Solar Energy

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I am a student at Salem County Vocational and Technical High School (SCVTS) that is enrolled in a college chemistry class with SCC (Salem Community College).  The following paper is about solar energy, and the chemistry aspects of it.


1.)Introduction to Solar Energy

2.)Use of Solar Energy in Plants

3.)Solar Panels

4.)History of Solar Energy

5.)Devices That Use Solar Energy

6.)Agricultural Use of Solar Energy

7.)Advantages Of Using Solar Energy


9.)External links

Introduction to Solar Energy

There is a growing demand for different types of energy to power our household appliances daily.  The most common form of energy is the use of oil and burning fossil fuels.  But these methods are polluting the atmosphere and new healthier alternatives have begun to arise.  Solar energy is energy derived from the sun in the form of radiation.  Solar energy is made up of electric energy as well as thermal energy.

Because solar energy comes from the sun, it is renewable and does not have a negative effect on the environment. Even though the amount of radiation that reaches the earth is only a fraction of the amount that the sun produces, the sun converts 650 million tons of hydrogen to helium every second. This processes of turning a highly reactive gas into a non-reactive noble gas creates this type of energy.  Solar energy generators need a solar collector as well as a storage unit in order for them to function efficiently.  The three types of solar collectors are flat-plate collectors, focusing collectors, and passive collectors.  In flat-plate collectors, solar panels are arranged into a simple plane.  Focusing collectors are basically flat-plane collectors with devices used to increase the focus of the sun’s rays to a specific point on the collector.  Passive collectors absorb the sun’s radiation and convert it to heat without human interference.  One the most common uses of solar energy occurs everyday in trillions of plants that are exposed to the sun.

Use of Solar Energy in Plants

In the process of photosynthesis, solar energy is converted into chemical energy, which is the energy released by a chemical reaction or absorbed in the formation of a chemical compound. Radiation from the suns rays is absorbed by chlorophyll or a green pigment located in the chloroplasts of the plants.  Photosynthesis mainly takes place in the chloroplasts of the plant cells.  In photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, water, and solar energy (light) are used to create glucose, which feeds the plant. Water and oxygen are by-products of the chemical reaction.  The two steps in which photosynthesis occurs are light and dark reactions.  In light reactions, solar energy is coveted to chemical energy in the thylakoid of the chloroplasts.  The chemical energy comes from the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).   In dark reactions, carbon dioxide (CO2) is converted to glucose (C6H12O6) through a process called the Calvin Cycle.  This reaction occurs in the stroma of the chloroplasts and ATP as well as NADPH is produced.  However, plants can do this only because they contain chloroplasts, which are essential for the process of photosynthesis.

Solar Panels

On a relatively sunny day, radiation from the sun gives off roughly 1,000 watts of energy per square meter of the earth’s surface.  Ways of converting solar energy into usable energy was accomplished by the creation of solar panels.  Solar panels were at one time used to power most satellite’s electrical systems in outer space. But since then, it has served many useful purposes on earth.  Photovoltaic panels, or solar panels, contain small energy cells that are usually made of silicon. In the word photovoltaic, the root photo means light and voltaic means electricity. Silicon is a semiconductor, making it the most commonly used material in solar panels.  Silicon has 14 electrons, ten making up the first two shells of the atom.  Therefore, its outer shell has only four electrons (half a full shell), and it tends to share electrons with four close atoms.  Because there are no free electrons in pure silicon, it is a poor conductor.  Thus the silicon used in solar panels has other atoms mixed in with it, making it a better conductor.  Each photovoltaic cell consists of two layers, one positive and the other negative, which creates an electric field.  When the panel cells absorb a photon, a particle of solar energy, electrons are released.  The freely flowing electrons generate the electricity used in the electrical systems of many homes.

History of Solar Energy

The use of solar energy dates all the way back to the 7th century B.C. when an early-unknown culture used magnified glass to focus the sun’s rays on ants on the ground. The solar energy when magnified killed the ants by setting them on fire.  In the third century B.C., Romans and Greeks used mirrors to reflect the suns rays on various torches during religious ceremonies.  The sun’s reflected rays intensified the heat, causing the torches to catch fire.  A Greek scientist named Archimedes used bronze shields to reflect the sun’s rays on Roman ships, and therefore setting them on fire in the second century B.C. (an experiment was done in 1973 to test Archimedes’s theory and it successful set fire to a wooden boat 50 meters away).  In the twentieth century A.D., the Chinese recorded their use of mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays on torches, setting them ablaze, during religious ceremonies. In 1767, Horace de Saussure successfully creates the first solar collector.

Edmond Becquerel experiments with an electrolytic cell and found that the amount of electricity created increased when exposed to light in 1839.  In the 1860s, a French mathematician named August Mouchet and his assistant Abel Pifre created the first solar-powered engines and used them for many purposes. The bolometer was invented by Samuel P. Langley in 1880, and it was used to measure the amount of light that comes from the sun as well as the light from the stars furthest from the Earth.  In 1891, Clarence Kemp, a Baltimore inventor, helped release the first commercial solar water heater.  NASA launched the first solar- powered Orbiting Astronomical Observatory in 1966.  By 1976, Australia was the only inhabited continent that did not receive photovoltaic power systems from the NASA Lewis Research Center.  Due to a growing demand for photovoltaic cells, the production of the cells transcended 9.3 megawatts in 1982.  In 1996, the Icare, the world’s most advanced solar-powered airplane, flew over Germany. On August 6, 1998, a remote-controlled, solar powered aircraft called the “Pathfinder” breaks the record height of 80,000 feet.  In Richland, Washington, the White Bluffs Solar Station (largest solar power facility in the Northwest with 38.7 kilowatts) became active in 2002.

Devices That Use Solar Energy

Solar energy is used to power several devices used daily by humans.  Some watches and small calculators have tiny solar panels that give them power as opposed to batteries.  In many homes, solar power is used for hot water tanks.  Systems of solar energy collectors gather solar heat and store it until it is needed to heat the water in the tank.  Small solar panels power highway caution signs in case of emergencies.  Electric fences, water pumps, and some entrance gates on cattle ranches also use solar power to control them because they are located in areas that have little electricity and not a ton of power is needed.  In some campground restrooms, solar panels are used to power the lights.  Many RVs have solar panels to power the devices in them when they are in an area with little to no electricity available.  In many places around the world, electric grids are made of solar panels, and these panels send electricity to homes and businesses located in its grid.  For homes that are not close enough to the power grid, large photovoltaic panels are used to charge batteries that the homeowners can use.

For campers and people that love hiking, solar powered flashlights, radios, and battery chargers are being created.  Solar powered cookers are also being developed as a safe and efficient alternative to propane tanks.  Movable backup solar-powered generators are also being produced in cases of emergency.  Some companies are producing solar powered volt testers and solar powered cigarette lighters.  Although solar powered boats and vehicles have not been sold to the public yet, they are being tested as we speak.

Agricultural Use of Solar Energy

On several farms, the use of electricity did not seem necessary when daylight was an efficient way to light a building.  Some farms today still use natural daylight instead of electrical lights.  The sun’s rays can also be used to warm a house and barn without the use of oil powered heat.  Most farmers use passive collectors to collect the solar energy from the sun.  Since early farming times, solar energy has been used to dry crops and grain.  Solar drying equipment is the most efficient way to dry crops because it is a quicker process and because the crops are not exposed to harmful conditions during the process.  Other collectors can be expensive to buy, so most farmers us passive collectors because they are naturally efficient.

Solar greenhouses use building material to gather and keep the energy as heat whereas commercial greenhouses use gas and oil heaters to keep consistent temperatures.  Solar greenhouses are usually structured to face south with little opportunity of light coming in from the north side.  The south side, however, will be open with many windows, so that the sun’s rays can help the plants grow.  Solar panels are often times cheaper then electric lines and are very simple in their structure. They do not have rotating parts and are easier to operate than gasoline power sources. Photovoltaic systems are economical for remote livestock water supply, pond aeration, and tiny irrigation systems on farms.  There are still many farms today that use solar power to assist in the production of grain and crops.  Farmers made use of solar energy in a way that was effective for growing crops, healthy for the environment, and relatively inexpensive.

Advantages Of Using Solar Energy

There are many ways that solar energy is better than other forms of energy.  Solar energy is a natural source of energy that is not harmful to the environment.  Solar panels do not give off pollutants when used, unlike oil and fossil fuels.  It is also a very efficient way of obtaining power that can be used for various tasks. Not only is the use of solar energy safe for the environment, it can be recycled or reused.  When you burn oil or other fossil fuels to create electricity, they can never be recycled or used again. The amount of electricity that could be generated by oil/fossil fuel deposits around the world is equal to about twenty days of sunlight power.  Also, unlike other forms of energy, solar energy can be used in various types of environments and is not easily affected by weather conditions.

There is also an advantage for hikers and campers that use solar powered objects such as batteries chargers, flashlights, and other necessary devices.  People that use solar energy have saved a lot of money on their electric bills. The only disadvantage to solar power is that the initial coast of solar panels is expensive.  Photovoltaic cells also retain the energy not used when powering houses and stores it until it needs to be used.  Also, even in cloudy or stormy weather, the solar panels will work because light still comes to Earth.  The process of collecting solar energy is a natural occurrence and it is also silent.  Another huge advantage is that you do not need a ton of solar panels and you can get a lot of power out of just one.  Solar energy is a huge topic that relates to chemistry and other sciences like it.


Rochell, M.S. “How is Solar Energy Used?.” How is Solar Energy Used?. 2002.

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Bailey, Regina. “Photosynthesis.”


Patterson, James. “Solar Energy Panels-How They Work.”


“The History of Solar.”


Brown, Eric W. “An Introduction to Solar Energy.” 1988.


Toothman, Jessika, and Scott Aldous. “How Solar Cells Work” pg. 1-2.


Myers, Cynthia. “Solar Energy:Common Uses.” 2010.


Agarwal, Abhishek. “List of Everyday Devices That Use Solar Energy.” 2008.


Carter, J. Stein. “Photosynthesis.” 1996.


“Up with the Sun: Solar Energy and Agriculture.”


“Advantages of Solar Power.” Clean Energy Ideas.


External Links

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