Solar Energy Definition and Examples

Solar energy or solar power is energy collected from the sun’s rays through solar collectors such as solar panels which concentrate sun rays for conversion into electricity. Because the sun shines every day all day, this energy is renewable and sustainable. Because solar energy is merely collected rather than pumped or coaxed, and because it arrives at each home solar panel clean and ready to use with no refining nor delivery required, solar energy is completely green energy. Best of all, solar energy is free.

There is so much about solar energy that screams, “the future lies this way,” that it is hard to believe that there are still people and governments out there behaving as if fossil fuel is the future despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

In fact, according to the latest from  “The clean energy industry generates hundreds of billions in economic activity, and is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the coming years. There is tremendous economic opportunity for the countries that invent, manufacture and export clean energy technologies.”

We get electricity from solar energy when our solar panels convert sunlight into usable solar energy (electricity). N-type and P-type semiconductor material is used in the panels. As the sun shines on these semiconductors, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. The electrons flow through the semiconductor material, producing electricity.

This incredible process of making photons of light into volts of electricity is called the photovoltaic or PV effect. Today’s solar panels can convert the majority of the visible light spectrum into electricity.

Using the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity with solar panels is a safe and straightforward process: collect energy, convert the energy collected, use the electricity now or store the electricity in batteries.

Other solar technologies have been developed to concentrate solar power (CSP). These are called CSP technologies. There are two types of CSP technologies, determined by how they work: the parabolic trough and the linear Fresnel system both focus sunlight onto linear receivers while dish/engine and power tower technologies focus sunlight to a point.

Whereas panels simply collect sunlight, all of these types of technologies convert sunlight into heat energy for use in heat-driven engines so they are considered thermal solar technologies.

CSP technologies are used by utility companies or for industrial load users and are considered thermal solar because they use thermal energy in their electricity making process. Notably, even CSP power is completely green, renewable, and unlimited.

Basically, if you are thinking about residential solar, you are thinking of panels and converters generating electricity at the house level, which is simple use of the photovoltaic effect.

Current near-constant improvements in batteries fuel rapid, inexorable growth in solar power technologies. Each year we use more solar energy to power our world.

In fact just in the US according to, “at the end of 2015, there was a combined 100 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power in the United States. To help put this number in perspective, it’s important to know just how big 1 gigawatt is. A watt is a measure of power and there’s 1 billion watts in 1 GW.  (And if you wanted to break it down even further, 1 million watts = 1 megawatt (MW) and 1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt (kW).”

Reckoning in Gigawatts

1 gigawatt is equal to 4.6 million solar photovoltiac panels or 1 million LED lightbulbs or 1.3 million horses.

According to, “If you are a perfectly average American living in a perfectly average household, your monthly electricity bill will read 911 kilowatt hours (kWh), which costs $114.”

Solar Energy System at Home

Jim Schmid Photography, NREL

According to, “the average solar energy system size in the U.S is approximately 5 kilowatts (kW). Based on the average price of $3.14/watt, a 5kW system would cost $10,990 after tax credits. Below are some average 2018 quotes for other solar energy systems by size:

6kW solar energy system cost: $13,188

8kW solar energy system cost: $17,584

10kW solar energy system cost: $21,980

Thanks to Santa Cruz Solar Energy for the infographic.

So you know about how much energy you would need to collect to power your home, now what? There are many reputable solar energy system installers in the US. Many have financing available. Click here, here, or here to visit a solar supplier website and review opportunities.

Just to give you a ballpark, has a 7280 watt DIY Solar Install Kit w/String Inverter that, “For half the homes in the United States . . .is more than enough to completely eliminate their [electric] bill” when installed. We would love to hear from any readers who try it.

Solar energy is a workhorse we have always been using: making sun tea, frying eggs on pavement, sun tanning your skin or waiting for the pool to get warm in the afternoon sun are all made possible by passive solar energy. It is passive because we just take advantage of what the sun naturally does every day. Today we can purposefully collect solar energy on panels for conversion to electricity in our homes.

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We found these videos too compelling to omit.

Works Consulted n.d. Print. 17 March 2018. 31 October 2013. Print. 10 March 2018. 2018. Webpage. 9 April 2018. n.d. Webpage. 28 March 2018. n.d. Print. 18 March 2018.

SEPCO. 2012. Print. 17 March 2018.

Our thanks to NASA for the featured image.