What Active Solar Energy Can Do For You

Active solar energy is the term used to describe the conversion of solar energy into other forms of energy via mechanical or electronic means.

For example:

  • A photovoltaic solar panel uses electronic means to convert solar energy to electricity.
  • solar panel image

    Source:US Dept of Energy-Energy Savers

  • A solar collector uses mechanical means to convert solar energy into heat for the home.
Active solar energy is the most widely used method for converting solar energy as distinct from Passive Solar Energy.

How Does Active Solar Energy Work?

The radiant energy from the sun travels through the atmosphere at the speed of light and reaches earth just under nine minutes later. The energy splits itself into two broad types – that which reaches a desired spot directly, a solar panel for example, and that which is diffused by clouds, the atmosphere and nearby topography.

However, the diffused radiation eventually reaches the ground and some of it also reaches the collector.

The collector, depending on its type, then converts the solar energy into another form, say electricity, for use in the family home.

What about the actual conversion process?

Let's use a couple of examples...

  • In the case of a solar panel, the solar energy activates the photovoltaic cells and the resulting movement of the electrons creates an electrical current. For more information on this topic visit our Solar Panels page.
  • In the case of heating hot water for household use, the solar energy is absorbed on a collector plate and a heat exchanger transfers the heat to a tank or boiler. More information at solar home heating.

How Efficient Is The Conversion Process?

Traditional solar solar panels converted 10-15% of the available energy into electricity. Unfortunately, the cost factor was an initial deterrent for many, even though the costs were coming down. Get further information at solar energy costs

When the cost factor is allied with the low efficiency of the systems, it tended to dampen people's enthusiasm for embarking on a solar power project for their home.

However, modern developments are now giving much better results. There are various new technologies and some innovators have managed to combine the production of heat and electricity into the one unit, giving an efficiency close to 70%.

Such developments are driving down the costs and making it considerably more attractive to Mum & Dad investors.

The Future For Active Solar Energy

Given the widespread availability of solar energy, the potential for communities and individuals to make use of it is mind-boggling.

So let's look at the communal future...

In many countries there are large desert areas with great volumes of sunlight and these areas lend themselves to developing large scale solar energy projects.

For example:

In the Mojave Desert in California a consortium of investors including BrightSource, NRG Solar and Google (yes - the Google everyone loves or hates) is constructing a 392 Mw active solar energy facility that will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes. It is expected to be online in 2013.

There are many other examples of smaller, but still large scale solar projects that generate electricity for widespread community use.

These large scale projects require substantial environmental research and planning in order to minimize any harmful effects to wildlife or nearby communities.

However, this kind of large scale development offers great benefits not only to individual home-owners who benefit from the electricity generated, but also to the overall health of the planet in providing clean energy from renewable resources.

From an individual home-owner perspective...

As the technology continues to improve and the costs continue to drop, the local home owner can invest with confidence in a resource that can be used for such a wide variety of purposes.

Active solar energy combined with passive solar energy will offer home owners a cost effective way of powering and heating their homes.

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