Over the past decade or so, as the price of oil grows more and more expensive, and the situation in the Middle East continuing to be unsteady, many people are looking for alternative energy sources, to offset the use of traditional fossil fuels. One of the more popular green energy sources is solar energy. The amount of energy the sun sends towards our planet is 35,000 times more than what we currently produce and consume. Every hour alone, the sun beams more than enough energy onto Earth to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Some of this energy — known as solar radiation — is reflected back into space, but most of it is absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere. This energy can be easily harnessed for various practical purposes. The best way to capture this energy for use is through the use of photovoltaic solar panels. Solar panels work by allowing particles of light, or photons, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Solar panels are actually made of many smaller units called photovoltaic cells. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. At that point, the electrons can flow like any other source of electricity. Solar energy has almost no negative impact on the environment. Photovoltaic systems release no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and generate electricity indirectly as well, by first generating heat from solar energy and then using the steam produced in the process to run power generators. One concern people have about solar is how it will work on overcast, cloudy days. However, solar panels don’t even need direct sunlight to produce energy: they just need daylight. This means they can operate even during cloudy and less bright days. Many homes and businesses are hopping on the solar power bandwagon. Whether they’re installing solar panels on their roofs, or solar shade structures in their parking lots, they’re finding that despite the higher up-front costs, solar structures pay for themselves by offsetting or completely eliminating electric bills. The future of solar is looking very bright, indeed.