Solar power is energy from the sun and without its presence all life on earth would end. Solar energy has been looked upon as a serious source of energy for many years because of the vast amounts of energy that are made freely available, if harnessed by modern technology.
A simple example of the power of the sun can be seen by using a magnifying glass to focus the suns rays on a piece of paper. Before long the paper ignites into flames.
This is one way of using the suns energy, but flames are dangerous and difficult to control. A much safer and practical way of harnessing the suns energy is to use the suns power to heat up water.
A magnifying glass can be used to heat up a small amount of water. A short piece of copper tube is sealed at one end and filled with water. A magnifying glass is then used to warm up the pipe.
Using more than one magnifying glass will increase the temperature more rapidly. After a relatively short time the temperature of the water increases. Continuing to heat the water will cause water vapour to appear at the top of the tube.
In theory, with enough patience, several magnifying glasses and very strong sun light enough heat should be generated to boil the water, producing steam. This is one way of harnessing solar power.
The principle of heating water to boiling point was used by the French in 1888. They developed a solar powered printing press. It used the energy of the sun to boil water, producing steam. The steam was used to drive a steam engine which provided the power to drive the mechanical printing press. The machine was unreliable and very expensive to manufacture.
Modern solar panels are a combination of magnifying glasses and fluid filled pipes. The solar panel seen opposite has a glass front which is specially made to focus the power of the sun on pipes behind it.
The pipes carry a special fluid that heats up rapidly. They are painted black to absorb the heat from the sun. The silver reflective surface behind the pipes reflects sun light back, further heating the pipes and the fluid they contain.
The reflective surface also protects anything behind the solar panel (such as a roof).
The heat produced in the pipes is then used to heat a tank of water. This saves using electricity or gas to heat up the water tank.