Let’s learn about solar power

We can harvest energy from the sun to run cars, computers and more

a photo of solar panels on a green hill

These solar panels take energy from the sun and convert it to electricity we can use.

LeoPatrizi/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Humans want to get around quickly, stay warm, light up the night and watch Netflix. But the energy to drive cars, heat houses, turn on lights and stream shows has to come from somewhere. In many cases, it comes from fossil fuels. Gasoline and coal, however, create greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Other sources of energy are needed.

Ever wonder how solar energy becomes electricity? This video has you covered.

One of those is the sun. An alternative to those fossil fuels is solar power. Those large panels covering your neighbor’s roof are a common example of solar power generation. Those panels are covered with photovoltaic cells that convert light energy into electricity by harvesting photons. Photons are tiny particles of light. They excite negatively charged electrons in the solar panel. The electrons snap off from the atoms they are attached to. As the electrons move, they create electricity. Capturing that electricity helps us power our cars, computers and more.

Scientists are trying to improve solar power generation in many ways, including by making it more efficient. Some are working on see-through solar panels that can harvest energy from greenhouses. Others are creating solar grids that can also clean drinking water. And some are designing solar power grids that can be painted on to any surface.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Sunlight can produce energy and clean water at the same time: This device can make electricity from the sun. What makes it truly special, however, is that it uses waste heat from the system to turn dirty water or salty water into drinking water. (7/25/2019) Readability: 7.5

How to turn a greenhouse into a powerhouse: See-through solar cells could turn greenhouses into solar power plants. (8/29/2019) Readability: 6.3

The future of crystal-based solar energy just got brighter: Researchers have upped the efficiency of layered solar cells that could be printed or painted onto surfaces. Now they are working to make those solar cells more rugged. (1/7/2020) Readability: 7.7

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You don’t always need solar panels to benefit from solar energy. This project from Science Buddies shows you how to build a solar heater at home that will actually heat a room in your house!

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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