What is solar energy?
Solar energy is energy which is created from sunlight, or heat from the sun.
Solar power is captured when energy from the sun is converted into electricity or used to heat air, water, or other fluids.
There are currently two main types of solar energy technologies:
- solar thermal: these systems convert sunlight into thermal energy (heat). Most solar thermal systems use solar energy for space heating or to heat water (such as in a solar hot water system). However this heat energy can be used to drive a refrigeration cycle to provide for solar based cooling. The heat can also be used to make steam, which can then be used to generate electricity using steam turbines. It is considered more efficient to build solar thermal electricity generators at large scale, typically in the tens to hundreds of megawatts
- solar photovoltaic (PV): the conversion of sunlight directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells. PV systems can be installed on rooftops, integrated into building designs and vehicles, or scaled up to megawatt scale power plants.
Research and development and deployment in on-grid and off-grid applications is progressing rapidly in Australia, and a range of other solar energy technology innovations are currently being explored, for example photosynthetic based solar energy technologies and solar enhanced fuels.
How is solar energy used in Australia?
Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world.
More than 2 million Australian households now have solar hot water systems or solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their rooftop. Deployment of megawatt-scale solar electricity generation systems is still at an early stage of development in Australia.
The increased deployment of solar energy generation depends critically on the commercialisation of large-scale solar energy technologies.