While some solar energy is reflected back into space, but about 70 percent is absorbed by the atmosphere, clouds, oceans, land, plants and other surfaces. Some is converted by photosynthesis into stored energy in plants as biomass. Some of the energy, especially ultraviolet light, damages and degrades materials, as well as causing sunburn and other adverse health effects. Much of the energy is absorbed by surfaces and heats them, and this heat can be transferred to other materials for our use, such as space heating and water heating. Converting light directly into electricity using photovoltaic materials, first observed in 1839(1), allows us to harvest solar energy for direct-use or to sell electricity onto the grid.

After learning about how we receive and harvest solar energy, move on to the next section to conduct an energy audit to determine how much energy you use.