Understanding the Variants of Solar Energy Technology
We understand that “solar energy” refers to the energy coming from the sun. It is in the form of heat and light. The wind that is another forceful element of nature is also produced by different levels of heat radiated by the sun – it causes the air to move at various speeds around the earth and can be used by wind turbines to produce energy.
However, the question that most people including the prospective users of solar energy ask is – “what is solar energy technology?” We will answer the same in this article and also explain the kinds of technology that are used today.
Solar energy technology is most commonly used to convert sunlight directly into electric power. This is done via solar panels that are also called solar photovoltaics. Concentrating solar power is another form of this technology. Furthermore, solar energy may be used to provide heating solutions to buildings in cold regions without converting the solar energy to electricity. Let us look further into these:
Solar photovoltaics or solar panels are the main technology equipment sets that are installed by solar energy product suppliers to begin the process of clean energy supply.
The scientific fundamental that makes these panels work is a photovoltaic effect that was first discovered by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel (a French physicist) in 1839. However it was only on the 1940s that the first solar panel was actually fabricated. In the 21st century solar panels have become an integral part of energy mix around the world including India. They are used by corporations and homes on different scales.
These panels are installed on rooftops at spots where they can get maximum sunlight. As the fuel comes from the sun – a resource that no one owns – it easily affords substantial savings on utility bills. All that the users have to pay is the installation cost and a cost towards the maintenance of the system by the service provider.
Concentrating Solar Power
The second major category of solar energy technology is concentrating solar power and it is different from solar panels. This technology employs reflectors that can concentrate sunlight onto a high-efficiency solar collector where it starts heating up liquids like water or any molten salt or synthetic oil. The heated liquid in turn starts generating steam that is used to drive an electric generator.
It may be mentioned here that concentrating solar power plants are planned and implemented to operate on a very large scale. Even the smallest of these plants are capable of producing roughly 1000 times the power generated by the typical home rooftop system. This is why these power plants take prolonged time to build and take a large amount of space. They also cost crores of rupees and are therefore recommended only for big commercial projects.
A branch of solar energy technology does not need conversion of sunlight into electricity. It simply helps to use the sun for direct heating of equipment or even building. Solar water heating for instance lets you use hot water for washing by running water past a ‘solar energy collector’ where the sun’s rays heat water before it gets sent back to the building through usual plumbing pipes. Similarly, you can use portable solar cookers to boil vegetables or cook rice by just sun’s heat in specially made equipment.