from reduction of carbon dioxide is challenging; a feasible alternative is hydrogen production from protons, though use of water as the source of electrons (as plants do) requires mastering the multielectron oxidation of two water molecules to molecular oxygen. Some have envisaged working solar fuel plants in coastal metropolitan areas by 2050 the splitting of seawater providing hydrogen to be run through adjacent fuel-cell electric power plants and the pure water by-product going directly into the municipal water system. Another vision involves all human structures covering the Earth's surface (i.e., roads, vehicles and buildings) doing photosynthesis more efficiently than plants. Hydrogen production technologies have been a significant area of solar chemical research since the 1970s. Aside from electrolysis driven by photovoltaic or photochemical cells, several thermochemical processes have also been explored. One such route uses concentrators to split water into oxygen and hydrogen at high temperatures (). Another approach uses the heat from solar concentrators to drive the steam reforming, steam reformation of natural gas thereby increasing the overall hydrogen yield compared to conventional reforming methods. Thermochemical cycles characterized by the decomposition and regeneration of reactants present another avenue for hydrogen production. The Solzinc process under development at the Weizmann Institute of Science uses a 1 MW solar furnace to decompose zinc oxide (ZnO) at temperatures above . This initial reaction produces pure zinc, which can subsequently be reacted with water to produce hydrogen.


Energy storage methods

Thermal mass systems can store solar energy in the form of heat at domestically useful temperatures for daily or seasonal thermal energy storage, interseasonal durations. Thermal storage systems generally use readily available materials with high specific heat capacities such as water, earth and stone. Well-designed systems can lower peak demand, shift time-of-use to wikt:off-peak, off-peak hours and reduce overall heating and cooling requirements. Phase change materials such as paraffin wax and Sodium sulfate#Thermal storage, Glauber's salt are another thermal storage medium. These materials are inexpensive, readily available, and can deliver domestically useful temperatures (approximately ). The "Dover House" (in Dover, Massachusetts) was the first to use a Glauber's salt heating system, in 1948. Solar energy can also be stored at high temperatures using molten salts. Salts are an effective storage medium because they are low-cost, have a high specific heat capacity, and can deliver heat at temperatures compatible with conventional power systems. The The Solar Project#Solar Two, Solar Two project used this method of energy storage, allowing it to store in its 68 m³ storage tank with an annual storage efficiency of about 99%. Off-grid Photovoltaics, PV systems have traditionally used rechargeable batteries to store excess electricity. With grid-tied systems, excess electricity can be sent to the transmission Grid-tied electrical system, grid, while standard grid electricity can be used to meet shortfalls. Net metering programs give household systems credit for any electricity they deliver to the grid. This is handled by 'rolling back' the meter whenever the home produces more electricity than it consumes. If the net electricity use is below zero, the utility then rolls over the kilowatt-hour credit to the next month. Other approaches involve the use of two meters, to measure electricity consumed vs. electricity produced. This is less common due to the increased installation cost of the second meter. Most standard meters accurately measure in both directions, making a second meter unnecessary. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity stores energy in the form of water pumped when energy is available from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation one. The energy is recovered when demand is high by releasing the water, with the pump becoming a hydroelectric power generator.


Development, deployment and economics

Beginning with the surge in coal use, which accompanied the Industrial Revolution, energy consumption has steadily transitioned from wood and biomass to fossil fuels. The early development of solar technologies starting in the 1860s was driven by an expectation that coal would soon become scarce. However, development of solar technologies stagnated in the early 20th  century in the face of the increasing availability, economy, and utility of coal and petroleum. The 1973 oil crisis, 1973 oil embargo and 1979 energy crisis caused a reorganization of energy policies around the world. It brought renewed attention to developing solar technologies. Deployment strategies focused on incentive programs such as the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program in the US and the Sunshine Program in Japan. Other efforts included the formation of research facilities in the US (SERI, now NREL), Japan (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, NEDO), and Solar power in Germany, Germany (Fraunhofer Society, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE). Commercial solar water heaters began appearing in the United States in the 1890s. These systems saw increasing use until the 1920s but were gradually replaced by cheaper and more reliable heating fuels. As with photovoltaics, solar water heating attracted renewed attention as a result of the oil crises in the 1970s, but interest subsided in the 1980s due to falling petroleum prices. Development in the solar water heating sector progressed steadily throughout the 1990s, and annual growth rates have averaged 20% since 1999. Although generally underestimated, solar water heating and cooling is by far the most widely deployed solar technology with an estimated capacity of 154  GW as of 2007. The International Energy Agency has said that solar energy can make considerable contributions to solving some of the most urgent problems the world now faces:
The development of affordable, inexhaustible, and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries' energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible, and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared.
In 2011, a report by the International Energy Agency found that solar energy technologies such as photovoltaics, solar hot water, and concentrated solar power could provide a third of the world's energy by 2060 if politicians commit to limiting climate change and Renewable energy transition, transitioning to renewable energy. The energy from the Sun could play a key role in de-carbonizing the global economy alongside improvements in Efficient energy use, energy efficiency and imposing costs on greenhouse gas emitters. "The strength of solar is the incredible variety and flexibility of applications, from small scale to big scale".


ISO standards

The International Organization for Standardization has established several standards relating to solar energy equipment. For example, ISO 9050 relates to glass in the building, while ISO 10217 relates to the materials used in solar water heaters.


See also

* Copper in renewable energy * Desertec * Global dimming * Greasestock * Green electricity * Heliostat * List of conservation topics * List of renewable energy organizations * List of solar energy topics * Renewable heat * Renewable energy by country * Soil solarization * Solar Decathlon * Solar easement * Solar energy use in rural Africa * Solar updraft tower * Solar power satellite * Solar tracker * SolarEdge * Timeline of solar cells


References


Further reading

* * {{DEFAULTSORT:Solar Energy Solar energy, Energy conversion Alternative energy