Solar Energy – The Sun’s Gift to Mankind

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Scientists tell us that our sun is dying. It will, in time, run out of fuel, cool down and expand into a red giant. But as that is going to take approximately 5 billion years, we have plenty of time to take advantage of the solar energy which it currently provides.

The sun is a huge ball of atomic activity, which emits solar energy in the form of light and heat. This energy travels through space to the planets providing us with daylight and warmth. It is an incredible free gift.

Man has always used solar energy as best he can. Early man learned how to use the sun's heat for drying meat, fruit or fish to keep them for later eating; the sun baked clay into bricks for building; animal skins were dried for clothing.

Later, when man started living in houses, the value of solar energy for heat was much appreciated. There was always at least one room in any castle which faced south, had as big a window as could be made and was called the "solar". It was one room where our ancestors could be warm, thanks to the sun.

In more recent times, the term Solar energy has taken on a slightly different importance. Modern man uses energy in many forms and prolific quantities. Generally, this energy has been obtained from fossil fuels, such as coal, oil or gas. These, we now realise, are not going to last forever.

Because we have become used to a high level of energy usage, the thought of doing without is no longer acceptable. Alternative sources of energy are needed. Once again good old sun provides and solar energy is becoming pivotal to our future requirements.

Solar energy is renewable, non-polluting, available everywhere, is not (yet) owned by anyone or any country and is free! It can be used directly to heat air and so provide heat to buildings; this works in a similar way to greenhouses. Alternatively, the heat can be collected by solar panels and passed on to heat water for washing or central heating.

Light sensitive devices, called photovoltaic cells, can covert the light from the sun into electricity. They enable solar power to drive an increasing amount of equipment. Initially it was mainly pocket calculators, but now it powers radios, pumps, lights, even cars.

Electricity generated from solar energy can bring power to remote areas and, together with some form of storage, such as a battery, can light houses or run farm machinery. It is very much cheaper to install than laying miles of electric cables and all the boosters that would be needed to ensure a supply.

On a larger scale, some companies/authorities are using large arrays of photovoltaic cells to collect and convert solar energy to supply larger areas. Some installations are large enough to provide power for a whole town.

The sun sends its solar energy to earth at a huge rate. It is absorbed by the land, oceans and atmosphere, but lots still gets through to us. It is estimated that the sun provides as much solar energy in one hour as the world's population uses in a year. This is one great gift and we should look to use it well.

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