Is Solar Energy Considered Light Energy?

Is solar energy considered light energy?

Solar energy refers to the radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, and solar thermal energy. Light energy is the visible form of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the Sun and perceived by the human eye. So in essence, solar energy is a particular form of light energy that originates from the Sun and can be captured and converted into other useful forms of energy.

Both solar energy and light energy belong to the electromagnetic spectrum and consist of photons or small packets of energy with unique properties of wavelength and frequency. Solar energy technologies work by allowing photons of light energy to get absorbed and their energy to get converted into electricity or heat. So solar energy leverages the properties of light energy from the Sun for useful energy generation.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field, propagating through space, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays. NASA explains that electromagnetic radiation can be described in terms of a stream of photons, which are massless particles each traveling in a wave-like pattern and moving at the speed of light. Each photon contains a certain amount of energy.

The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible electromagnetic radiation frequencies. The spectrum is often divided into various regions based on the frequency and wavelength, with radio waves having the lowest frequencies and longest wavelengths, while gamma rays have the highest frequencies and shortest wavelengths. According to Britannica, the higher the photon’s energy, the higher the frequency and the shorter the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation.

Solar Radiation

Solar radiation refers to the full spectrum of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. This includes ultraviolet radiation, visible light, and infrared radiation. The sun produces energy across a broad range of wavelengths from about 100 nm to 1 mm (Fondriest Environmental, n.d.).

The solar radiation spectrum reaching the Earth’s atmosphere spans wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV), visible light, and infrared (IR). UV light has shorter wavelengths and more energy than visible light. Infrared has longer wavelengths and less energy. About half of the radiation is in the visible light spectrum. The Earth’s atmosphere absorbs some solar radiation, particularly UV light. At sea level, around 1000 watts per square meter (W/m2) of solar radiation reaches the Earth on a clear day (Solar Radiation and the Earth System, n.d.).

Different wavelengths of solar radiation have different properties and effects. UV rays have enough energy to break molecular bonds. Visible light allows plants to photosynthesize. Infrared radiation is absorbed by the Earth and atmosphere, warming the planet. Understanding the solar spectrum helps harness solar energy technologies like photovoltaics and solar heating (Quora, 2018).

Photovoltaic Cells

Photovoltaic cells, also known as solar cells, are designed to convert sunlight into electricity. They are made from semiconducting materials such as silicon that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. When sunlight hits a PV cell, photons from the sunlight are absorbed by the semiconducting material, knocking electrons loose. These free electrons then flow through the material to produce an electric current. The current, along with the cell’s voltage, generates electric power. PV cells are often electrically connected and encapsulated to form PV modules or solar panels. The electrical power produced can then be fed directly into a home, business, or electrical grid to meet electricity needs.

According to, “The Light is absorbed and knocks electrons loose. The loose electrons flow, which creates a current. The current is guided by the electrical properties (positive to negative) to create voltage.” Essentially, PV cells take in light energy and through the photovoltaic effect convert it directly into electrical energy.

Solar Thermal Energy

Solar thermal energy systems convert sunlight into heat energy that can be used for water heating, space heating, and even electricity generation. Solar thermal systems use solar collectors, often mounted on rooftops, that absorb heat from the sun and transfer it to a fluid passing through the collectors. This heated fluid is then used to heat water in a storage tank or heat exchangers for various applications.

The most common type of solar collector for solar thermal systems is the flat plate collector. These collectors consist of a dark flat absorber plate, usually made of metal, underneath one or more glass or plastic covers. The absorber plate absorbs and retains heat from sunlight passing through the glazing. Fluid tubes run through the absorber plate to carry away the heat. Flat plate collectors can reach temperatures of 100–200°F and are generally used for residential hot water and space heating applications.

Another solar thermal collector design is the evacuated tube collector, which uses rows of parallel glass tubes. The air is removed or “evacuated” from the space between the two layers of glass in each tube, eliminating conductive and convective heat loss. This allows evacuated tube collectors to reach much higher temperatures, up to 400°F. These higher temperatures make evacuated tube collectors well-suited for commercial applications like heating swimming pools or generating electricity.1

Is Solar Energy Light Energy?

Solar energy is considered a form of light energy. The sun produces energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation that includes visible light, infrared light, and ultraviolet light. This solar radiation reaches the Earth and can be harvested and converted into useful forms of energy like electricity and heat (Source).

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels specifically convert the sun’s light energy into electrical energy. The PV cells are made of semi-conducting materials that absorb photons from sunlight and release electrons, generating an electric current that can be used as electricity. So in PV systems, light energy from the sun is directly converted into electrical energy (Source).

Solar thermal technologies like concentrated solar power plants also use the sun’s light energy to produce heat that can generate electricity. So in both PV and solar thermal systems, the source of the energy is the light emitted from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

Therefore, solar energy is considered a direct form of light energy from the sun that can be harnessed in various ways for electricity, heating, and other applications.

Advantages of Solar Energy

As a clean and renewable source of energy, solar power has many key advantages. First and foremost, solar energy is a renewable resource that is available in virtually limitless supply. The sun produces enormous amounts of energy in the form of solar radiation and sunshine. According to the Enel Green Power source, the amount of solar energy that hits the earth in one hour is equivalent to the amount of energy used globally in an entire year. Because the sun will likely continue shining for billions of years, solar energy is considered a renewable resource that will be available indefinitely.

Solar power is also clean energy that generates electricity without emitting pollutants or greenhouse gases. Solar panels produce power without any noise, toxic materials or waste products. According to the Constellation article on solar energy pros and cons, generating more solar power allows us to rely less heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas that contribute to climate change and air pollution. Solar energy has a minimal impact on the environment compared to conventional power sources.

With solar technology advancements like improved efficiency and lowered costs, solar power is now an abundant energy source. solar energy systems can be installed on homes, businesses, and large-scale solar farms to produce electricity locally. The modular nature of solar panels allows solar power capacity to be scaled up easily to meet energy demands. With abundance, renewability, and a minimal environmental footprint, solar energy has become an attractive choice for energy needs.

Disadvantages of Solar

While solar energy has many advantages, there are some disadvantages to consider as well. Two of the main drawbacks of solar are that it can be intermittent and requires expensive infrastructure.

Solar energy relies on sunlight to generate electricity. This means that energy production can be irregular if the sun is blocked by clouds, fog, rain, snow, etc (source). Solar only generates energy during daylight hours, so energy storage systems like batteries are required if power is needed at night. The intermittent nature of solar can make it an unreliable sole source of energy.

Solar energy also requires significant infrastructure and equipment to convert sunlight into usable electricity. Photovoltaic panels and solar thermal systems can be very expensive to manufacture, purchase, and install (source). While prices have dropped significantly over the years, the upfront costs for solar remain high compared to some other energy sources. This can make adopting solar prohibitive for some homeowners and businesses.

Solar Energy Usage

Solar energy is being utilized more and more as a clean renewable energy source. According to recent solar energy usage statistics, solar energy currently accounts for approximately 3% of the total electricity generated in the United States. However, solar power generation is increasing rapidly as costs continue to fall. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) projects that solar will account for 20% of total electricity generation by 2030.

Some of the current major applications of solar energy include powering homes, businesses, and the electric grid. Many homeowners are installing rooftop solar panels to reduce their electricity bills. Commercial solar panel systems are also becoming popular for companies looking to save money and demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Utility-scale solar farms can generate hundreds of megawatts of power and connect to the electric grid. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, for example, has a capacity of 392 MW.

In the future, solar energy could be used for additional applications like charging electric vehicles, providing heat for industrial processes, and powering desalination plants. Advancements in energy storage technology will also allow solar power to be available even when the sun isn’t shining. With solar costs continuing to decrease, usage is expected to grow substantially in the coming decades.


In summary, solar energy is a form of radiant light and heat from the sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies. While solar energy accounts for only a tiny fraction of global energy production today, it holds great promise as a renewable, clean source of energy for the future. With photovoltaic cells, solar thermal systems, concentrated solar plants, and other applications, we are increasingly able to convert sunlight into useful energy for electricity, heating, and more. The main advantages of solar are that it is abundant, renewable, widely available, and creates no direct pollution. The disadvantages are that it can have high upfront costs, relies on sunlight which varies, and some technologies like photovoltaics currently lack efficiency and require rare materials. But solar efficiency is rapidly improving while costs are decreasing. With expanded infrastructure and advances in storage, solar energy has the potential to become a major pillar of the global energy supply and help mitigate climate change in the coming decades. While sunlight itself may be free, harnessing its potential requires vision, investment, and innovation.

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