Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that “the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating global warming, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise.
These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments for future generations. As the cost has fallen, the number of solar PV systems has grown into the millions.
Solar hot water systems use sunlight to heat water. In low geographical latitudes (below 40 degrees) from 60 to 70% of the domestic hot water use with temperatures up to 60 °C can be provided by solar heating systems. The most common types of solar water heaters are evacuated tube collectors (44%) and glazed flat plate collectors (34%) generally used for domestic hot water; and unglazed plastic collectors (21%) used mainly to heat swimming pools.
In the United States, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems account for 30% (4.65 EJ/yr) of the energy used in commercial buildings and nearly 50% (10.1 EJ/yr) of the energy used in residential buildings. Solar heating, cooling and ventilation technologies can be used to offset a portion of this energy.
Solar cookers use sunlight for cooking, drying and pasteurization. They can be grouped into three broad categories: box cookers, panel cookers and reflector cookers. The simplest solar cooker is the box cooker first built by Horace de Saussure in 1767.