I'm here to add a little insight to the conversation based on years of explaining solar to energy executives... a sort of Intro to Solar for the very uninitiated.
Let's start by making a very important distinction: Energy from the sun can be tapped using several different solar technologies.
The solar on homes and businesses across the country and the world use, for the most part, Solar Photovoltaics. The industry calls those PV for short, and you most likely know them as Solar Panels.
|Source: Watson Family Solar House Lexington, MA, USA 256.com/solar Creative Commons Licensing|
Solar Panels take the light that hits the surface of the panel and convert it to energy. They are bluish in color, and covered with an anti-glare glass layer. They do get hot to the touch when they're in the sun...but so does the hood of your car or an asphalt road, about equally so.
This same photovoltaic technology is used on thousands of power plants around the world, providing a clean renewable energy source for the community.
|Ivanpah Solar Power Plant|
Solar at the Ivanpah power plant uses a different way of capturing energy from the sun's rays. This technology known as Concentrated Solar, or CSP for short, uses mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a giant receiver. Not entirely unlike the scene in Toy Story where Woody uses concentrated light passing through Buzz Lightyear's helmet to light a match and launch the rocket.
|Photo copyright of Disney/Pixar|
The super-charged sunlight is then used to heat a massive tank of salt water, which is where the term Solar Thermal comes in.
Concentrated Solar Thermal at the world's largest solar power plant, Ivanpah, is currently coming under criticism for its impact on migrating birds. That is a discussion unto itself...
My point here is that owners of solar homes can continue to feel proud of their green energy production, without worry about the birds overhead!
Questions about solar energy? Let's discuss!