Solar energy is quite simply: power from the sun. How we harvest solar power can be interesting. There are many methods from simple to complex.
For centuries people have placed tea in a bottle or jug and left it out in the sun to warm the water and steep the tea. This is a simple method of using the sun to create a tasty warm drink.
Children have used magnifying glasses to concentrate the light and heat of the sun to burn their hands or start fires. Indeed one of the interesting methods being worked on now is using mirrors to reflect and concentrate the rays of the sun to create heat and power a generator.
Solar panels are photovoltaic panels which convert solar radiation directly to electricity. These are seen on homes and businesses as dark grey, almost black, panels that pivot to follow the sun. These panels are expensive to install, costing almost twice what a windmill does. However they can be implemented virtually everywhere.
Of course solar power cannot create any electricity during the night but most electricity is consumed during the day and batteries can store some power for the night. Therefore this is not a major issue for homes and businesses using solar energy.
Solar energy heats water and pools and many homes are designed with the concept of solar energy. They optimize the slant of roofs and placement of windows to catch all the winter sun and shade the summer sun. Properly built they reduce the heating requirement in the winter and the cooling requirements in the summer.
Despite all the advances in solar heating over the past few decades, solar power only represents about 1% of the power created in the United States today. Cost is the factor that is preventing the mass use of solar power. As we develop better and cheaper methods of creating power we will likely see an increase in this renewable energy source.