Because solar power is a relatively new thing to most, people often make the mistake of lumping solar into one, singular category. They think of a panel that collects sunlight and powers their home. The truth is that there are several different kinds of delivery methods and technology that’s out there today – technology that’s making it easier for solar power to fit its way into homes across the country.
Solar Energy is obviously the energy harnessed from the sun. Solar Energy Technology is the means to take that sun and turn it into electricity. There are two primary means to convert sun to power – solar panels and concentrating solar power. Today, we’ll cover both and a little more.
Good luck pronouncing that, but basically Solar Photovoltaics is a fancy term for solar panels. They do what the Greek translation of the word says they do – convert sunlight into electricity.
The technology itself was discovered in the 1830’s, but it wasn’t until the 1940’s that man decided to try to make a panel and harness the power of the sun. Residential solar has been the fastest growing segment of our industry, but commercial is quickly catching up – especially thanks to increasing affordability of the technology itself.
Concentrating solar power
The second type of technology we use to convert sunlight into electricity is very different from solar panels. This particular method utilizes reflectors (like mirrors) that concentrate sunlight onto small, highly efficient solar collectors. Inside those collectors, it heats up some sort of fluid – whether that’s water, molten salt or even forms of synthetic oil. Once that fluid produces a little steam, it can be then used to drive electric generators.
To put it mildly – you won’t be fitting one of these guys on your roof. They’re just too big. In fact, these plants operate on a gigantic scale and generate almost 1,000 times the electricity that’d be necessary to power a home system. They can also cost hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars. They’re used to help power entire regions, facilities and the like.
Another unique way solar is being used today is for a source of heat, not electricity. There’s a form of this technology called solar water heating – that can provide a building with hot water simply by running water itself past an energy collector before dispersing from its source. When you look at the cost to heat a building – 14% of it alone comes from water – so this can be a huge cost savings over time.
Solar heating also helps buildings stay warm without extra equipment and systems. When leveraged properly they can completely replace traditional heating systems and are finding a particular home in commercial properties. And make no bones about it – not only is the landlord saving money, but he or she also doesn’t have to pass the expense along to his tenants, which is big in the renting world. And as always – it’s great to be green when you can – and with zero carbon emissions, it makes solar heating one of the most environmentally friendly options out there.
As the innovation and improvements keep coming in the industry, it’s impossible to fathom how far we’ve all come, and just as hard to not get excited about where its going in the future.