What are the different types of solar energy?

Different Types of Solar Energy

Solar energy has been a known choice among consumers, businesses and multi-national organizations to either save on their electricity bills or for a greener energy initiative. Although, most of us do know what solar panels are and how solar panels work to produce energy using light energy from the sun. 

Although, when buying solar panels you need to have much more information regarding installation and different kinds of solar energy there are. This article will shed some light upon that and more so you are able to make informed choices when you choose to install solar panels at your home.

The technology behind solar energy is to convert the sun’s light into energy that is usable. Initially solar energy had very limited uses (as shown in another article about the history of solar energy), But now it can be harnessed for a variety of purposes such as heat, light, hot water, electricity and even cooling of apartments, houses, buildings and huge industrial complexes.

What are the most common types of solar energy today?

1. Photovoltaic(PV) Systems

One of the most common ways and one we all know are the solar panel systems which are used to convert the solar energy directly into electricity.

The most basic forms of such systems are solar-powered calculators or power banks that charge up as soon as we place them in the sun.

The semiconductors present in the photovoltaic solar panels in solar systems absorb sunlight that sets off a chain reaction that eventually generates electricity. A detailed note would be that the energy from the sun knocks off the electrons loose from their atoms and these electrons flow through the semiconductor material thereby producing electrical energy.

There have been great advancements in terms of solar energy and as of today, the solar panel technology can utilize most of the light in the visible light spectrum and half of the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrums.

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Solar cells are arranged together into solar panels with about 40 cells in a panel which can measure up to several meters on each side. Because of their adjustable size and angle, these solar panels can be arranged to face south at a fixed angle or they can be attached with a sensor which tracks the sun adjusts the angle of the panels accordingly so they are able to absorb as much sunlight as possible.

You would need multiple solar panels like these to be able to fully power your home and make substantive savings on the bills. Although, for powering large industrial complexes hundreds of such solar arrays would be needed which would combine to form a single, large solar system. 

2. Thin film solar panels

As solar technology develops, better and more efficient solar panels are going to be made in the future. One example of such developments is the thin film solar panels that are basically the same photovoltaic panels discussed above with semi-conductor material arranged to be only a few micrometers thick.

This means solar panels can serve dual purposes of providing cleaner energy as well as roof tiles or roof shingles.

3. Solar water heating systems

Another type of solar energy is hot solar water systems, which simple means heating up water using sun’s heat energy. The idea of solar water heaters comes from a simple phenomenon; water on the shallow end of the beach is warmer when compared with waters deeper in the ocean, this is because the sunlight is able to reach the ocean floor in shallow waters which then heats the water.

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Using this idea, a solar water heating system was developed which has two components, the solar energy collector and a water storage tank.

The most common collector used is a flat-plate collector which is placed on the roof facing the sun. These heat collectors have tubes with fluid running through which can either be water or anti-freeze solution which would be heated up. As tubes in the solar collector get heated up, it heats up the fluid present in the tubes. The water outside the tubes is heated and is then stored in the storage tank.

We have started using this technology to heat up swimming pools as well.

4. Solar Power Plants

The third one is considered for large-scale operations such as factories and industries with very high demand for electricity. For such reasons, it is known as solar electricity.

As we all know that industries rely mostly on non-renewable fossil-fuels to boil water. The steam produced from this boiling water is used to rotate a large turbine which in turn powers a generator to produce electricity. This form of energy production has been going on for years and throughout these years extensive research has shown that this process is bad for our health as well as the environment. This is because the burning of fossil fuels releases green-house gas emissions as well as different air pollutants hazardous to human health.

Fortunately, the same research has also provided us with ways in which we can use sun’s energy to generate electricity from the same power plants and at the same magnitude.

  • A Dish/Engine System: A reflective dish is placed in the sun which resembles a satellite dish. This dish receives the sun’s energy, collects it, and reflects it onto the receiver. The receiver gets heated up and transfers this heat energy to the fluid inside the engine. This fluid expands and causes the pistons or turbine of the engine to move, thereby producing mechanical power. This power is then used to operate a generator or an alternator which would produce electricity.
  • Parabolic trough system: This system includes large, curved parabolic mirrors that are tilted towards the sun. They reflect and focus this sunlight onto an oil pipe. This heated oil pipe then runs through a conventional steam generator to boil water and produce electricity.
  • A power tower system: A power tower system uses the same ideology, only that the light is focused onto the top of the tower that contains molten salt sits. The heat energy concentrated in the molten salt can be retained in it for days and hence, be used to generate electricity even on cloudy days. The molten salts are used to boil water for conventional steam generators.
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 5. Passive Solar Heating

Another way that solar energy is used is passive solar heating which is also known as Daylighting. The idea behind this is quite easy to understand; step out into the sun and you can feel the sun’s warmth, similarly buildings are also able to harness energy if they’re built properly.

The architect could include more windows on the south-facing wall of the building which means the building would receive more sunlight. Also, the design could include sunlit floors which absorb and store the sun’s energy. These sunlit floors absorb and then slowly emit heat during the cold evenings, which means your home remains warm throughout the day and night.

Some houses also have sunspaces which are shed-like and resemble a greenhouse. These sunspaces concentrate significant heat energy from the sun which can then be used to heat an entire building. Fortunately, there are also mechanisms which ensure that these ideas do not overheat the place.

Such forms of ideas truly maximize the use of energy that we receive from the sun, a lot of which is wasted.

What I’d like to comment is that sun is truly a blessing in disguise! Fossil fuels are slowly damaging our planet at a very large scale, and climate change is all the proof we need to show you how important it is for us to use green energy.

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