Solar energy involves the use of the energy produced by the sun to make electricity. While the sun's rays have been used on a very small scale for thousands of years, it is only in the last few decades that this energy has been harnessed on a larger scale. In recent years, the efficiency of solar panels has increased dramatically, and the cost of solar power has dropped to the point where it has become competitive with fossil fuels.
Essentially, a solar panel is made up of a large array of solar cells. These cells can directly produce electricity by absorbing sunlight and making use of the photo voltaic effect to turn this energy into an electrical current. By wiring a large number of solar cells into a single panel, a significant amount of electricity can be generated without needing any power source other than the sun.
The first solar cells were not very efficient, but improvements in the design and the manufacturing process have significantly improved their efficiency. One great advantage of solar energy is that power can be generated whenever there is sufficient sunlight. In sunny areas near the equator, a solar panel can produce electricity for much of the day. Even in cloudy or more northern areas, solar panels can still produce enough energy to power a home throughout much of the year.
Many people are interested in installing solar panels on their own homes. These panels are generally mounted on the roof of a house and connected to the wiring system. Depending upon how many panels are installed, the energy produced may just supplement that which is bought from the utility company, or it may be enough to power the whole home. In some cases, homeowners can even produce enough energy that they can then sell the excess to the utility company.
The cost of installing solar panels may seem prohibitive, but there are often grants and loans that are available to help offset some or all of this expense. Tax incentives and credits are also offered by the federal government, as well as some state and local governments, to people who install solar panels on their roofs. By taking advantage of these programs, the cost of getting started with solar energy can be reduced to a minimum.
The importance of solar energy will continue to grow as the economy shifts towards greater use of renewable sources of energy.