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Solar energy is one of the most important sources of 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.In order to effectively design a solar energy system, an understanding of the available solar resource at the location of interest is required. This article aims to provide readers with an understanding of the earth's solar resource and introduces the tools required to perform a basic analysis. A brief overview of solar radiation measurement techniques and performance modeling will also be provided.