Different Types of Solar Technology
Many people have heard of solar technology and solar energy systems - and have a rudimentary understanding of what it is.
Solar panels capture the light of the sun and create an electric current from that light, which can power anything from generators and power stations to homes and car batteries. What most people do not know is that there are a variety of solar technologies out there, all built for different purposes.
Our FLEXSOLAR portable solar panels are built for the outdoor adventurer or those who live a fast-paced life on the go as many of us do, but there are many types of solar panels for a variety of other uses and among those there are a variety of technologies as well.
Let’s break down the different types of solar technologies out there and how they are being used today.
Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems
Photovoltaic systems are one of the most common types of solar technologies in use today. Photovoltaic systems, also known as PV systems, are made from one or more solar panels that have been combined with an inverter and other hardware that trap energy from the sun to generate electricity. These systems can vary in size from massive energy generating plants, to smaller panels that can be mounted onto rooftops or portable systems like the ones we here at FlexSolar Energy are proud to say we create!
There are three main types of solar PV systems that are commonly used. Those are grid-tied, grid/hybrid and off-grid.
Grid-tied are more for those looking to supplement their current energy grid and want to add solar to their house or business. This is great for lowering energy bills!
Grid/hybrid systems are also great for homeowners but unlike grid-tied systems they have a battery storage that can be used in case of emergencies or power outages.
Off-grid systems like our FLEXSOLAR portable solar panels are great for those who either cannot easily connect to a power grid or who choose to live a more nomadic lifestyle in areas where there are no accessible grids. Even students and those who live a fast-paced life can benefit from off-grid solar technology. These are great because they allow people to become energy self-sufficient anytime, anywhere.
Another great advantage is that as energy needs grow, more off-grid panels can be brought in to keep up with the demand.
As far as efficiency goes, a photovoltaic solar panel system will produce around 200kWh under normal test conditions. This is based on a solar panel that has an efficiency of 20% and an area of 1m2.
Concentrated Solar Power
Today, concentrated solar power, or CSP, is normally found in large scale installations that provide electricity to a power grid.
Concentrated solar has a complex history that many believe dates back to Archimedes and his burning glass. This form of solar energy uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a receiver.
Currently, there are four different types of concentrated solar technologies. These are the parabolic trough, dish, concentrating linear Fresnel reflector and solar power tower.
Modern installations use thousands of mirrors, concentrating the sun's energy into a small area which gets very hot. The heat then drives a steam turbine generating electricity.
This system of solar energy is best for those countries that see extremely high levels of sunshine. Concentrated solar power is not quite as popular for large scale applications as using photovoltaic or PV panels, however, they do have a conversion efficiency of as much as 25% to 35%.
Solar Water Heating Systems
Originally, water heating solar energy began when black paint was painted onto tanks and used to heat water.
As the black paint absorbed the heat from the sun, it would heat up the water inside it. As primitive as this may seem, it shows that we understood the power of solar from early on.
We mostly see this type of solar energy in domestic, commercial, and industrial situations. Using the technology that we have available, a working fluid is heated up using a sun-facing collector. This will then pass into a storage system where we can heat water surrounding pipes containing the working fluid.
To power our electricity grids, the capacity for water heating solar as of 2017 was 472GW. The heat that this type of solar system generates is proportionate to the amount of heat from the sun. Therefore, those countries that have warmer, sunnier climates are more likely to benefit from this type of solar energy.
Thermal Solar Energy
Thermal solar energy, or solar thermal, utilizes the heat from the sun in similar fashion to a Water Solar System - To heat water or produce electricity, liquid flows through tubes and collects the sun's energy.
Thermal energy, as we know it today, started life back in 1890. In the beginning, this form of energy powered a steam engine. Slightly later, one of the main pioneers of solar thermal technologies was William Bailey. In 1909, he invented a thermosyphon system. This meant that he had access to hot water throughout the day, which he achieved using a water tank with a collector positioned below it.
One of the problems faced by this type of solar energy was the transportation of the heat from the sun. Scientists and inventors tried many fluids, including oil and sodium, but molten salt proved the best option. This is ideal given that it is cost-effective and works perfectly with the steam turbines we use today.
The largest solar thermal power station is located in Morocco and has a capacity of 510MW while the US and Spain both have several large projects.
Due to the way in which solar thermal systems work, they can reach an extremely high temperature. As an example, the solar Furnace at Odeillo in the French Pyrenees can reach temperatures of as much as 3,500 degrees.
Today, solar is now evolving faster and becoming more mainstream as environmental concerns and efficiencies increase and costs come down.
There’s little doubt as we pursue cleaner energy sources that the different types of solar energy we know about today, and perhaps some yet to be invented, will be at the forefront of the clean green solar energy revolution we’re seeking.