Insolation is the amount of solar electromagnetic energy (light radiation) per second received by a certain area of the earth’s surface. As energy per second is power, insolation would therefore normally be expressed in terms of power per area, e.g. kW/m2. Under normal circumstances most insolation heats up the area it impacts, and just as well, we’d be very cold without it! PV solar panels convert a comparatively small proportion of the insolation energy that they receive into electricity.
In terms of water, insolation might be thought of as the intensity of rainfall. A heavy shower where a large amount of water per second falls on each square metre of an area, would be the equivalent of high insolation in terms of solar energy.
A number of things affect the level of insolation that might be received by a certain area. These include, the degree of cloud cover, the amount and density of atmosphere the sunlight has had to travel through, the time of day, the time of year, the latitude (north or south) of the area, the angle of tilt of the area that is exposed to the sunlight.
The graph below uses insolation data measured over several years by NASA and applies to an area known as the East Midlands in the UK. Few people who live in the East Midlands would say that they live in a particularly sunny part of the world, but as can be seen the insolation figures represent a considerable amount of energy. To put the figures in context: during the course of one year a standard football pitch in the East Midlands will receive about 4,600,000 kWh of energy from the sunlight that falls on it. Remember that a 20 Watt light bulb running for 50 hours uses 1kWh of energy.
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