What kinds of solar energy technology exist?

Solar panelThe 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

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

What is your opinion on solar energy technologies? Please share in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “What kinds of solar energy technology exist?

  1. Buckminster Fuller said, back in the 60s or 70s, that we’re a planed of 4 billion billionaires but we don’t know it… he was referring to how much energy the sun pours down on us every day… we should have jumped on solar a long time ago – glad to see it happening today.

    • I totally agree Anne! I don’t know how things are in USA but here in Greece, despite the tremendous amount of solar energy we receive almost every day, there is much to be done in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuel. If there was better planning the previous years, Greece could have been totally energy sufficient given the good weather we enjoy most time of the year. I just hope we jump into sustainable ways of producing energy before it’s too late for the climate…I am sure California is way ahead when it comes to solar panel installations.

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