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Part of the Climate Change exhibition.
The Sun is Earth's biggest power plant, sending more us more sunlight—solar power—than we could ever use. Fortunately, we have a variety of ways of using solar power. In one process, solar panels capture sunlight and convert it directly into electricity. In another, solar concentrators use mirrors to focus sunlight to heat fluid, which can then be used to boil water, turn a turbine, and generate electricity.
In principle, the Sun could eventually provide all the world's electricity. At present, solar power makes up only a miniscule portion of the global electricity supply, but it is growing rapidly.
Solar panels are extremely popular in Kenya, where they are mostly used to power TVs, charge cell phones and run other small appliances. More than 25,000 solar panels are sold every year in the country, and about 5 percent of rural households own solar power systems.
The enormous mirror arrays seen in this photo concentrate sunlight onto pipes filled with liquid salts. The hot fluid—about 386°C (727°F)—is used to boil water, turn a turbine, and generate as much electricity as a small coal plant, without the emissions. The fluid can also be stored and its heat extracted for use at night.