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Understanding solar energy

Solar energy has been in use by humans for thousands of years for growing, staying warm, food drying, etc. The sunlight is a free available energy resource on our planet. Research has shown that the energy from the sun to earth in one hour is more than the total energy requirement for a whole year. This solar energy is used today to heat homes and our business places, to warm water, and to power devices. Solar energy is clean renewable energy as they don’t produce pollutant and greenhouse gases. Today you’ll get to know the definition, applications, types, advantages, and disadvantages of solar energy. you’ll also get to know how the sun is converted to solar energy.

solar energy

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What is solar energy?

Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies like solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants, and artificial photosynthesis. It is an effective source of renewable energy, clearly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on how they capture and distribute solar energy or convert it into solar power.

The common techniques used in obtaining solar power are photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar power, and solar water heating. All these as active solar techniques. The passive solar techniques involve orienting a building to the sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light-dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air. Finally,

Solar energy technology is the ability to convert the sun’s light into usable energy. It is done in a variety of ways to provide heat, light, hot water, electricity, and even cooling to houses, buildings, etc.

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Applications of solar energy

The applications of solar energy or power are so vast, it has become a better choice for most consumers, businesses, and organizations. Solar energy help to generate greener energy and help us save energy bills. Below are the applications of solar energy in its various forms.

  • Solar water heating
  • Solar heating of buildings
  • Solar distillation
  • Solar pumping
  • Solar drying of agricultural and animal products
  • Solar furnaces
  • cooking
  • Solar electric power generation
  • Solar thermal power production
  • Solar greenhouses.

Diagram of solar energy:

diagram of solar energy

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Types of solar energy

The various types of solar energy include photovoltaic systems, thin-film solar cells, solar water heating systems, solar power plants, and passive solar heating.

Photovoltaic systems:

This is one of the most common ways of using solar power, it is also known as solar cell systems as it produces electricity directly from sunlight. The photovoltaic systems are the same technology employed in clocks and calculators powered by the sun. A semiconductor material is used in these solar energy systems to absorb sunlight which creates a reaction that generates electricity. In the conversion process, the solar energy knocks the electrons loose from their atoms which makes them flow through the semiconductor material and produce energy.

Solar cells are typically combined into modules that hold about 40 cells, which can measure up to several meters on the side. Their adjustable size and share allow the flat-plate photovoltaic arrays to be mounted at a fixed angle facing south, or they can be attached to a sun tracking device. This allows them to capture the most sunlight over the course of a day. Several photovoltaic arrays would be required to provide enough power for a household. Hundred of arrays would be needed for a large electric utility or industrial applications.

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Thin-film solar cell:

These types of solar energy are thin-film solar cells that use layers of semiconductor materials which is a few micrometers thick. They have made it possible for solar cells to double as rooftop shingles, roof tiles, building facades, or the glazing for skylights or atria maximizing the use of the available space from where sunlight would be captured.

Solar water heating systems:

Another type of solar energy is solar hot water, as the name suggests, water is heat up using the sun’s heat. This idea is directly from nature in the sense that the shallow water of a lake or the water on the shallow end of a beach is usually warmer compared to deeper water. This is because the sunlight can heat the bottom of the lake or seashore in the shallow areas, which heats the water. The solar water heating systems for buildings are made up of two parts, the collector and a storage tank. Similar technology is often used to heat swimming pools.

Solar power plants:

These types of solar power are used in industrial applications and can be run by organizations to power a certain geographical area. This can be achieved in three ways which include a parabolic-trough system, a dish/engine system, and a power tower system.

In the parabolic-trough systems, the sun’s energy is captured through long rectangular, curved mirrors that are tilted toward the sun. This sunlight heats a pipe that contains oil, this oil is heated and it’s then used to boil water in a conventional steam generator to produce electricity.

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In the dish/engine system type, the sun’s heat is collected and concentrated onto a receiver through a mirrored dish. This dish is in the shape of a very large satellite. The receiver absorbs the heat and transfers it to the fluid within an engine, which causes the fluid to expand against a piston or turbine. Therefore, mechanical power is produced to further run a generator or alternator that produces electricity. Finally,

A power tower system, which uses a large field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the top of a tower, where a receiver contains molten salt sits. The salt’s heat is used to generate electricity through a conventional steam generator.

Passive solar heating:

These types of solar energy are not a new concept. A good example of this concept is south-facing windows as they will receive more sunlight while buildings can also incorporate materials such as sunlit floors and walls that absorb and store the sun’s heat. These materials heat up during the day and slowly release the heat at night when is most needed. Other design features a sunspace when resembling greenhouses.

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Read more: Understanding renewable energy

Watch the video below to learn how the sun is converted into solar energy:

Advantages and disadvantages of solar energy

Advantages:

Below are the various benefits of solar energy in its various applications.

  • A solar energy source is renewable.
  • Low maintenance costs.
  • Reduces electricity bills
  • Capable of powering diverse applications.
  • Technology development.

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Disadvantages:

Despite the good advantages of solar energy, some limitations still occur. Below are the disadvantages of solar energy in its various applications.

  • High installation cost.
  • Weather dependent.
  • Solar energy is expensive.
  • Associated with pollution.
  • Uses a lot of space.

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Conclusion

The common techniques used in obtaining solar power are photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar power, and solar water heating. All these as active solar techniques. Solar energy technology is the ability to convert the sun’s light into usable energy. It is done in a variety of ways to provide heat, light, hot water, electricity, and even cooling to houses, buildings, etc. That is all for this article, where the definition, applications, types, advantages, and disadvantages of solar energy are being discussed. You also learned how the sun is converted to solar energy.

I hope you get a lot from the reading, if so, kindly share with other students. Thanks for reading, see you next time!

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