We have mostly derived all of our energy from non-renewable resources like coal, gas, oil, and so on. This is how we have always made things work, and all of this started back in our ancient history when we first learned how to use wood and stone to make fire. Yes, non-renewable energy was all we had ever known before, but times are now changing and people are advocating for change because, at the end of the day, these non-renewable energies will eventually run out, and continue destroying the planet as we use them. This is where renewable energy comes in, and most importantly the main focus of this article, solar energy.
As the name suggests, solar energy is the energy that is harnessed from the sun, and whilst this may have sounded impossible over 50-60 years ago, it is now possible to harness solar energy and use it to run our world. It is eco-friendly, and it is renewable energy at the end of the day because the sun is never going to suddenly stop producing energy. If you want an idea of what harnessing even a small amount of solar energy can do for us, then check this, just a square meter of the sun ends up producing around 62,900 kW of energy. The sun itself can end up directing over 80 thousand billion kW of energy per second. This is over 100 times more energy given than the amount of energy produced by all of the power plants in the world.
Scientists today are strongly endorsing the use of solar energy on a global level since it is believed to be the only way to have a sustainable future for mankind. Given our current rate of consumption, it is estimated that non-renewable energy deposits which include coal and gas will probably run out within the next hundred years globally.
After the sun, atomic energy has also been looked at as a potential option, however, following the events of Chernobyl, people understand that the strictest measures need to be adopted to make sure that nuclear energy is harvested safely and appropriately. However, until public sentiments on that matter change, the sun is currently our only hope and option to a safer, most sustainable planet. If you happen to be interested in learning about how solar energy is converted into energy that we can use, you can keep on reading below:
Solar is converted into usable energy by two different systems, namely the active and the passive solar energy system.
Passive Solar Energy Systems
One of the oldest ways of harnessing solar energy through a passive medium is with the use of dark-colored water tanks. We all know that darker colors tend to absorb more sunlight and energy, so the dark-colored tank continues collecting solar energy which will over time turn into heat, allowing for the water in the tank to heat up.
There are now better ways to accumulate solar energy passively thanks to human innovation. Science now takes into account the process of constructing buildings, and whenever buildings are being built and designed, they take into account many factors including the choice of building materials, the climate of the area, and so on. All of these factors help to allow solar energy to help heat, cool, or produce light for buildings.
You need to take into account the building material that is being used. Insulating material like mica and so on help to retain heat and energy, which is something you need when you are trying to harness solar energy. This is why insulated materials are being used on the ceilings, floors, and/or walls of buildings since they allow for heat to be preserved properly for longer periods.
Apart from the choice of building materials, the geographical location of the building is also taken into account. Many things like the location of the house, the orientations and location of the windows, and so on all have to be taken into account. You essentially want windows to be placed in a location that can receive the most sunlight possible. Having a room or building that is designed to have the most amount of natural light possible also helps to limit the use of electricity, at least during the daytime. This makes for an eco-friendly and green building. Given the very real threat that global warming now poses for the planet, there should be more initiatives for building such eco-friendly buildings.
Active Solar Energy Systems
Active solar energy systems harness solar energy through the use of solar collectors, which are primarily made for this purpose. These active solar energy systems can be put to power in most industries ranging from agriculture to manufacturing and so on. Apart from that, they can also be used by residential property owners to power their own houses as well.
The Use of Solar Energy
As we have previously mentioned above, solar energy can be used in multiple areas, and a lot of people are beginning to realize this. There has been a gradual increase in the use of solar energy over the years and it is hoped that this trajectory continues upward from now on.
Solar energy can be used in multiple areas and sectors today including:
- Providing heating or electricity for houses. You can choose to have some aspects of your energy needs met by solar energy and continue being on the grid as well. You also have the option of completely going off-grid and relying entirely on solar energy to keep your house running.
- Small villages and towns can be powered entirely by solar energy because of the use of solar panels.
- In terms of industry, you will find the agriculture industry making use of the electricity and heating provided by solar energy to run their outbuildings, sheds, and so on.
- The aerospace industry is currently looking into ways to incorporate solar energy into its process.
- Supplying electricity to remote settlements.
- Powering cities and different buildings like schools etc.
There are several ways we can use and benefit from solar energy, and the uses here sort of depends on the type of solar energy system that is used. Initially, passive solar energy systems were considered to be more popularly used, however, once active solar energy systems were introduced, their use became more popular and widespread. There are several ways we make use of passive solar energy systems which includes:
As the name suggests, heat collectors are devices that help to convert the solar energy that is collected from the sun to heat. There are many different types of heat collectors or reservoirs which include:
There is the most commonly used type of reservoirs and they can be used for heating and heating water as well. The setup consists of a collector which includes a coating (usually glass), a thermally insulating layer, a pipeline, and an element that can be used to absorb solar energy. The collector helps to catch the heat and consequently converts it into heat energy. The collector can be placed on the roof and you can choose to keep it with or separate it from the rest of the setup. The clear coating is used to protect from adverse weather conditions.
Vacuum reservoirs can be used throughout the year. The setup for this collector consists of vacuum tubes. The tubes include two glass pipes that are made of borosilicate glass. The inner pipe out of the two has a special coating that allows for maximum heat absorption with reduced reflection. A barium gas absorber is also used to help maintain the vacuum. The vacuum collector can have anywhere around 10-30 tubes and it will transfer the collected heat to the storage tank through a coolant which is essentially an antifreeze liquid. Vacuum collectors are incredibly efficient and they can be used during cloudy and colder weather as well since the vacuum tubes can absorb the energy produced by infrared rays that pass through the clouds as well.
This collector setup mainly involves the use of a heat-insulated plate that is usually made of any material that can conduct heat well enough. This plate is always painted in a darker color. The sun rays will first pass through a transparent surface which will in turn heat the plate, and then the heat which is produced will be transferred to the room along with a stream of air. This air is then passed through a fan or natural convection which will allow for a better heat transfer. This collector is mostly used for drainage and air heating. Now there are a few disadvantages that come with this system and this includes the fact that you will have to spend extra for the fan. There is also the fact that this collector can only operate in daylight, so it cannot be a primary source of heating. However, it will work more efficiently and will compliment your primary heating and ventilating system. These collectors are mainly placed on roofs and in areas that receive the maximum amount of sunlight.
Now these are the most widely known and commonly used collectors. They rely on the sun’s radiation and convert it into electrical energy. Solar panels are reliant on photovoltaic cells since they can generate electrical energy whenever they are exposed to sunlight. Multiple photovoltaic cells are used together in series for the battery since they are not that powerful individually. Solar panels are durable, easy to use, and can be great. Their problem is that they do not work at night and can be expensive to use and setup initially. You will usually find solar panels being used in certain homes around different parts of the world. They can be used along with your main electricity line and help you cut your electricity, allowing you to be more energy-efficient.
Certain parts of the world are progressing with solar power and can better incorporate it into their lives. You can find solar stations in some parts of the world, and in others, you can find solar power plants that are being operated on an industrial scale as well. Solar power plants generate either hot water or electricity, allowing them to work like standard collectors and batteries. The amount of electricity that is then produced from these solar power plants can power entire towns. A lot of countries in the Southern hemisphere are beginning to incorporate solar energy into their national energy setups and systems.
Eco-friendly vehicles are slowly becoming a reality as well, and there are now talks of introducing solar-powered cells in our standard road transport. This is of course still a concept that is being discussed and tinkered with and using solar cells to power cars on a massive scale is currently not a reality, but there is hope in the scientific community. Heliopanels can be installed on the surface of the car’s body which can collect solar energy and help it to charge batteries which will help power the electric motor in the car.
There are a lot of other directions that solar energy use is being branched out to and solar cells are becoming popular and can be used in a variety of things ranging from solar-powered power banks, lamps, radios, toys, thermometers, engines and so on. The use of solar power in different industries will continue to evolve as time passes.
Solar energy is considered to be the new global alternative energy source that we can all rely on. At the end of the day, we will never run out of the sun, and the amount of solar energy that can be used will always outnumber all of our non-renewable energy sources like gas, coal, oil, and other such sources.
The use of solar energy is continuing to branch out and spread to many industries including aviation, agriculture, and construction, and so on. A lot of people do not know this but solar bridges, airplanes, and trains are slowly becoming reality as well.
- Solar Impulse 2, which was a Swiss project is believed to be the world’s first solar-powered aircraft. This aircraft traveled from Abu Dhabi and embarked on a world tour and has demonstrated that alternative energy can be used to power vehicles as well.
- The Blackfriars Bridge in London is also notable as it is expected to be able to generate anywhere up to 900,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually.
- The InterContinental Hotels Group was able to launch the world’s first hotel that is fully operated and run by solar panels in UAE. This hotel is designed to be completely eco-friendly as it recycles waste and water as well.
- Japan has also been able to construct floating solar power stations that can produce up to 3,300 megawatt-energy annually.