Solar Thermal Energy: The Simpler Solar Solution

The sun is the most abundant source of energy available to us, making solar energy one of the most viable “green” technology solutions. However, photovoltaic, or PV, panels, which use the sun’s energy to generate electricity, can be expensive, and they typically have low efficiency ratings.

For this reason, solar thermal energy systems are becoming increasingly popular. Essentially, rather than converting photons, or particles of light, to electrons, or particles of electricity, solar thermal designs capture the sun’s energy as heat, making them far simpler, and thereby more efficient and affordable.

Different Types of Solar Thermal Energy Technology

Solar thermal energy systems, also known as solar thermal collectors, range in price and energy-production capacities. They are typically categorized into three different classes: low-, medium-, and high-energy collectors. Each class has different production capabilities, costs, and installation procedures.

Low-energy collectors are the most common type, and they are typically used in situations where there is not much heat that needs to be generated. They are commonly used to heat swimming pools, but can also be used for domestic heating. They typically use water or air as their means of transferring collected heat energy.

Like low-energy collectors, medium-energy systems typically use flat plates to collect energy. Medium-energy collectors are more commonly used for supplying warmth and heating water used for domestic purposes. In addition to these uses, medium-energy collectors can be used to dry and cook food as well as to distill water.

On the other hand, when the end goal is to generate electricity, high-energy collectors are much more efficient. With this kind of system, the sun’s light is usually focused on a single point using mirrors. This typically generates heat, which is then converted to electricity with steam turbines. Because of the complexity and expense of this kind of system, it is typically only used commercially or industrially.

Cooling Applications

Solar thermal energy can also be used to cool your house. A solar thermal chimney is a device that pushes heat out of your house during the summer. It does so by taking advantage of the fact that hot air rises. The chimney, which opens up into the house, is heated during the day, which causes the air inside to rise up and out, pulling cooler air into the house.

Installation

Whatever your heating and cooling needs, taking advantage of solar thermal energy is a great way to save on energy costs and reduce your environmental impact. Fortunately, installing a solar thermal system is typically much easier and safer than installing PV panels. Therefore, this kind of system is great if you are trying to save on installation costs or just want a relatively simple DIY solution.