Solar Power

Heat and Thermal Energy

Recently there has been a renewed focus on the use of renewable energy. Solar thermal energy is an abundant, renewable energy source that is also beneficial to the environment, but it can mean a huge annual savings, the equipment can last for decades, and it’s comfortable.

There are three types of solar thermal energy collectors, all used for heating. The first, low thermal collectors, consist of a heat plate, and are most often used for things such as swimming pool heaters, but are also often involved in process heating. Medium thermal collectors also consist of a heat plate, but instead of mass heating, generally focus on cooking. High thermal collectors are most often used for space heating. Unlike low and medium thermal collectors, high collectors use a system of lenses and mirrors to concentrate energy for higher heat.

Low temperature collectors are generally used for heating, cooling, ventilation, and process heating. Solar process heating is used for hot water or space heating for large or commercial buildings. In the United States, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning account for 25% to 50% of energy use. This large amount can be offset by using solar thermal energy. Thermal masses can be used to store energy collected from the sun during the day and is then able to release the energy during cooler periods, such as the evening. These thermal mass materials most often include stone, concrete, and water. In using solar thermal energy, climate, daylight, and shading conditions must be considered. Without adequate sunlight, thermal energy does not work as well.

Thermal heating is still used in the Middle East. A solar thermal chimney collects energy during the day, then releases energy as the day cools. The thermal chimney is a hollowed form of thermal material that collects the energy. Updrafts through the chimney pull the air through the building, creating heat. This technology has been around since Roman times.

Medium solar collectors are most often used for cooking. Temperatures can reach up to 350 degrees Celsius, which is more than adequate for cooking. Drying and pasteurization are also possible using this form of solar collecting. The simplest form of medium solar cookers reaches temperatures between 50 and 100 degrees Celsius and is a basic box design.

High temperature collectors often use a heat engine for their space heating. The efficiency of the heat engine increases with the temperature of the heat source. To increase this heat source, mirrors and lenses are used for the concentration of energy. This technique helps to lower the environmental impact of conventional power usage. It is possible to generate temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius with this technique. For higher temperatures, steam turbines and gas turbines can be used.

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