Solar Energy – How Can We Use It?
What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is energy that is produced from our sun. The sun is generating about 3.9x 1026 watts, or 390,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts of energy. Some of this energy can now be captured and converted into heat or electrical energy.
There are 4 main ways that solar energy from the sun is captured, these are:
o Flat plate liquid filled solar panels for water heating
o Flat Plate Gas filled solar panels for space heating
o Photovoltaic cells for electricity generation
o Passive Solar Heating
Flat Plate Liquid filled solar energy panels
A flat-plate liquid solar energy collector is basically a metal box, usually insulated, that has a glass cover over a dark coloured metal plate (copper or cheaper aluminium). This plate absorbs the sun’s heat and warms up. This heat is in turn passed on to water that passes through tubes underneath the plate. The heated water then passes through to heat the residential hot water system..
A more efficient variation of this is the vacuum tube system. With this system the heat collectors are enclosed in a vacuumed glass tube, which significantly reduces heat loss, making the system more energy efficient.
Flat Plate Gas filled solar energy panels
A flat plate gas solar energy collector is much the same construction as the liquid version, but instead of water absorbing the solar energy that has been collected, it is air. The heated air is then pumped through into a room or space, to heat that area. Whilst not as efficient as liquid filled systems, the gas based systems have the advantage of needing less solar energy to warm up, meaning that they start outputting heat earlier in the day and later in the evening.
Photovoltaic (Electrical Solar Energy)
Photovoltaic Energy is a technology that uses crystalline silicon solar cells to convert sunlight, aka solar energy, into electricity. The uses for this can range from very large plants generating mains electricity down to small cells that power your calculator.
Passive solar energy
Passive solar energy is where the sun warms up an object and that object then gives out heat once the sun has gone. Passive solar energy is something that we all appreciate and benefit from in our houses. Working in the same way as a storage heater modern design is now able to optimise the use of solar energy in this way.
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