The amount of solar energy that reaches the surface of the earth in one day is more than the average energy that the world uses in one year. That is definitely a shocking statistic and it makes us wonder why we don’t use the sun more in order to produce the energy we need. One major reason may be that we have learned to rely too much on conventional ways of producing energy. Other reasons may include huge economic interests that guide the course of the global economy and the possible cost to transform the traditional ways of producing energy to more sustainable ones.
However, the progress of technology indicates that we could completely quit fossil fuel in the not so distant future. The more advanced the technology is the more effectively we can capture solar energy and leave behind us traditional forms of energy production. The type of solar installations and the technology used determine the effectiveness of solar capture and conversion. Currently there are three main technologies of solar energy:
Solar Thermal Collectors
Solar thermal collectors absorb directly the sun’s heat to warm up water or air. The warm water is used for domestic purposes or swimming pools whereas the warm air is used to heat up the inside of buildings. Solar thermal collectors are usually used for domestic purposes at a much smaller scale than solar thermal power plants.
Solar Thermal Power Plants
Solar thermal power plants work in a similar way to solar thermal collectors but concentrate more solar energy. Solar thermal power plants use mirrors to collect solar energy into a receiver. The receiver gathers the solar energy and then turns it into heat. This heat is then used to warm up a fluid that produces steam and generates electricity through a turbine.
Photovoltaic systems are one of the most popular ways of solar technology. They convert sunlight directly to electricity through a procedure that is called the PV effect. When the sun hits the solar panel it causes the electrons to move. In this way an electric charge is created. This electricity can be used to power houses, buildings and whole communities. Experts say that covering 4% of the world’s deserts with photovoltaic panels could cover our total need for electricity.
Photo by flickr.com / Chandra Marsono
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