Clouds, made of water droplets and ice crystals floating in the sky, play a significant role in the Earth’s weather and climate. Now we know that everything is made up of energy – it never diminishes, and it can only convert to other forms of energy. This fact may make us wonder whether these puffy clouds we see in the sky use energy or not or if any energy plays any part in this.
Clouds do consume energy, particularly solar energy. In fact, clouds are formed when this solar energy evaporates liquid water on Earth. The heat generated by the Sun breaks the bonds that hold the liquid water molecules together, which produces water vapor.
When warm air containing water vapor starts to rise, the surrounding cooler air sinks beneath it and eventually pushes it upwards. As a result, a warm, moist, invisible pocket shaped like a hot-air balloon is created, which then forms a cloud.
Whether clouds use energy or if they block it, the role of energy is definitely quite significant in every aspect of the cloud forming aspect. In this article, we will discuss the role of energy in cloud formation, how clouds may block this solar energy from reaching the globe resulting in less conservation in solar panels, and their effects in general.
Solar Energy and Cloud Formation
The sun provides energy for Earth’s survival through light and heat. In reality, solar energy, or solar energy, is the most abundant energy resource on Earth. The quantity of sunshine that touches the Earth’s surface in 90 minutes is enough to supply the entire world’s energy needs for a complete year, according to the Department of Energy, and this solar energy also plays a huge role in cloud formation.
So how does cloud formation use solar and heat energy? Solar energy causes liquid water on Earth to evaporate, and cumulus clouds form. Water is made up of molecules, just like everything else. The heat from the Sun destroys the bonds that hold the liquid water molecules together.
This produces water vapor, which plays the primary part in cloud formation. Warm air containing water vapor begins to rise, and this pocket of warm, moist air is surrounded by cooler air, which sinks beneath it and gradually pushes it upwards. As a result, a warm, moist, invisible pocket shaped like a hot-air balloon is created.
The pressure around the invisible pocket of warm, moist air decreases as it climbs. This permits the air pocket to expand, and the heat inside this pocket spreads out as it does so. This causes its core temperature to fall, and the molecules of water vapor at the top of the pocket start to condense anew in the chilly air of the atmosphere as the pocket rises.
This means that the molecules of the air’s water vapor begin to transform into small droplets of liquid water.
The origins of a cloud can be seen when water vapor condenses. The rest of the warm, moist air pocket will cool and condense as it ascends. This causes a cloud to have a flat bottom, grow high, and become puffy.
The water molecules relinquish the solar energy they absorb when they evaporate as the droplets condense. This energy heats the air around the freshly created cloud, causing it to rise and give it lift. More air is pulled up beneath the cloud as it rises. As a result, more air rises cools, and finally, condenses. The cloud will get larger and larger as this occurs.
When there is a big supply of water vapor molecules, and a lot of solar energy is produced, very towering cumulonimbus clouds can form. These are the storm clouds that cause thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Here’s a video to understand how clouds can affect the earth’s temperature:
Clouds Absorb Solar Energy
We discussed that sunlight – specifically solar energy – is an abundant energy source that can supply the world’s needs, however, some days clouds can block this sunlight. Although it depends on the type of clouds and their location in the atmosphere, clouds reflect black a lot of the sun’s energy back into space.
Clouds exist between the Earth’s surface and the Sun, and liquid water-droplet clouds reflect the Sun’s short wavelength radiation fairly well (visible light and near-infrared). According to the Blackbody Radiation software, the Sun emits around 10% ultraviolet, 45% visible light, and 45% near-infrared radiation.
Therefore, clouds reflect a large portion of the incoming Sun’s radiation back to space, preventing it from warming the Earth’s surface. Although this can be beneficial, as radiation can be harmful, it also poses a barrier to using solar energy effectively.
This Affects Solar Panels Efficiency
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels absorb sunlight, which stimulates the cells’ electrons to a greater energy level. The excited electrons are caught by semiconducting material in the panel and flow through an electrical circuit, powering appliances or being sold to utility companies.
Clouds block this sunlight; when they do, they also block solar energy from reaching the earth’s surface. This can affect how solar panels utilize that energy. So during cloudy days, your solar panel may work less efficiently. Here’s how:
When your solar panels are exposed to sunshine, they produce the most power. The intensity of sunlight, which fluctuates based on the time of day, season, and cloud cover, determines the amount of electricity they produce. Furthermore, while a dark cloud moving overhead may only diminish solar panel production by 10% or less when compared to a sunny day, your panels may not supply any electricity during heavy rains. It is difficult to anticipate or calculate how much power will be generated on partly cloudy days, but it will definitely be a lot less than on a sunny day.
We can conclude that clouds not only use energy during their formation process but also absorb the energy coming from the sun and can block that energy from reaching the earth’s surface. It can be both beneficial and not.