Types of Solar Energy: Learn the Basics, Get the Most Out of It!

types of solar energy - Linquip

Solar energy is the radiation from the sun which is capable of producing heat, causing chemical reactions, or generating electricity. The total amount of solar energy incident on Earth is vastly more than the world’s current and anticipated energy requirements. If suitably harnessed, this highly diffused, renewable, widely available, clean source has the potential to satisfy all future energy needs. In this article, Linquip will shed some light on the different types of solar energy so that you can make better choices when choosing the appropriate kind of solar energy for home or business applications.

What are the different types of solar energy?

There are two main types of solar energy, depending on how they capture and distribute solar energy or convert it into solar power:

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  • Passive solar energy
  • Active solar energy

What is passive solar energy?

Passive solar energy is the type of harnessing the sun without the use of mechanical devices. Passive solar heating systems are a simple and cost-effective way to take advantage of the sun’s free, renewable energy and displace the need for electricity, natural gas, or other active energy systems. Strategic planning of building location, orientation, and materials provide great control over the inside temperature.

Installing large south-facing windows, planting shade trees, and using Trombe walls, which are made of absorptive materials that store heat during the day and slowly release it at night, are measures that can be adopted for new and old buildings alike. Sunspaces or glass rooms built on the south side of a building can provide up to 60 percent of a home’s winter heating. Regardless of climate, these types of solar energy can be harnessed as long as the building has adequate insulation and ventilation.

What is active solar energy?

Active solar energy classifies technologies related to the use of solar energy that uses mechanical or electrical equipment to improve performance or to process the energy obtained by converting it into electrical or mechanical energy. These pieces of equipment can be fans, water pumps, etc.

The applications of these types of solar energy can be classified into two types:

  • Solar Photovoltaic Energy
  • Solar Thermal Energy

types of solar energy - Linquip

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Solar Photovoltaic Energy

One of the most common ways to use solar power is to use photovoltaic systems or as they are also known, PV systems or solar cells, which produce electricity directly from sunlight.

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A photovoltaic system consists of an arrangement of several components, including solar panels to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, a solar inverter to convert the output from direct to alternating current, as well as mounting, cabling, and other electrical accessories to set up a working system.

In a solar cell, small panels faced with semiconducting material turn sunlight into electricity. This material, usually made of silicon but potentially other polycrystalline thin films generate a direct current when sunlight hits the panel. PV cells are effective in the sunny countries of the South, where there are no large electric grids, and where the electricity demand is small and made on an individual basis for the most part. Commercially available PV panels are up to 22.5 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity in optimal conditions, but even in partly cloudy weather, they can operate at 80 percent of their maximum output.

One square foot of the photovoltaic surface is sufficient to light a lamp, play a radio or a CD player, or a small black and white television. Ten square meters take care of the electricity needs of a house.

Two common types of photovoltaic systems include:

  • Thin-film Solar Cells (TFSC): Thin-film solar panels are manufactured by placing one or more films of photovoltaic material (such as silicon, cadmium, or copper) onto a substrate. These types of solar panels are the easiest to produce and economies of scale make them cheaper than the alternatives due to less material being needed for its production.
    They are also flexible and less affected by high temperatures. The main issue is that they take up a lot of space, generally making them unsuitable for residential installations. Moreover, they carry the shortest warranties because their lifespan is shorter than the mono- and polycrystalline types of solar panels. However, they can be a good option to choose among the different types of solar panels where a lot of space is available.
  • Concentrator photovoltaic (CPV): also known as concentration photovoltaics) is a photovoltaic technology that generates electricity from sunlight. Unlike conventional photovoltaic systems, it uses lenses or curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, highly efficient, multi-junction (MJ) solar cells. Besides, CPV systems often use solar trackers and sometimes a cooling system to further increase their efficiency.

types of solar energy - Linquip

Solar Thermal Energy

A second way to use solar energy is to capture the heat from solar radiation directly and use that heat in a variety of ways. Solar thermal energy has a broader range of uses than a photovoltaic system, but using solar thermal energy for electricity generation at small scales is not as practical as using photovoltaics.

The most common types of solar thermal energy are as follows.

  • Concentrated solar power (CSP): Concentrated solar power plants employ concentrating, or focusing, collectors to concentrate sunlight received from a wide area onto a small blackened receiver, thereby considerably increasing the light’s intensity to produce high temperatures. The arrays of carefully aligned mirrors or lenses can focus enough sunlight to heat a target to temperatures of 2,000 °C (3,600 °F) or more. This heat can then be used to operate a boiler, which in turn generates steam for a steam turbine electric generator power plant. For producing steam directly, the movable mirrors can be arranged to concentrate large amounts of solar radiation upon blackened pipes through which water is circulated and thereby heated.
  • Solar water heating (SWH): Solar water heating is the conversion of sunlight into heat for water heating using a solar thermal collector. A variety of configurations is available at varying costs to provide solutions in different climates and latitudes. SWHs are widely used for residential and industrial applications. Solar water heating systems for buildings are made up of two parts, the solar collector and a storage tank.

The most common collector is called a flat-plate collector which is mounted on the roof and faces the sun. Small tubes run through the box and carry the fluid – either water or other fluid, such as an antifreeze solution – to be heated. As heat builds up in the collector, it heats the fluid passing through the tubes. The storage tank then holds the hot liquid.

So. this is all the details you need to know about different types of solar energy and their applications. If you enjoy this article in Linquip and want to share your kind of experience with solar energy technologies, leave your idea in the comment section. We will be more than glad to have your viewpoint on the article. Is there any question we can help you with? Sign up on our website and get the most professional advice from our experts.

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