Jun
22
2009

Solar Energy

Meet our original energy source: The Sun

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Before our ancestors learned to make fire, we were dependent, along with all the plants and animals with whom we share the planet, on the sun for heat and light. In fact, although there were likely many factors responsible, the radiant output of the sun contributed to the first global energy crises: the ice age(s), when large portions of the Earth were covered with thick sheets of ice and sea level dropped precipitously.

There are two types of solar energy: passive and active. The former involves simply making use of the position, duration, and intensity of the sun’s rays to best advantage, using it to heat an area or induce air flow from one area to another, without the use of extra technology beyond what’s needed to store the energy. The latter involves using mechanical and electrical technology such as collection panels to capture, convert and store the energy for later use.

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With Gas and Oil prices on the rise, budget-conscious consumers are on the hunt for ways to cut energy costs. Solar energy was on the rise during the energy crisis of the 1970’s and has made a comeback in the current climate as we seek to free ourselves from the whims of oil companies AND save the planet to-boot! We are on the cusp of change. Still, most don’t understand the basics of solar energy systems.  There are actually several branches of solar energy technology.
  • Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems – Photovoltaic is the capability of producing a voltage when exposed to radiant energy, especially light. Photovoltaic cells are used to convert solar energy directly from light into electricity, through the use of Photovoltaic devices, also called “photovoltaic modules,””PV cells,” “PV modules,”  “solar panels”, “solar cells,” “solar chargers,” and “solar battery chargers.”  Although these devises come in a variety of forms, all these terms refer to the same basic device.
  • Solar Heating Systems – This refers to the use of  solar energy to warm up liquid in order to heat or provide hot water to a dwelling.  This  is usually by installing  flat plate collectors on the roof of the dwelling.  A typical flat-plate collector is a metal box with a plastic or glass cover (called glazing) on top and a dark-colored absorber plate on the bottom.  A flat plate collector is a sheet of metal with some tubes going through it for water to pass through, sunlight warms up the metal which in turn heats the water going through the tubes. Such a system can drastically reduce your heating bill an will pay for itself in just a few years through the energy savings.
  • Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Systems – This is more an industrial solar energy system. It is the cheapest and most cost effective way of producing grid-tied energy an can be used to supply energy to entire cities. Technology has advanced so far that it is now financially viable to compete with conventional power plants. There are several different designs for concentrated solar power systems such as the parabolic trough, solar dish-engine, and the Solar tower.
  • Solar Lighting Systems – Solar lighting systems is a relatively new technology (well technically its not “new” as the Egyptians and other early civilizations made use of similar principles). Solar lighting technology involves taking normal sunlight and transferring it to into building through the use of fiber optic cables. The light is then used as regular room lighting, thus saving on the energy bill. This is definitely a solar energy technology with a bright future, as there are many ways to easily incorporate this into buildings.
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