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Ancient Greeks worshiped Helios, the “Sun God.” It’s not hard to see why they worshiped the personification of the great ball of fire in the sky. The sun provides warmth, heat, and now—energy. Here are 15 facts about solar energy that you likely didn’t know about this fascinating energy source that is growing at a remarkable rate.

  1. The sun continuously strikes the earth with over 173,000 terrawatts of energy. This is an incredible amount, considering the fact that one terrawatt is equal to one trillion watts.
  2. Spacecrafts have sported solar cells since the 1960s. It seems obvious that having a renewable energy source would be a huge benefit for an orbiting spacecraft. The Vanguard 1, which is the first orbiting satellite to utilize solar cells, is still in motion today—nearly 6 billion miles later.
  3. Solar energy has grown at a rate of nearly 20% per year over the past 15 years. 
  4. Solar offers numerous tax incentives. Many U.S. homeowners who invest in solar energy are doing so with the help of the numerous tax incentives for such projects. Typically, U.S. homeowners will recoup their investment with energy savings within 5 – 10 years. Here’s a little more on how to use solar in your own home.
  5. The U.S. Department of Energy began to invest in solar power as far back as the 1980s. One of their earliest projects was called Solar One, located in California’s Mojave desert. In 1996, a second project—dubbed Solar Two—opened. This second facility utilized molten salt in order to store energy, as it is capable of storing heat at a very high temperature. This was the world’s first large-scale facility utilizing molten salt for solar energy storage
  6. Thermal energy storage is a key part of any solar energy system, since the sun doesn’t shine at night and less solar power is collected on cloudy days.
  7. There are two main ways to capture solar energy: Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and concentrated solar power (CSP). PV captures the sun’s rays and converts this solar energy directly into electricity. CSP transfers the energy to a receiver, then utilizes mechanical energy (often turbines) to produce electricity.
  8. The world’s largest solar energy project is currently in construction in the Mojave Desert of California. When complete, 350,000 mirrors will concentrate the sun’s energy onto boilers full of water. When these boil, steam will power a turbine and create electricity. Developers expect this project to power 140,000 homes.
  9. The Mojave Project is just one example of a Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project. This technology utilizes mirrors (up to hundreds of thousands of mirrors) to reflect the sun’s rays and generate electricity from that solar energy.
  10. One CSP plant can power up to 70,000 homes. To see where CSP facilities are being built, check out this map from the Department of Energy. The plants are, not surprisingly, concentrated in sunny locations, such as the deserts of southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. There are also isolated plants in Florida, Hawaii, and Northern California. Nearly a dozen of these plants are currently in use, with approximately eight more in development. They utilize a variety of technologies, including: troughs, fresnels, parabolic dishes, and tower/heliostat combinations.
  11. Studies show that CSP systems could be integrated into other energy-producing plants throughout the nation, including those that are currently fueled by coal and other forms of fossil fuels. Creating an integrated hybrid system could provide an additional 11–21 gigawatts of energy via CSP, which would be enough to power up to 6 million U.S. homes. Such an integrated system would have a number of benefits, including a reduction in pollution and working towards climate change goals.
  12. Some CSP projects that are currently in development utilize especially heat-resistant transfer fluids, including some that can work efficiently at temperatures up to 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s hotter than lava!
  13. Germany and Italy use the most solar photovoltaic energy. Together both countries use more than half the worldwide total. Japan, Spain, the U.S., and China also use significant amounts of solar energy from PV sources.
  14. The U.S. and Spain are currently the only two nations that have significant CSP capacity. Many other nations, however, are working to develop CSP resources and capacity.
  15. By 2060, up to one third of the world’s energy could be supplied by solar energy, according to the International Energy Agency. 

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Image credit: Solar Energy (Veneto 19)

About The Author

Kristen Pope
Freelance Writer and Editor

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor. She is the editor of JHStyle Magazine and a contributor to numerous publications, including Backpacker and International Journal of Wilderness. She spent years working in museums, national parks, and state parks, teaching people about science and the environment. You can find her online at www.kepope.com.