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How Solar Power Works

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Concentrating solar power v. photovoltaic

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Solar power is energy that comes from the sun. This energy can be captured and stored in many different ways. It is the ultimate source for most energy resources.  It is also used directly to generate electricity.

One common solar energy technology is the solar panel. Solar panels are composed of a series of solar cells. Each cell is able to transform light energy into electrical energy — a technology called photovoltaics (PV). “Photo” means light and “voltaic” refers to the generation of electricity.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies use mirrors and lenses to reflect and refract sunlight onto collectors where it is transformed into thermal energy. It can then be used to generate electricity.


Passive solar technologies make use of the sun’s energy without the need for active mechanical systems like lighting or furnaces. Buildings can be designed to make use of sunlight for heat and light, reducing the amount of electricity or gas needed to maintain a comfortable living or working environment.

Today many large-scale solar projects exist around the world including the Ivanpah solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert. The biggest challenge for solar energy is making it affordable. Current projects, like the Ivanpah plant, cost billions of dollars making construction extremely expensive.

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