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Hot Solar Energy Facts: Can a Sidewalk Really Cook an Egg?

When looking for solar energy facts, consider that the subject covers many interdependent areas of science and engineering. To better understand the nature of solar power and how it is used, ask yourself, what do I think of when I hear the words “solar energy?” Is solar energy heat, light, or the “work” it can accomplish?

The Pavement is Hot Enough to Cook an Egg!

The power of the sun’s rays impressed me as a child. I remember hearing the expression, “The sidewalk is so hot you could cook an egg!” I realized that I could burn my feet if I were to walk on it. Clearly the sun could produce great heat. I became curious about how the sun’s light could be used intentionally to produce heat.
As I got older I started playing with a magnifying glass and reflectors and the sun’s light. The magnifying glass not only could enlarge an image I was looking at, but I quickly learned that I could start a fire if I focused the sunlight on a piece of paper. And, by reflecting the sun light into a container I could raise the temperature in that container faster than just letting it sit in the sun with out the reflectors directed at it. I learned the sun would do work for me with very little effort on my part!

What is this energy that comes from the sun and why should you care?  Without getting too technical, the sun’s energy is part of what is called the electromagnetic spectrum. So, what is the connection between the sun’s radiation, the electromagnetic spectrum and cooking an egg? Understanding the nature of the sun’s energy as part of your search for solar energy facts will help you to better understand the best way to collect it and put it to good use.

 

Energy is expressed as radiation in the Electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum is, in part, described as waves of energy with varying frequency (or wave peaks in a period of time) and amplitude (i.e. magnitude of change in height of peaks) of the waves. Electromagnetic waves can range from the very slow or long wave lengths in the example of an earthquake, to very fast and short wave lengths in the case of the microwave we use to cook our food. In between is the energy of heat, sound and light- all with their signature wave frequency and wave length.

The sun emits radiation over a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum and it is this radiation that is important to you and your energy requirements. The sun emits radiation in multiple ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. The longer wavelength range includes radiant heat and to radio waves. The sun’s rays also include short wave energy including x-rays and light, which includes UV, visible and inferred light.  Most of the energy captured in today’s solar collectors is from the ranges of UV, visible and infrared light.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum and the Egg on the Sidewalk
The experience of heat – hot or cold – is in the electromagnetic spectrum in the “Infrared range.” Surfaces exposed to the sun’s radiant energy absorb the energy and then radiate as heat (infrared wave length.) In the event of cooking the egg, the intensity and duration of  the exposure of the egg to this infrared radiation results in a cooked egg. The sun’s energy is transferred or absorbed by the sidewalk in the form of heat. The sidewalk, in turn, does the work of cooking the egg.
Just like with the egg and the sidewalk, the sun’s radiation can be collected and used to heat a home and or provide hot water. With passive building design there are numerous ways to take advantage of the sun’s gift of energy besides installing expensive solar panels. Your understanding of the science of solar energy facts will lead you in the best direction and help you avoid expensive mistakes.

 

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