Energia słoneczna

Instytut Rozwoju Energii Odnawialnej

Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun's energy and make it useable. Today, the technology produces less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand.

Many people are familiar with so-called photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, found on things like spacecraft, rooftops, and handheld calculators. The cells are made of semiconductor materials like those found in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity.

Other solar technologies are passive. For example, big windows placed on the sunny side of a building allow sunlight to heat-absorbent materials on the floor and walls. These surfaces then release the heat at night to keep the building warm. Similarly, absorbent plates on a roof can heat liquid in tubes that supply a house with hot water.

Solar energy is lauded as an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution and often noise free. The technology is also versatile. For example, solar cells generate energy for far-out places like satellites in Earth orbit and cabins deep in the Rocky Mountains as easily as they can power downtown buildings and futuristic cars.

But solar energy doesn't work at night without a storage device such as a battery, and cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable during the day. Solar technologies are also very expensive and require a lot of land area to collect the sun's energy at rates useful to lots of people.

Despite the drawbacks, solar energy use has surged at about 20 percent a year over the past 15 years, thanks to rapidly falling prices and gains in efficiency. Japan, Germany, and the United States are major markets for solar cells. With tax incentives, solar electricity can often pay for itself in five to ten years.

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Wychodząc naprzeciw ciągłej eksploatacji Ziemi, naukowcy i inżynierowie starają się znaleźć nowe źródła energii odnawialnej. W szczególności zainteresowani są wodą i jej wszechstronnością. Wiele badań i projektów zmierza do pozyskiwania energii ze strumyków, rzek i energii falowej, które są określone jako okrągłe ruchy cząsteczek wody, spowodowane wiatrem, który przemieszcza powierzchnię wody poprzez tarcie.