Argonne National Laboratory Solar Energy Systems U.S. Department of Energy

Primer on Solar Energy

solar cells
Solar cells

How can the sun's energy be used?

Solar energy generally refers to the use of sunlight. However, all renewable energy other than tidal and geothermal is ultimately derived from the sun. For example, heat from sunshine is a major contributor to atmospheric circulation, or large scale wind. Solar technologies are characterized as either passive or active. Active solar techniques use solar cells, pumps, or fans to convert sunlight into valuable outputs. Passive solar techniques include designing architectural spaces that naturally circulate air, choosing materials with beneficial thermal properties, and positioning a building with respect to the Sun for heat or light management. Active solar technologies increase the supply of energy whereas passive solar technologies reduce the demand. Argonne’s research programs are focused primarily on active solar technologies such as solar power (photovoltaics and concentrating solar power) and solar fuels.

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