Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, has been harnessed by humans since ancient times using a range of ever-evolving technologies. Solar energy technologies includesolar heating, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal electricity and solar architecture, which can make considerable contributions to solving some of the most urgent problems the world now faces.
Solartechnologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Active solar techniques include the use ofphotovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or lightdispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energytechnologies 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 earlydeployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared".
Energy from the Sun
The Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW) of incoming solar radiation(insolation) 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 surfaceis mostly spread across the visible and near-infrared ranges with a small part in the near-ultraviolet.
Earth's land surface, oceans and atmosphere absorb solar radiation, and this raises their...