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What is Solar Energy?

The sun is a huge energy source that is converting its own mass into light particles called photons. Trillions of photons fill earth's atmosphere every second. The sun provides us with an unlimited supply of light.

All of the earth's energy comes from the sun. In the case of renewable energy sources and how we harness that solar energy, the link is often very clear: sunlight shining through a window or on a solar heating panel creates warmth, and when it strikes a photovoltaic (PV) panel the sunlight is converted directly into electricity. The sun's energy causes the winds to blow, which moves the blades of a wind turbine, causing a generator shaft to spin and produce electricity. The sun evaporates water and forms the clouds in the sky from which the water, in the form of rain drops, falls back to earth becomes a stream that runs downhill into a micro-hydroelectric generator.

While these energy sources are renewable, they are also variable and intermittent. The sun is not always available. It get cloudy. Its gets dark. However, we humans like to have light and warm or cool air available anytime. So, we need additional components such as batteries, heat pumps, and insulators to store energy for use when we need it. Although the storage components are complicated, the theory and techniques required to understand, install, and live with renewable energy are not.

What Countries Use Solar Energy?

Every country uses solar energy, mostly for farming and food production. However, some countries have been very proactive in reducing their dependence on fossil fuel energy sources. Most of those countries are in Europe. Today, many countries have begun investing heavily in renewable energy sources such as solar. Here are the top 10 solar energy users in Europe. Data in table sourced from PHOTOVOLTAIC BAROMETER - EUROBSERV'ER - APRIL 2010

Country2009 Total PV Use (in MWp)Increase from Previous Year
Germany3,811,300110%
Italy574,10069.8%
Czech Republic411,227735.6%
Belgium292,100491%
France185,447227%
Spain99,011-97%
Greece36,500291%
Portugal34,253-31.6%
United Kingdom10,100129%
Netherlands643357%

Spain was in second place behind Germany. However, economic slowdown caused a great reduction in solar energy installations from 2009 to 2010. The same is true for Portugal.

Many of the African nations are low power users. However, simple solar devices such as solar cookers are used extensively for cooking and water purification.

Solar Cooking Africa
Solar Cooking Africa

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