Different types of solar energy (2023)

Solar energy is changing the way we get the energy we need. Given how quickly technology has advanced in line with our quest for clean energy, let's take a look at thedifferent types of solar energyaccessible.

Traditionally, our electricity comes from the grid, where we generate it by burning coal or natural gas. Despite this, we can no longer rely on electricity from fossil fuels. Luckily oursquest to go green helps us on our way to find less environmentally harmful alternatives1.

Solar energy is atype of renewable energythat isbetter for the environment, so what's not to love about it? Of course, like any technology,Solar has its own pros and cons.Regardless of whether it is a commercial system or a private system2, the different solar types demonstrate the range ofBenefits we can expect from renewable energy.

What Are the Different Types of Solar Energy?

1. Photovoltaic solar energy

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The history of solar photovoltaics dates back to around the 1830s when the photovoltaic effect was discovered. Later, in 1954, Bell Laboratories in the United States built the first solar panel.

To understand this type of solar energy, it helps to visualize the solar panel on a calculator.Solar panels workby converting direct sunlight into electricity.

Photovoltaic solar systems are one of the most popular types of solar power systems out there. Typically, several solar cells form a photovoltaic module that generates a direct current that is converted into alternating current by converters. A group of PV panels connected to the necessary kit to convert sunlight into electrical energy is called a solar cell system.

Today we can see some of the largest countries in the world including China, the United States and the European Union building large solar farms to increase solar capacity. As of 2018, these countries had a combined solar capacity of 175,018 MW, 62,200 MW, and 115,234 MW, respectively. Meanwhile, developing countries are seeking disposable energy harvested from solar radiation as populations grow.

2018,Asia has been on the rise in installing solar panels4. The region accounted for 75% of the world's solar power installations, proving that PV panels, which generate electricity from sunlight, appear to be one of the most popular forms of solar energy.

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Domestically, prices for installing photovoltaic solar panels have dropped dramatically due to government incentives and rebates. As a result,bust the expense myth, more and more households are now benefiting from clean, usable solar energy.

In terms of efficiency, a photovoltaic solar panel system will produce approximately200 kWh under normal test conditions. This is based on a solar panel with an efficiency of 20% and an area of ​​1 m2.

As technology has advanced, thin film solar cells have become more versatile and thinner. As a result, we can now see solar energy technology being used for roof tiles and other more innovative applications such as building envelopes.

2. Concentrated solar energy

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Today, concentrated solar power, or CSP, is typically found in large installations that feed electricity into the grid.

Concentrated solar energy has an interesting history that many believe it traces back toArchimedes and his burning glass. This form of energy uses mirrors and lenses to focus a large area of ​​sunlight onto a receiver.

In 1866, steam was generated with a parabolic trough, which made it possible to drive the first solar steam engine. However, Alessandro Battaglia received the first patent in 1886, and in 1929 Dr. R.H.Goddard created a solar power system using a mirror dish6.

There are currently four types of concentrated solar technologies. These are the parabolic trough, the dish, the concentrating linear Fresnel reflector, and the solar tower.

The first system was deployed in 1984 and by the end of the year the number of systems had reached 14. By 2019, a total of 6,451 installations had been carried out worldwide. Modern installations use thousands of mirrors and focus the sun's energy on a small area that gets very hot. The heat then drives a steam turbine to generate electricity.

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This form of solar energy is best suited for countries with extremely high solar radiation. It is therefore not surprising that Spain has the largest capacity with 2,300 MW, while the USA and South Africa follow closely with 1,738 MW and 400 MW.

Concentrated solar power isn't quite as popular as using photovoltaic or PV panels for large-scale applications, but they do have oneUp to 25% to 35% conversion efficiency.

3. Water heating solar energy

Solar energy for water heating started with black paint being painted on tanks and used to heat water. As the black color absorbed heat from the sun, it warmed the water inside. As primitive as this may seem, it shows that we understood the power of the sun early on.

The very first thermal solar power plant was in Maadi, Egypt. However, flat plate collectors were not used until the 1920ssolar water heating in Florida and Southern California5.

We often see this form of solar energy in domestic, commercial and industrial situations. With the technology available to us, a working medium is heated via a collector facing the sun. This then goes into a storage system where we can heat water around tubes that contain the working fluid.

To power our power grids, the capacity for water heating was 472 GW as of 2017. China, the US and Turkey are the leaders in adoption. Per capita, however, Barbados, Austria and Cyprus dominate the market.

The heat generated by this system is proportional to the amount of heat from the sun. Therefore, countries with warmer, sunnier climates are more likely to benefit from this type of solar energy. This contributes to the efficiency of such systems. Therefore, in areas with higher temperatures, water heating can be extremely cost-effective. As a result, payback times are shorter when it comes to installing solar panels in sunnier climates.

4. Solar pool heater

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Running a heating system to keep a pool warm is an expensive process. Maintaining water temperature is an ongoing cost that can be reduced by harnessing solar energy harvested from the sun.

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The history of commercial solar water heating dates back to 1891. Within five years, the technology was being used to heat swimming pools throughout Pasadena, California. Florida was the next state to follow, but copper shortages arose as a result of World War II. At the same time, electricity took over. Back then, the solar water industry paid the price.

Despite this setback, it became mainstream again around 50 years later. This was driven by an increase in fuel prices and the OPEC oil embargo. However, today we are looking for new and innovative ways to reduce our use of fossil fuels and electricity while improving the outlook for our planet.

Therefore, consumer demand has caused solar pool heater to explode in popularity. This works in a similar way to water heating with solar energy. Photovoltaic panels, or panels with heat conductors, capture the heat from sunlight and convert it into energy and hence into hot water.

These systems traditionally consist of four components. These are the solar panel, pump, valve and filter. The water flows through the filter and then to the solar collectors or panels that are the source of energy. Here the heat warms the water before hot water is pumped back into the pool.

Aside from the initial installation costs, these systems are a great way to increase efficiency. They cut costs and use the sun's heat to heat the water, all of which reduce the need for electricity from the grid.

5. Solar thermal energy

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Solar thermal energy, or solar thermal, uses heat from the sun to harvest solar energy. To heat water or generate electricity, fluid flows through pipes and collects the sun's energy.

Thermal energy, as we know it today, was created as early as 1890. Initially, this form of energy drove a steam engine. A little later, William Bailey was one of the most important pioneers of solar thermal energy. In 1909 he invented a thermosiphon system. He had hot water available all day long, which he achieved through a water tank with a collector placed underneath.

One of the problems with this type of solar energy was the transport of heat from the sun. Scientists and inventors have tried many liquids, including oil and sodium,but melted salt turned out to be the best option3. This is ideal as it is inexpensive and works perfectly with the steam turbines used today.

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Compared to solar PV, thermal solar energy is more space-saving. Solar thermal can offer up to 70% more energy efficiency in heat generation. In addition, the technology is significantly less complex, which makes it ideal for heating water.

The largest solar thermal power plant is located inMorocco and has a capacity of 510 MWwhile the US and Spain both have several large projects. Due to the way solar thermal systems work, they can reach very high temperatures. For example, the solar oven in Odeillo in the French Pyrenees can reach temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees.

Towards a cleaner energy future

Types of solar energy take many different forms and that's really positive in terms of adaptability. Because there are different types of systems that can be used for specific circumstances. From PV panels and curved mirrors for power generation to systems ideal for hot water and pool heating. The variety of solar systems and technologies, including solar cells, passive solar cells and solar panels, could help us break free from our dependence on traditional methods.

In most cases, Solar has a significant history that might surprise many. Today, solar energy is developing faster and becoming more mainstream as environmental concerns and efficiency increase and costs decrease. Especially since many of the technologies are over 100 years old.

In the future, we will likely see more and more rooftop solar panels and solar power plants scattered across our landscapes. There is no doubt that the various types of solar energy that we know today and may yet to be invented will be at the forefront of the clean energy search for cleaner energy sourcesgreen solar energyrevolution we seek.

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1O. I. Okoro & T. C. Madueme (2006)Solar energy: a necessary investment in a developing economy, International Journal of Sustainable Energy, 25:1, 23-31, DOI: 10.1080/14786450600593147
2Review and comparison of different solar energy technologies. Yinghao Chu. Research Fellow, Global Energy Network Institute (GENI)
3Reddy, R.G.Molten Salts: Thermal Energy Storage and Heat Transfer Media. J. Phase Balance. Diffuse. 32, 269 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11669-011-9904-z
4Avril, S., Mansilla, C. und Lemaire, T. (2012),Supporting solar energy in Asia Pacific. Prog. Photovoltaik: Res. Appl., 20: 785-800. doi:10.1002/pip.1248
5Butti, K., & Perlin, J.Solar water heaters in California, 1891–1930. United States
6IS. Hagemann, R.H.Goddard and Solar Energy 1924–1934, Solar Energy, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1962, pages 47-54, ISSN 0038-092X, https://doi.org/10.1016/0038-092X(62)90003-8
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