Solar energy is the radiant light and heat from the Sun that has been harnessed by humans since ancient times using a range of ever-evolving technologies. Solar radiation along with secondary solar resources such as wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and biomass account for most of the available renewable energy on Earth. Only a minuscule fraction of the available solar energy is used.
Solar power provides electrical generation by means of heat engines or photovoltaics. Once converted, its uses are limited only by human ingenuity. A partial list of solar applications includes space heating and cooling through solar architecture, potable water via distillation and disinfection, daylighting, hot water, thermal energy for cooking, and high temperature process heat for industrial purposes.
Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute sunlight. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors (with electrical or mechanical equipment) to convert sunlight into useful outputs. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.