Home Applications for Solar Energy and Solar Power

Solar radiation is nothing more than radiant energy emitted by the sun. It's estimated that over half of all solar emissions directed at our planet actually reach the surface of the Earth. With this clean, free, and unlimited source of potential energy readily available to us, it's little wonder that solar energy technology has been one of the most exciting fields of study for quite some time now. Only the pure cleanliness of wind energy comes close in comparison.

Modern Home Solar Power

The sun's energy can be broken down into two main categories: thermal (heat) energy, and light (solar) energy. Both can be harnessed and used for heating and powering everything from homes and appliances to even vehicles. The sun's heat is abundant and free, and energy provided by solar power produces no harmful byproducts or emissions. This pure and natural source of power puts solar energy at the top of the list of Green Building ideas and practices. For years it has already been put to good use by providing heat energy in the form of simple solar swimming pool covers, and enhanced light energy for greenhouses.

Home Solar Energy - Modern Advances Bring Old Technology Forward

While solar energy has been around in one form or another for several decades, it's had the distinction of being too expensive for practical use in domestic homes. Early solar panels were bulky and costly, as well as being downright unsightly in many situations. Over the past several years however, new advances in solar energy technology has shown bright new promise. Of these advances, Photovoltaics (PV) have shown the most promise and received the most attention, especially from the US Government.

Energy Saving Tips - Solar Energy Facts In just an hour, more sunlight energy strikes the earth than what would used by the entire population of the planet for one year.

Photovoltaic Solar Panels

Designed to Produce energy directly from sunlight, photovoltaic cells specifically generate electricity. Razor-thin slices of silicon are treated with chemicals to help the flow of electrons, and then assembled together to form photovoltaic cells. These cells then form panels, and the panels are laid in the path of the sun. As the light energy strikes the PV panels, electrons are freed from the atoms making up the cell material, generating an electric current. This happens noiselessly, efficiently, and without any moving parts that would require maintenance of the solar cells.

Once the energy is generated, it can be put to use by way of pumps, fans, or by directing it to other output sources. This type of active solar energy produces a direct current (DC) type of electricity, and it may be used as such. But in most cases, and to run appliances requiring alternating current (AC), photovoltaic electricity must be transformed (inverted) into AC current using a device known as an inverter. This requires another piece of equipment, and that translates to one more thing that must be maintained.

PV panels are available for home use now, and they work well. The environmental benefits are immense; solar photovoltaic energy is about as green as you can go. Costwise however, the installation of these panels are still unable to compete with conventional utility costs - at least initially. PV systems will pay for themselves over the course of several years, but many people are unwilling to invest in these systems because of the substantial price-tag still attached.

The good news is that solar technology is catching up. PV cells once costing hundreds of dollars per peak watt now cost only a few bucks. The methods used to create the silicon panels are improving their performance and decreasing their cost. The push for green building has also revived interest in solar energies, helping bring more money and attention on this type of research. Eventually, solar light energy will provide most of future residential electricity needs.

Solar Thermal Collectors

While sunlight may be clean and convenient, it's not the only way to derive free energy from the sun's rays. Capturing the sun's heat and converting it to energy is most easily accomplished through the use of solar collectors.

These flat black solar plates are placed in direct sunlight, usually alongside roofing or the tops of buildings. Water flowing through pipes connected to the solar collectors is heated up by the sun and begins circulating through the system. Eventually enough heat is generated so that steam is produced, usually driving a turbine running an electrical generator. Flat plate solar collectors are usually glazed to retain more heat than unglazed surfaces.

Solar collectors also exist that heat air directly, with that air redirected for use in heating and space heating. Not as efficent as other techniques, this type of equipment is often used to pre-heat air as a suppliment to gas, oil, or electric heating systems.

Perhaps the most powerful type of radiant solar collector would be the parabolic dish, which is geometrically designed to not only capture the sun's heat but to focus it on a specific point. Parabolic dishes are most often found in solar power plants or furnaces, where large examples can be constructed without being an eyesore to the community. The focal point of the dish's energy absorbs the solar heat and converts it into electricity through use of a dynamo within the power station.

Seasonal Thermal Stores

Solar collectors can also be used to store energy for future use. Through the installation of a seasonal thermal store, radiant heat from the sun during summer weather can be captured and kept for use during the colder winter months. Seasonal heat or inter-seasonal thermal stores like the one described above are used in conjunction with other heating systems, augmenting and existing home heating systems to help them run more cost-effectively.

In either case, whether it be light or heat-generated solar power, the United States government offers rebates and tax breaks to homeowners willing to convert at least partially to solar power. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers federal tax credits of up to $2000 for the installation of a PV solar system. Check with your state and county offices for these types of savings, and check Energy Star®'s website for the latest in rebate offers for all types of energy efficient home products.

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