How much energy does the sun produce? (and other fun facts)

Updated

How much energy does the sun produce?

Image source: NASA

I love the sun. Any bask in it is a revitalizing pause. Even when it’s cold outside, that radiating warmth from way out in space makes me feel pretty lucky. Here are 3 reasons why I think the sun is so amazing:

#1: Ever look up on a hot day and say, “I wonder how much energy the sun produces?” Well, it’s enough this hour to power 2,880 trillion light bulbs

In the image below you will see precisely 2,880 trillion light bulbs. Please pause for a moment to count them all to develop a respect for how much energy the sun produces.

Millions of lightbulbs

That’s like giving every single person on the planet (that’s 7 billion people) a light bulb that will shine bright for their entire lifetime. Every hour, each square meter of the upper atmosphere receives 1.367kWh of Solar Energy. Since a 60-watt bulb consumes 60 watt x hours in one hour, or 60 Wh x 24 hr/day = 1440 Wh per day and there are 120 trillion square meters in our atmosphere, that’s like dropping 120 TRILLION 60 watt light bulbs and still having enough electricity in one hour of sunlight for ALL of those light bulbs to shine for 24 hours!

Find out how many solar panels you need to power your home

#2: The sun is a giant nuclear explosion!

Distance from Earth to the sun

Located a mere 93 million miles away from our planet’s surface, the Sun is a thermonuclear fusion reaction. Good thing it’s that far away, since nuclear fusion involves temperatures in excess of 5700 oC, (and as high as 14 million oC in the case of earth’s sun). This reaction requires massive amounts of pure hydrogen gas which is found exclusively in outer space.

#3: The sun continuously pelts the earth with 35,000 times the amount of energy required by all of us who now use electricity on the planet!

Map of the USA

That is a MASSIVE amount of electricity. That purple square above is the land area required in the United States covered in concentrating solar technology to power our entire country.

The main reason why we must use more of the energy the sun produces for our electricity

Coal plant

Out of all that energy from the sun, how much energy the sun produces accounts for less than .1% of it for electricity

(about 2% of the energy in the United States comes from the sun)

More than any other source, we depend on electricity generated from the combustion of fossil fuels to power heat engines, which in turn rotate electrical turbines. Fossil fuels are matter which once lived on the earth’s surface, absorbed the sun’s radiant energy, died, decomposed, and became integrated into the planet’s metamorphic geology. When fossil fuels are dug up and combusted in the atmosphere, fossilized solar heat energy is released and can be harnessed to do work.

However, this turns out to be a very inefficient use of energy. The second law of thermodynamics dictates any energy conversion involves an efficiency loss and heat engines are one of the least efficient ways to convert energy. (Further inefficiencies result from the extraction of fossil fuels and the transport and transmission of that energy to all of us.)

In addition to being inefficient, combusting fossil fuels for energy is also impractical. Fossil fuels are the product of millions of years of undisturbed geologic action. Burning them releases carbon into the atmosphere at a rate which disrupts ecological processes.

Wind turbines

Solar thermal

Luckily, we’ve come up with more direct and efficient means of soaking up solar energy. Huge mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays on a thermal storage agent like water, which in turn generates steam to power turbines. Photovoltaic cells convert photons of sunlight directly into voltage and generate electrical direct current. Radiant solar energy affects the movement of atmospheric fluids like air and water. And kinetic energy of moving air or water can then be harnessed to rotate an electrical turbine. Brilliant!

Solar panels, wind farms, and the like are great solutions for the long term. If you’re wondering how you can avoid the hassle and destruction of old skül energy extraction, you’ve come to the right place. Ask your local installer how you can start harvesting energy directly from our sun.

 - Author of Solar Reviews

Dan Hahn

Solar Journalist

Dan is a solar journalist and content advisor with SolarReviews. He also works with solar installers and solar nonprofits to develop and execute strategic plans.

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