Home |

Solar Energy

Solar energy, the stream of energy flowing from the Sun to Earth, is a vital force in our planetary system. The Earth's upper atmosphere is showered with an astonishing 174 petawatts (1015 watts) of solar radiation. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as only a portion of these solar rays make their way to the Earth's surface. The atmosphere and the Earth's magnetic field act as shields, reflecting and absorbing a significant amount of this electromagnetic radiation.

It's a stroke of luck that a portion of solar rays is either deflected, reflected, or absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere. Without this natural protective mechanism, the onslaught of solar radiation would render our planet inhospitable to life.

the flow of solar energy is continuous

Approximately 35% of solar radiation is reflected back into space by the atmosphere, clouds, and the Earth's surface, in a process known as reflected radiation.

An additional 14% of the solar energy is absorbed by atmospheric gases, a phenomenon termed absorbed radiation.

Some gases in the atmosphere, notably ozone, play a pivotal role in filtering out the more intense and harmful ultraviolet radiation.

solar radiation

Beyond just reducing the solar radiation reaching the ground, the Earth's atmosphere also scatters 20% of the solar rays in various directions through light diffusion. This not only changes the quantity but also the quality and the electromagnetic spectrum of the solar radiation we receive (

The Earth functions as an open dynamic system. The energy absorbed by the Earth (51%) or by its atmosphere (14%) is eventually emitted back into space as re-radiated radiation, predominantly in the form of infrared heat.

the radiation re-radiated from the Earth

Taking into account both incoming and outgoing flows, the Earth maintains a constant energy equilibrium.

Solar Energy and Life

The solar energy that graces our planet is crucial for maintaining the balance of the biosphere and ecosystems. It powers the process of chlorophyll photosynthesis, enabling green plants to convert sunlight into living organic matter. This foundational process kick-starts the food chain. Moreover, as explored on ecoage, the decomposition of plants and animals plays a key role in enriching the soil with essential chemical elements for the growth of new plants. Without solar energy, the very fabric of life would cease to exist.

Solar Energy Applications

Through a blend of technique and technology, solar energy can be harnessed and transformed into practical, usable energy.

At any given moment, the Earth's upper atmosphere is bathed in 1367 watts/m² of solar radiation. In European latitudes, the average solar irradiance is around 200 watts/m² ( When scaled up to the expanse of the atmosphere, this equates to a staggering total power output of 50 million GW - an amount ten thousand times greater than the global human energy demand.

The forefront technologies for converting solar energy into practical energy forms include:

  • Solar Panels
    These systems adeptly convert solar rays into thermal energy, suitable for heating water or warming indoor spaces. Also referred to as solar collectors or thermal solar panels.
  • Concentrated Solar Panels
    These devices harness and focus solar rays to a singular focal point using parabolic mirrors. The intense heat generated, reaching temperatures up to 600°C, is used for steam power generation, subsequently providing thermal or electric energy.
  • Photovoltaic Solar Panels
    Relying on the photovoltaic properties of certain semiconductor materials, these panels directly convert light energy into electrical energy.

Yet, harnessing solar energy into a usable form is not without its challenges. Its diffuse nature, along with the intermittent nature of solar energy, similar to other renewable energies, poses significant conversion challenges.