For many consumers, companies and organisations who aim to produce greener energy as well as save on their energy bills, solar energy is a common option. Most of us are more than familiar with the appearance of photovoltaic panels and rightly perceive solar energy as the energy generated by photovoltaic panels’ from sun rays.
However, both in terms of configuration and the forms of solar energy, there is much more to solar energy. In this article, we’ll shed some light on the various forms of solar energy so that when selecting the kind of solar energy that they would like to see built in their homes, our readers can make better-informed decisions.
The technology for solar energy is focused on the ability to turn the light of the sun into usable energy. But it can do so in a number of ways in order to provide homes, buildings or even industrial complexes with heat, light, hot water, power, and even cooling.
What Are The Most Common Types of Solar Energy?
Photovoltaic systems or, as they are also called solar cell systems, which generate electricity directly from sunlight, are one of the most common ways of using solar power.
The underlying concept behind this technology is close to what we see in clocks or sun-powered calculators!
Sunlight is absorbed by the semiconductor materials used in these solar energy systems, which causes a reaction that generates electricity. To be specific, solar energy shakes the electrons loose from their atoms, allowing them to pass through the material of the semiconductor and create energy.
Today, much of the visible light spectrum and nearly half the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrum can be absorbed and converted into energy by solar panel technology.
Usually, solar cells are combined into modules that contain about 40 cells and can measure up to several metres on the side as a whole. These flat-plate photovoltaic arrays can be placed at a fixed angle facing south due to their flexible size, or they can be mounted on a tracking system that tracks the sun, enabling them to absorb the most sunlight over the course of a day.
A few of these photovoltaic arrays would be needed to provide a household with sufficient power; but hundreds of arrays would be required for a large electric utility or industrial application, in turn, these would need to be interconnected to form a single, large photovoltaic system.
Thin-film Solar Cells
Moreover, with thin-film solar cells that use layers of semiconductor materials, just a few micrometres thick, this type of technology can also be used. This allows solar cells to double as rooftop shingles, roof tiles, building facades, or glazing to optimise the use of the available space from which sunlight would be collected for skylights or atria.
In particular, in terms of collecting and converting sunlight, there have been significant improvements in the performance of this technology. The first solar cells, constructed in the 1950s, had efficiencies of less than 4 percent, for example. On average, today’s technology provides efficiencies of about 15 percent.
Solar Water Heating Systems
The second form of solar energy is solar hot water, which involves heating up water using the heat of the sun, as the name implies. The idea behind solar thermal water heating systems comes straight from nature and is heated from the sun. E.g. Relative to deeper water, the shallower water in a lake or the water on the shores of a beach is typically hotter than that of deeper depths. This is because the heat from the sun in the shallower areas will heat the bottom of the lake or seashore, which, in turn, heats the water.
To imitate this, a system was therefore developed: solar water heating systems for buildings are composed of two parts.
- the solar collector
- 2. A storage tank
A flat-plate collector that is mounted on the roof and faces the sun is regarded as the most common collector. Small pipes run through the box and hold the liquid to be heated, either water or other liquid, such as an antifreeze solution. It heats the fluid flowing through the tubes as heat builds up in the collector. The storage tank then contains the liquid that is hot.
To heat swimming pools, similar technology is also used.
Solar Power Plants
Solar electricity is a third way we can harness the power of the sun for energy; it is typically used in industrial applications. Many power plants, as most of us know, use non-renewable fossil fuels to boil water.
A wide turbine rotates through the steam from the boiling water, which in turn stimulates the generator to generate electricity. This way of producing energy, considering the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels, is bad for both the atmosphere and our health.
The good news, however, is that a new generation of power plants that rely on solar power is being launched! The sun is used by these plants as a source of heat, and they can do so in three different ways:
Via long rectangular, curved mirrors that are inclined towards the sun, parabolic-trough systems absorb the energy of the sun. They help to concentrate the sunlight on a pipe that contains oil. In a traditional steam generator, the oil is heated and then used to boil water in order to generate electricity.
An engine/dish system uses a mirrored dish that resembles a very large satellite dish in shape, which absorbs and concentrates the heat of the sun on a receiver. The heat is then absorbed and transferred to the fluid inside an engine by this receiver. The heat induces a piston or turbine to expand against the fluid and generates mechanical strength. To generate electricity, this power is used to operate a generator or alternator.
To focus sunlight on the top of a tower, a power tower device uses a wide field of mirrors, where a receiver holding molten salt sits. The salt’s heat is used by a traditional steam generator to produce electricity. Molten salt effectively preserves heat, so it can be stored for days before turning into electricity. That means that on cloudy days or even several hours after sunset, electricity can be generated.
Passive Solar Heating
Another way to harvest solar power is through the passive solar heating and daylighting process. In reality, ancient civilisations such as the Anasazi Indians in Colorado built passive solar architecture in their dwellings. This is not a new idea.
It is easy to grasp the effect of the heat: step outside on a hot sunny day, and you can feel the sun. With proper design, buildings will “feel” the energy of the sun as well.
South-facing windows, for example, can receive more sunshine, while buildings can also integrate materials that absorb and store the heat of the sun, such as sunlit floors and walls.
When heat is most needed, these materials heat up during the day and slowly release the heat at night. Other design features, such as a sunspace resembling greenhouses, concentrate a lot of warmth that can be used to heat an entire building with the proper ventilation. These characteristics optimise the direct benefits, but also the sunlight itself, from the heat of the sun. The even better news is that there are ways to ensure these features do not overheat buildings on, especially hot days.
The sun is truly fascinating; no wonder our tiny planet revolves around it!
More About The Different Types of Renewable Energy Sources:
Many other forms of renewable energy exist, not just solar power and solar energy and so it’s a good idea for us to explore the range of renewables on offer to see how else we can lower our overall emissions and also save or even earn money from generating our own sources of home energy?
What is a Renewable Energy Source?
A source of renewable energy means sustainable energy – something that can’t run out or is infinite, like the sun. It typically also applies to green energy sources when you hear the word “alternative energy.” It means sources of energy that are an alternative to non-sustainable sources, such as coal, that are most widely used.
What is Zero-Carbon or Low-Carbon Renewable Energy?
Nuclear-generated electrical energy is not renewable, but zero-carbon, which ensures that, like renewable energy sources, its generation emits minimal or almost no CO2 levels. There is a reliable source of nuclear energy, which ensures that it is not contingent on the weather and would play a major role in bringing Britain to net-zero status.
The Current Most Popular Renewable Energy Sources Are:
- Biomass energy
- Solar energy
- Geothermal energy
- Wind energy
- Tidal energy
- Hydro energy
How Do These Types of Renewable Energy Work?
Sunlight is one of the most plentiful and freely available energy resources on our planet. The volume of solar energy reaching the surface of the earth in one hour is more than the total energy needs of the world for a whole year. Although it sounds like a great source of renewable energy, the amount of solar energy we can then use varies according to the time of day, the season and the geographical location. Solar energy in the UK is an increasingly common way of supplementing your use of energy. Find out by reading our guide to solar power if it’s right for you.
The wind is an ample source of renewable energy. With wind power making a growing addition to the National Grid, wind turbines are an increasingly common sight in the United Kingdom. Turbines drive generators that feed electricity into the National Grid to harvest electricity from wind energy. Although there are domestic or ‘off-grid’ generation systems, not all assets are appropriate for a domestic wind turbine. On our wind power page, find out more about wind energy.
Hydropower, as a renewable energy resource, is one of the most commercially developed. A large reservoir may be used by constructing a dam or barrier to create a better-controlled flow of water that can drive a turbine to produce electricity. This energy source can also be more reliable than solar or wind power (especially if it’s tidal rather than river) and when demand reaches a peak, it also enables electricity to be stored for use. Like wind energy, hydro can be more feasible as a commercial source of energy in some cases (depending on the type and relative to other energy sources), but it can be used for domestic, ‘off-grid’ generation depending very much on the type of property. By visiting our hydropower page, you can find out more.
Tidal energy is another wonderful form of hydro generated energy that uses turbine generators to drive twice-daily tidal currents. Although tidal flow is not constant, unlike some other hydro energy sources, it is highly predictable and can therefore compensate for times when the tidal current is low. By visiting our marine energy section, you can find out more.
Geothermal energy is a free source of renewable energy which can be used to heat homes directly or to create electricity by harnessing the natural heat below the earth’s surface. While it harnesses power directly below our feet, in contrast to countries such as Iceland, where geothermal heat is much more readily available, geothermal energy is of marginal importance in the UK.
This is the conversion into electricity of solid fuel made from plant materials. While biomass essentially involves burning organic materials to generate electricity, this is a much cleaner, more energy-efficient process nowadays. Biomass produces power at a much lower economic and environmental cost by turning rural, industrial and domestic waste into solid, liquid and gas fuel.
What Isn’t A Renewable Energy Source?
Fossil fuels, though they are not infinite, are not a renewable source of energy. Plus, they release carbon dioxide into our environment, leading to global warming and climate change.
It is marginally easier to burn wood instead of coal, but it is complicated. On the one hand, wood provided it comes from sustainably managed forests, is a sustainable resource. Wood pellets and compressed briquettes are made from wood processing industry by-products, and so it’s possibly recycling waste.
Compressed biomass fuels also generate more power than logs. On the other side, burning wood releases particles into our environment (whether it be raw timber or treated waste).
Future of Renewables?
When the population of the planet grows, so does the need for energy to fuel our homes, industries and communities. Innovation and the growth of renewable energy sources are crucial to sustaining sustainable energy levels and preserving our world against climate change.
Renewable energy sources make up more than 25 percent of the world’s electricity today, that’s a quarter! But their share is projected to hit more than 30 percent by the end of 2024, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Faith Birol (Executive Director IEA) said – “This is a pivotal time for renewable energy”.
The UK has achieved an amazing new clean energy milestone in 2020. The country marked two months of working solely on renewable energy for the first time ever on Wednesday 10 June. For renewables, this is a great step in the right direction.
The number of renewable energy sources is projected to continue to grow in the future as we see an increase in power demand. The price of renewables will be reduced, great for the world and great for our wallets.
Renewables & Your Home
The benefits of using renewable energy in a domestic environment are convincing:
Cut your power bills
you can become less dependent on the National Grid if you have paid for the cost of building a renewable energy system and your energy bills can be decreased.
These days you can get paid for the energy your property produces – The Feed-in Tariff of the UK Government pays you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it.
Sell power back to the grid
You can earn an extra payment from the Feed-in Tariff system if you produce enough energy to export a surplus back to the National Grid.
Lower the carbon footprint: No carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions are emitted into the environment by green, clean energy sources. A typical solar PV system could save about 1.5 – 2 tonnes of carbon per year, according to the Energy Saving Trust’s Solar panels page. You will find out more in our guide on solar panels.
It is clear that there are some serious advantages to installing solar panels and solar energy systems and renewable energy sources and systems to enable a carbon neutral future and for us to maintain a better, more sustainable planet for us all to enjoy together. With so many renewable energy sources now available to utilise on a pro tech level, it’s a great time to invest in your own renewable energy systems for your home or business.
These different types of solar panels and renewable energy source providers could change the way we live and as they develop we will surely see better developed versions in the future that will further benefit our lives beyond our imaginations and eradicate harmful and non renewable fossil fuels from our lives. At present it seems like it’s going to be a huge challenge for the world to adhere to the 2050 climate commitment and that’s now been brought forward by some countries like the UK who claim to have all but eradicated the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels and with the nation aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 as the result of a renewable energy and green revolution it seems there is much in store for the UK population and there will be many different types of renewable energy and renewable energy source providers in the very near future.
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