The solar resource. Solar energy is the source of all energy on earth, available to us in a number of derivatives. Plant matter for example, which relies on solar energy for nutrition, experiences natural compression and decomposition over millions of years to form the the fossil fuels we use today for electrical generation and transportation. Other examples of this can be seen in use of biomass for fuel or the harvesting of wind energy which is reliant on solar heated air for the formation of currents.
We are also able to utilize the solar resource directly. Solar thermal technologies take advantage of this resource to heat a working fluid that can transfer energy to an air stream or water for domestic or commercial use. Solar Photovoltaic or PV devices exploit various materials (principally Silicon) that experience sub-atomic variations when exposed to solar energy in order to induce an electric current. Both solar PV and thermal technologies provide a useful source of energy with little to no moving parts, no pollution and very little embodied energy.
Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, has been harnessed by humans since ancient times using a range of ever-evolving technologies. Solar radiation, along with secondary solar-powered resources such as wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and biomass, account for most of the available renewable energy on earth. Only a minuscule fraction of the available solar energy is used.
Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.