Solar Energy

Solar energy is energy from the Sun, which can be harnessed in several ways. Solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity directly from sunlight. The Sun’s heat can be used directly to heat water or air, or it can be concentrated to boil water, driving steam turbines that generate electricity.

Basics

Photo of a 600 kW solar electric system on the Minneapolis Convention Center

Solar energy is energy from the Sun, which can be harnessed in several ways. Solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity directly from sunlight. The Sun’s heat can be used directly to heat water or air, or it can be concentrated to boil water, driving steam turbines that generate electricity. Solar energy is a form of renewable energy.
Solar power generation is most effective in places that have a lot of direct sunlight throughout the year. Low-latitude, desert areas are ideal, such as southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. However, most areas of the United States are sunny enough to use solar energy to some extent. Solar energy is only available when the sun is shining, so even in the sunniest places, nighttime energy needs must be provided by other energy sources. Scientists and engineers are working to develop advanced batteries to store energy generated from solar power and therefore make solar energy usable 24 hours a day.   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Latest News

Nuclear power plant, Czech Republic
(2016-07-28)
July 13, 2016 The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing to discuss the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act (H.R.2663), a bipartisan bill with 67 cosponsors that was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in 2015. If enacted, H.R.2663 would...
Nuclear power plant, Czech Republic
(2016-07-28)
July 11, 2016 The Solar Fuels Innovation Act (H.R.5638) and the Electricity Storage Innovation Act (H.R.5640) passed the House by voice vote this July. The bills, which require the Department of Energy (DOE) to carry out two new basic research initiatives, received bipartisan support. The two...
Sun
(2015-10-09)
September 21, 2015 On September 21, Vice President Joe Biden in coordination with the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the creation of a new initiative to fund solar research and development in the United States. The SunShot Initiative within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable...

Research Database Publications

Cover image of factsheet; Image credit: SME
2010, Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration Inc. (SME)
An overview of all of the minerals and metals used to make solar panels.
AIPG logo
2009, American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG)
Biofuels, biomass, hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, and wind make up the largest renewable energy resource group in the world. These resources are renewable and sustainable, so a statement of current reserves is generally hard to estimate, with limiting factors such as water, land and the...
Cover of ofr20161087; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Solar power represents an important and rapidly expanding component of the renewable energy portfolio of the United States (Lovich and Ennen, 2011; Hernandez and others, 2014). Understanding the impacts of renewable energy development on wildlife is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service...
Cover of FS2014-3077; Source: USGS
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Tellurium is one of the least common elements on Earth. Most rocks contain an average of about 3 parts per billion tellurium, making it rarer than the rare earth elements and eight times less abundant than gold. Grains of native tellurium appear in rocks as a brittle, silvery-white material, but...