To convert solar energy directly to electrical energy, you need a photo-voltaic cell.
It uses a semiconductor material such as silicon. The sunlight causes electrons to flow, creating a low voltage.
When you place many photo-voltaic cells in a group, they are called solar panels and these generate higher voltages.
During the day, some of the electrical energy is diverted and stored in batteries.
They can be used in many applications such as parking meters, garden lights, calculators, radios or trailer power sources.
However, solar panels are very expensive.
They can also be used in solar farms where large arrays of panels generate electricity for the national grid.
A solar farm using photo-voltaic cells
There is another way to harness the sun.
Huge parabolic mirrors concentrate solar heat on to tubes of water turning it to steam, which drive turbines, creating electricity. The temperatures created by these systems can reach 3800 C!
They are environmentally friendly, and cheap to produce electricity.
Solar powered traffic sign
How solar power works