10 fun facts about solar energy

The Sun is a spectacularly large sphere of molten plasma that is continuously radiating approximately 384.6 yottawatts of energy into space. To put that in perspective, 1 yottawatt equals 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts!

The Earth receives around 174 quadrillion of those watts, which can be naturally converted into electricity via a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect. By using solar panels to harness the power of the Sun, we can produce renewable energy that is clean, sustainable, and relatively inexpensive.

Here are some interesting facts about solar energy that may surprise you!

1. You can safely and efficiently use solar power to run any device currently fueled by oil or natural gas – that includes modern essentials like BBQ grills, espresso makers, and smartphones.

2. In 2016, Swiss explorers André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard successfully flew all the way around the world from Abu Dhabi in a solar-powered airplane named Solar Impulse 2.

One of Bertrand Piccard's spectacular flights in Solar Impulse 2

3. Direct sunlight produces the most electricity but solar panels will continue to charge even when the sky is overcast.

4. Surreal solar-powered “mutant vehicles” roam the Black Rock Desert at the popular Burning Man arts festival every summer. (Plus, all the municipal buildings in Las Vegas are now running entirely on renewable energy – nice work Nevada!)

A solar-powered mobile soundstage at Burning Man 2016 / © SolarBeatz

5. Spacecraft orbiting the inner solar system often rely on solar power. (Those massive paneled wings on NASA's International Space Station are actually solar array panels!)

6. Solar energy can be stored in molten salt.

7. A Dutch sculptor named Ap Verheggen is currently working on the ambitious SunGlacier project, which aims to produce water and ice in the middle of the desert using an off-grid solar energy system.

A SunGlacier prototype in the Sahara Desert / © Hessel Waalewijn

8. In the process of generating electricity, solar panels do not release any harmful emissions that could pollute the air or water supply.

9. Several of the world's largest solar power plants are located in the American Southwest, such as the 4000-acre Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California's beautiful Mojave Desert.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert / © National Renewable Energy Lab

10. We could power the entire world with renewable energy if we installed just 191,000 square miles of solar panels. That may sound like a lot of miles, but it's actually less than 1% of the Earth's surface! (0.3% to be exact.)

Author: Vanessa Reid