Solar energy is power from the sun. Nuclear fusion in the sun’s core releases energy that travels outward to the surface of the sun where it is released primarily as light energy.
According to the Energy Information Agency, more energy from the sun falls on the Earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year.
A variety of technologies convert sunlight to usable energy. The most commonly used solar technologies for homes and businesses are solar water heating; passive solar designs for space heating and cooling; and solar photovoltaics for electricity.
Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Photovoltaic gets its name from the process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage), which is called the PV effect.
Bell Telephone scientists discovered the PV effect in 1954 when they found that silicon created an electric charge when exposed to sunlight. Soon solar cells were being used to power space satellites and smaller items like calculators and watches. Today, thousands of people power their homes and businesses with individual solar PV systems. Utility companies are also using PV technology for commercial-scale power generation.
Energy Northwest owns and operates the White Bluff Solar Station, a PV power facility 10 miles north of Richland, Wash.