Solar panels on the roof.

Solar Energy: Their Different Types And How They Perform

Our planet’s principal source of energy is solar energy. The solar energy source is the sun, a massive plasma ball composed of hydrogen and helium atoms. The conversion of hydrogen to helium, and light results in heat production.

The sun also emits charged particles known as photons, which travel through space at the speed of light before reaching the surface of the Earth, where they interact with matter in various ways depending on the composition and temperature of the matter.

Electromagnetic waves travel so swiftly (186,000 miles per second), hence their name “light” despite carrying both visible and non-visible wavelengths, from radio waves to X-rays!

What Exactly is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is a renewable, safe, and economical source of electricity. They power everything from homes to automobiles.

The sun is the ultimate energy source on Earth, yet capturing significant quantities for widespread usage can be challenging. The solution is solar panels!

They give a cost-effective method for homeowners and companies to benefit from this free resource while lowering their carbon footprint.

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Various Forms of Solar Power

Photovoltaic Solar Energy

A diagram of how photovoltaic power works
Courtesy: edX

Photovoltaic solar systems are one of the market’s most prevalent forms of solar power systems.

Typically, a photovoltaic panel comprises several solar cells, which generate a direct current converted by inverters into alternating current.

A solar cell system consists of a collection of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels and the necessary equipment to convert sunlight into electricity.

Several world’s greatest nations, including China, the United States, and the European Union, are currently deploying large-scale solar farms to enhance solar capacity.

By 2018, these nations had respective solar capacities of 175,018MW, 62,200MW, and 115,234MW. Meanwhile, developing countries are pursuing freely available energy harvested from solar radiation as their populations rise.

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In 2018, Asia led the world in the installation of solar panels. The region accounted for 75% of global solar power installations, demonstrating that PV panels that generate electricity from sunlight are among the most popular types of solar power.

As a result of government subsidies and rebates, the cost of installing photovoltaic solar power cells has decreased significantly in the United States. As a result, debunking the fallacy that solar energy is expensive, an increasing number of homes now benefit from solar energy’s clean, usable power.

In terms of efficiency, a photovoltaic solar panel system will generate approximately 200 kWh under standard test settings. This is based on a solar panel with a 20% efficiency and a 1 m2 surface area.

Thin-film solar cells have gotten more adaptable and thinner as technology has improved. Consequently, solar power technology may now be found in roof tiles and other new uses, such as building exteriors.

Solar Concentrated Energy

Today, concentrated solar power, or CSP, is typically found in large-scale systems that feed the electrical grid.

Many believe that the history of concentrated solar energy extends back to Archimedes and his blazing glass. This energy source focuses a vast region of sunlight onto a receiver using mirrors and lenses.

In 1866, a parabolic trough was utilized to produce steam, allowing the first solar steam engine to be powered. However, Alessandro Battaglia received the first patent in 1886, and Dr. R.H. Goddard constructed a solar power system utilizing a mirror dish6 in 1929.

There are now four types of concentrated solar technology in existence. This consists of the parabolic trough, dish, linear Fresnel reflector, and solar power tower.

The first system was used in 1984, and by the end of that year, there were 14 systems. By 2019, the total number of installations worldwide had reached 6,451.

Modern installations utilize thousands of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy into a small, extremely heated area. The heat then drives a steam turbine to generate power.

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This type of solar energy is best suited for countries with an abundance of sunlight. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Spain has the highest capacity with 2,300MW, followed closely by the United States with 1,738MW and South Africa with 400MW.

Concentrated solar power is not as a standard for large-scale applications as photovoltaic or PV panels but has a conversion efficiency of between 25 and 35 percent.

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Water Heating Solar Energy

Solar energy for water heating began with black paint applied to tanks and used to heat water. As the black paint absorbed the sun’s heat, it heated the water contained within it.

As simple as this may appear, it demonstrates that humanity grasped the power of solar energy from the beginning.

Egypt’s Maadi was home to the world’s first thermal solar power facility. Flat plate collectors in Florida and Southern California were not employed for solar water heating until the 1920s.

This solar energy is prevalent in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. Using the available technology, a working fluid is heated using a solar-facing collector.

This will then enter a storage system where water surrounding pipes containing the working fluid can be heated.

In 2017, solar water heating had a capacity of 472GW to power the nation’s electrical systems. China, the United States, and Turkey are the leaders in adoption. Per capita, however, countries such as Barbados, Austria, and Cyprus dominate the market.

This system generates heat that is proportional to the amount of solar heat. Countries with warmer, sunnier climates are more likely to profit from this form of solar energy.

This contributes to the effectiveness of such systems. Therefore, water heating can be pretty economical in regions with higher temperatures. Therefore, the payback periods for solar installations in sunnier climates are shorter.

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Solar Thermal Energy

Solar thermal energy, or solar thermal technology, collects solar energy using the sun’s heat. The liquid travels through tubes and contains solar energy for heating water or generating power.

In 1890, thermal energy as we know it now first appeared. Initially, this kind of energy propelled a steam engine.

William Bailey was one of the foremost pioneers of solar thermal technologies a little later. He devised a thermosyphon device in 1909.

This meant he had access to hot water throughout the day, which he did by placing a collector below a water tank.

One of the challenges this sort of solar energy faced was the transfer of solar heat. Many fluids, including oil and sodium, were tested by scientists and inventors, but molten salt proved to be the most effective.

This is ideal because it is both cost-effective and compatible with the current steam turbines.

Thermal solar energy requires less space than solar photovoltaic energy. Solar thermal can increase the energy efficiency of heat collection by as much as 70 percent.

In addition, the technique is significantly less sophisticated, making it excellent for water heating.

The largest solar thermal power station is located in Morocco and has a capacity of 510MW, although both the United States and Spain have multiple large-scale projects. Due to how solar thermal systems operate, they can reach incredibly high temperatures.

Conclusion

Solar energy is a renewable energy source that may be utilized to power our lives. There are numerous varieties of solar energy, such as solar thermal energy, solar concentrated energy water-heating solar energy, and photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Photovoltaic (PV) is the most prevalent type of solar energy since it converts sunlight into electricity and may be utilized for many purposes.

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