What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is energy from the sun in the form of radiated light and heat. The sun’s radiant energy can be used to provide lighting and heat for buildings and to produce electricity. It is a renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner over long periods of time. Solar energy can be harnessed only during the day and only if the sunlight is not blocked by clouds, buildings or other obstacles.

Solar thermal and solar PV are the main techniques and technologies used today for producing/generating solar energy. Other types of solar energy systems include solar air heating, which is usually applied on commercial and industrial buildings, and concentrated solar power systems, which were more common in the past, and at a utility scale. Given Alberta’s cold climate and relatively large heating demands, homes with solar heating systems also typically have other methods of heating, especially during short winter days.

Terminology and how energy is measured for solar systems:

If you encounter a term that you are unfamiliar with please refer to our Glossary. Electricity is measured in kilowatts (kW). Electrical energy is the amount of electricity used in an hour and is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The average Alberta home uses 600 to 800 kWh per month as is shown on the monthly electric utility bill. Thermal energy is typically measured in Giga-Joules (GJ) for natural gas, although several other measures of thermal energy are also used. The average Alberta home uses about 2 GJ of natural gas in the summer and this increases to 20 or more GJ in winter months. All thermal energy measures can be converted to kWh to develop your combined energy profile. For example, one GJ is equivalent to 278 kWh.

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