10 Different Methods Of Harnessing Solar Energy

Tim Hamlin
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Solar Collectors & Solar Space Heating

One way that you can harness solar energy is to use a solar collector to heat water for your home or to heat swimming pool water.

As the Sun's rays hit the reflectors, it heats the fluid and transfers it to a storage tank which is used for a different type of system. The solar collectors can be fixed while some are moveable.

Whatever the case may be, the plans that you will use will depend on where you live as they are shaped according to latitude, which means the angle of the Sun in relation to your location.

You have to keep in mind that as it has no moving parts, the overall cost of running a solar collector system will be much lower, in comparison to a system that uses wind turbines or hydroelectric plants.

It is a great option for you to utilize if you have a swimming pool as you can heat up the water for you and your family.

Potential:

1 Megawatts (MW) of energy can be harnessed from sunshine falling on one hectare of land, which roughly translates to about 160,000(Kilowatt-hours of energy per year).

Solar energy is a convenient clean source of energy that can be harnessed by humans for their betterment. From its discovery till date humans have harnessed much of the sun’s energy for their needs. Check out our 10 different methods of harnessing solar energy.

Solar Water Heating

Your domestic solar hot water system is the most common and universal applications for solar energy. In fact, it is the most used solar energy application around the world. Many of these systems are built from a solar panel which is usually placed on the roof of a house. The most common types of solar panels are the flat panel, evacuated tube or the active solar system. The panel sucks in the sun’s radiation and converts it to heat. The water flows through piping, and is heated by the solar panel.

Solar Space Heating

Water Heating

Collectors can take a number of different forms. The collectors used in this way are called concentrate collectors. This type of collector generally consists of a black plastic box and a transparent cover.

In the box there is a transparent tube that takes up about one-third of the space, and in this tube a parabolic concentrating dish can be tilted at different angles. In the tube there is a heat pipe coiled around the dish, and the sun heats up the pipe, which conducts heat to the dish.

The dish, generally made of aluminum ribbon or black plastic, touches the side of the tube and conducts heat to the water flowing through.

Once the water reaches a certain temperature, a bimetallic switch triggers an electrical circuit, which switches off the pump.

The heat pipe is then connected to a copper coil lying in a thermos bottle. Water flows in as a coolant, is heated, and then flows out of the bottle as a warm liquid. As the fluid is flowing in and out, it is continuously heating and cooling.

There is a chlorination device in the thermos bottle that adds chlorine to kill bacteria in the water. This type of collector is more difficult to make, but it is the most efficient of all the solar heating collector designs.

Heating, Cooling,& Ventilation

Cold water tanks, and some well heads, can be hot and hose in and of themselves. Utilizing a dark, south-facing, insulated, well roof covered with absorbent material (like rubber roofing) as a solar collector is a great way to use the heat of the day to pre-heat water before it's needed. Connection to the rest of the house is a simple copper pipe run out to the house. Typically the hot water tank is the furthest point from the house, so this piping arrangement keeps the cost of piping down to a minimum.

The sun can also be used to heat homes in other ways. With a well-insulated, enclosed, south facing, wall you can swap a window for a solar collector. On a sunny day a tightly sealed, glass panel window can retain enough heat in an insulated space to heat the space. This is a commonly used tactic in heating warehouses. For homes; which are less insulated, but have windows facing south, this is also a common solar heating application.

The sun can also be used to heat water you use for washing, bathing and other chores with a solar powered shower. There are a few different models on the market designed for doing just that. They can be very quick to produce a shower, or they can be set up to produce a continuous flow of water when the sun is out.

Cooking

Cooking food over a fire or heating water are simple traditional uses for solar energy. The same process is used to cook an egg with a solar cooker as it is to boil water.

The two main factors that limit how fast a food can be cooked are the type of food and the type of cooker you use. For example, a solar cooker will not work as well cooking a pizza.

Solar cookers are a great choice for boiling water and cooking grains. Grilled cheese sandwiches are a classic use for this type of system as well.

Using a solar powered cooker can reduce the need for energy to cook. Most solar cookers cannot fully replace a traditional cooker but can definitely reduce a household’s energy consumption.

Process Heat

Process heat is as simple as using the heat of the sun to bake what you are baking (for example cookies) quicker or to cook longer. For example, if you are getting ready to fry some chicken, you can put it in the oven to bake for thirty minutes and it will come out cooked; however, you can also leave it in the oven until it is cooked, but leave it at a slightly lower temperature so that the cooking time is longer, but the chicken heats up and cooks slowly. Using the sun in this method allows heat to be sustained for longer periods of time than ovens, microwaves, or stoves, giving you more time to get other things done.

Water Treatment

Home water treatment systems work on the principle of passing water through one or multiple filters to remove harmful contaminants. Typical water treatment systems either contain a mechanical filter, a biological filter, an ultraviolet ray sterilization system, or a combination of all these systems to purify the water to your desired standard. Home water treatment systems can improve the taste and quality of your water for drinking, bathing, and other household uses.

A water treatment system also reduces costs in sewage treatment due to improvement in the quality of discharged waters.

Types of Home Water Purifier Systems:

Drinking Water Treatment System:

A drinking water treatment system processes water for both drinking purposes as well as for various other uses. These systems provide therapeutic benefits for a variety of diseases of the urinary tract, the abdominal pain, and bloating. The drinking water treatment systems are helpful in eliminating the chlorine and chloramine. It provides pure water to the vital organs as well as to your overall health, that’s why it is always suggested to have a water filter system installed in your home.

Domestic Water System:

These treatment systems treat water for the entire household requirements. It provides water for cooking, showering, washing, rinsing, and flushing.

Industrial Water System:

Molten Salt Technology

Solar thermal plants harness the rays of the sun to create steam for electricity.

In these plants, the sun’s energy heats a fluid with a very high boiling point which is then used to drive a steam turbine.

Because the sun’s light is mostly in the visible part of the spectrum, molten salt plants can reach efficiencies of nearly 50%.

Concentrated Solar Power

Concentrated Solar Power, hereon abbreviated as CSP, is commonly referred to as Solar Thermal Power where a plant uses mirrors and lenses to magnify the sun's rays in order to generate steam, which in turns rotates a turbine and generates power.

This is different to Photovoltaic, PV, where panels are framed to gather and convert solar rays to power. Although the most familiar with this technology are the old fashioned solar panels on roofs, but there are many other designs available.

The more accurate name would be concentrated solar power as the other Solar power types listed are all fairly low concentrated. Concentrated Solar Power's more powerful mirrored beam can deliver over 10,000 times more power to a collector than than a typical home roof panel.

CSP plants use this huge solar collection capacity to heat up the salt stores of an in-house power plant, with the dimensions of one single circle being the same as 20 Football fields. From the heat in the salt stores it can boil up to 3,480 Gallons of water in just under two hours, which is enough to consistently produce over 800 MW or 1/3rd of the average power consumed in US homes.

Production of Electricity

Photovoltaic cells are commonly used to harness energy directly from the sun to produce electricity. A photovoltaic cell produces a small current when exposed to light and this current can be used to power a load.

Electrons are produced when light falls on a semiconductor. The most common use of photovoltaic cells is in solar panels.

This is also the basic mechanism of the photo-electrochemical cell, also called solar cell, which is more frequently used. Solar cells are made from silicon (Si) and their main drawback is that the efficiency of converting energy into electricity is low, about 15%.

If the solar cells are connected in a series, the voltage of the system can be increased.

This is how solar voltaic arrays are usually constructed.

While the efficiency of this system reaches 30% if a number of points are illuminated at once, this method is not common as it requires several panels.

Some of the advantages of this approach are:

1- Photovoltaic cells can be fixed in place just about anywhere.

2- They are light in weight so they can be used on cladding or a roof.

3- They need no other source of electricity to produce power, other than light.

This is the main element in a solar power system.

Production of Fuel

If you can produce the final product from solar energy then you can produce fuel and electricity. This can be used in the form of liquid fuels such as ethanol or methanol. But ethanol can be difficult to store and transport.

Methanol is easier to store, and has higher energy content than gasoline. Methanol is also considered a clean burning fuel, and may be a viable alternative for cars that are designed to run on gasoline.

Solar energy can also be used to produce methane, a cheap and clean fuel for all kinds of vehicles.

If you can produce fuel directly from solar energy then you will be cutting down on both pollution and cost associated with transporting fossil fuels.

Methods to Store Energy

· Radiation Solar Energy: This energy is harnessed by an inverted solar panel which magnifies the rays of the sun onto a heat spreader which is used to heat up the water and the air in your building.

· Conduction Solar Energy: In this type of system, the system collected the sun’s rays onto the solar panels present in the system. The electricity produced from the collected rays of the sun is sent to the heat storage unit or other appliances such as lighting fixtures and water heaters.

· Thermal Mass Solar Energy: The solar panels are used to convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is then stored into a thermal mass cylinder. The thermal mass cylinder consists of a cylinder filled with hot water. In this particular type, the thermal mass cylinder is used as a non-electric backup heating system. This system can also be used to cool the building when required.

· Hybrid Solar Energy: In this method, thermal mass solar energy is used to provide backup heating and cooling to the building.

· Magneto-Thermal Solar Energy: In this method, the solar panels are used to provide power to a dynamo. This dynamo then generates electricity. This electricity is then used to drive a compressor which compresses the air to a higher pressure. The compressed air is then used to turn an electrical generator.

Transportation

Solar Roadways is an idea for making roads that generate electricity. The entire road would be covered in photo-voltaic solar panels, which would generate large amounts of electricity. This energy could be fed into the power grid or used to power electric vehicles passing over it.

Self Driving Cars

The Tesla Model S is one car that can be driven with a combination of auto pilot and solar power. Tesla has launched a line of cars that can be driven using a combination of solar and auto pilot. These cars can even self-park.

Train Tracks

Solar Roadways has developed a solar panel that can be used on the tracks of a train. These panels are made with tempered glass that can support the weight of a train, and can provide enough energy to power the train.

Airplanes

Photovoltaic solar panels could be used to make solar powered unmanned drones and airplanes.

Boats

Solar powered boats could be used for transportation across oceans.

Trams

Solar powered trams could be used for local transportation.

Bicycles

Solar bicycles would make a cheap and efficient method of transportation for short distances.

Caravans

Solar powered caravans could have all the luxuries of home while you traveled around.

Natural Photosynthesis or Biofuels

This method is similar to that of natural photosynthesis in which plants utilize sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce energy in the form of carbohydrates (sugars). Plants use this energy to grow and reproduce. So what exactly is photosynthesis? In the sun, light is converted into energy that is stored in the bonds between oxygen and hydrogen atoms. This energy is released when oxygen and hydrogen atoms are separated.

Scientists are working to develop techniques for harnessing the free energy in sunlight through a process known as artificial photosynthesis. Through artificial photosynthesis, the light energy is directly harvested and then combined with a substance (incompatible molecule) that’s absorbed some of that energy. In which the energy rearranges the molecules and creates a chemical reaction. When this chemical reaction is complete, it releases a stream of energy.

The production of biofuels from plants is one way that companies are trying to harness solar energy. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. As opposed to burning fossil fuels, these fuels can capture the sun's energy, and store it in the form of fuels that can be used to power planes, heat homes, or even electric cars.

Final Thoughts

Solar energy is one of the most popular methods of alternative energy. It is quite possibly the most lucrative energy source in existence. Here are some facts about solar energy;

The sun provides us with more than enough energy every single day.

The earth absorbs more energy from the sun in just one hour than we could ever use in a year.

The cost of installing solar panels are rapidly coming down because of technological improvements.

Solar panels are long term investments that can save you thousands of dollars.

Solar Energy is clean, renewable, and non-polluting.

Solar panels operate in low light environments and require no fuel.

If you are going to be getting solar panels for your home, it is important that you research them before you buy them. You want to be confident in your purchase and ensure that you are getting the best product for your money.

The Internet is invaluable when it comes to gathering information on solar panels. You can read reviews and look at comparisons. However, I would always recommend that if you are going to buy panels, you get them from a reliable source. Such as if you bought expensive glasses, you’d get them from a renowned optician.