Solar panels are known to be effective in trapping and collecting the heat of the sun.
In countries in the Middle East for example, you can see panels on the roof of many if not most houses, utilising the hot temperature that lasts for a nine-month season.
Such panels, in modified form, are becoming a common sight across Europe and the UK, and this form of energy is highly recommended for new sustainable self-build houses and office buildings.
But how do the panels trap the suns rays, and how can it be converted to energy?
What are the systems available, and how can this energy be used in the home?
The types of systems available
There are two types of solar panel systems, and they are based on different technological systems.
Solar Thermal Systems
These systems contain water flowing through the panel, which is heated up by the exposure to the sun, through contact with thermal collectors, and thus provides only hot water. They require a water storage tank at least as big as a conventional boiler.
This system is very practical and relatively inexpensive, and providing the area in which it is used has a certain level of exposure to the sun, can be cost-effective in terms of paying for the initial outlay. Experts recommend that this system is the single most effective piece of technological hardware that can provide energy from renewable sources for most people in the UK.
This system has many advantages over a regular source of energy for water heating:
- reduction of dependency upon imported fuels
- expands the range of energy options, and saves scarce resources
- diminishes urban air pollution, and provides savings for the householder
Solar Photovoltaic/Solar PV systems
The second system is that which utilises solar or photovoltaic cell. These are banks of small cells that use semiconductors that react with sunlight. This photovoltaic effect directly generates electricity, which can then be diverted into the system for immediate use. Storing this energy can be more of a problem.
We are most familiar with this system through the introduction of solar-powered calculators to the mass market around twenty years ago. This remains a successful use of this technology as it is low-cost. A recent innovation on British streets and motorways has been the installation of roadside emergency telephones, powered with a single small photovoltaic panel. Bigger uses of this system include the powering of orbiting satellites, and a team of Dutch scientists have produced a solar-powered car, the Nuna. However, this system has limited potential at the present time for the individual household, although there are <#66#>exceptions to this rule<#>. Cost and effective storage are the two key issues. However, in a similar way to the increasing use of wind farms producing energy and sending it to the National Grid, this might also become an option for the large-scale production of electricity generated from the sun.
Using the sun – the future for energy
With this brief introduction to the technologies currently available, it is clear how far we have got in utilising the power of the sun, but also the future potential of this wonderful renewable resource. Both for the individual environmentally-conscious householder and for society in general, it seems that we are still at the edge of really harnessing the sun. Another option for the householder, within the solar thermal heating system, is solar cooling – a technology that will become more necessary, and presumably more in demand and consequently more cost-effective, as Europe becomes hotter, due to the effect of climate change.