The Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW) (a petawatt is 10 to the power of 15) of incoming solar radiation (insolation) at the upper atmosphere.
Approximately 30% is reflected back to space while the rest is absorbed by clouds, oceans and land masses. The spectrum of solar light at the Earth?s surface is mostly spread across the visible and near-infrared ranges with a small part in the near-ultraviolet.
The absorbed solar light heats the land surface, oceans and atmosphere. The warm air containing evaporated water from the oceans rises, driving atmospheric circulation or convection. When this air reaches a high altitude, where the temperature is low, water vapour condenses into clouds, which rain onto the earth?s surface, completing the water cycle. The latent heat of water condensation amplifies convection, producing atmospheric phenomena such as cyclones and anti-cyclones.
Wind is a manifestation of the atmospheric circulation driven by solar energy. Sunlight absorbed by the oceans and land masses keeps the surface at an average temperature of 14?C. The conversion of solar energy into chemical energy via photosynthesis produces food, wood and the biomass from which fossil fuels are derived.