With the planet’s energy crisis reaching a point that no one can ignore, we are all looking for ways to make changes. While countries around the world invest in renewable energy projects on a large scale, homeowners and business owners can also make smaller scale investments. Of all the types of renewable energy, solar energy is the most versatile and easy to harness with different uses and applications. Despite this, solar energy only contributes to a very small amount of the world’s energy consumption. We don’t have to wait for greater change as solar power systems are available for private use. It’s more important now than ever to look to changing over to a greener way of living.
At Dynamic Solar, we focus on renewable energy solutions using solar photovoltaics. However, there are other types of solar energy. In this blog, we talk about them all and what makes them different.
What is solar energy?
Solar energy is electromagnetic radiation that comes in the form of light, heat and ultraviolet rays. Solar technologies convert these rays into energy for our consumption, whether as electricity or thermal energy. The energy we receive from the sun is unlimited and renewable, giving off no emissions. It’s the basis for all life on the planet with plant life practically existing as biological energy converters, turning sunlight into chemical energy through photosynthesis.
What are the different types of solar energy?
Solar energy can be split into two categories – active and passive solar energy. Passive solar energy harnesses the energy from the sun without changing it. Active solar energy makes use of equipment that pumps heat from the sun to be distributed as and where you need it. These types of solar energy don’t convert the energy from the sun into a different form. They make use of natural sunlight and heat.
Then there are three main types of solar energy that convert light, heat and UV rays into a different form of energy. They are solar photovoltaics, solar thermal energy and concentrated solar energy.
Solar PV (photovoltaic) energy
The vast majority of solar panels in private use are photovoltaic. Solar PV uses sunlight to generate electricity, converting energy from the sun into an electric charge. Solar PV panels make use of solar cells which act very similarly to the cells in a battery. Their combined charge generates an electrical current which is then inverted into A/C electricity for both domestic or commercial use.
Solar PV is vastly becoming more and more in regular use now that it’s easier than ever to have solar PV panels installed at a property. There are many incentives for homes and businesses to make the move to an renewable source of electricity. Not only is there the environmental factor, but solar PV systems greatly reduce the cost of electricity when moving to a private source of renewable energy. Electricity produced from solar PV panels is completely free, coming with no caveats from any energy providers. What you produce at your property from your solar panels is yours to use, whether you wish to power your appliances, put the electricity into storage for later use or sell it back to the grid for a profit.
Solar PV has great versatility among many benefits but it does have a downside. Solar PV panels need sunlight to work which limits it when they will be producing electricity. During the night and overcast days, productivity stops meaning that there has to be a back-up. While it is possible to make a property independent from the national grid, it is an expensive undertaking. Either the solar PV panel system is connected up with solar battery storage or you will be making use of the national supply of electricity of which is mostly fuelled from fossil fuels. Battery storage is a must-have for solar PV but it is another cost to factor into when looking to invest in a renewable energy system.
While the costs of having solar panels and storage isn’t something to overlook, the money that you will earn back over time makes the investment definitely something to consider. The reduced impact on the environment also adds to doing your part in encouraging eco-friendly living.
Solar thermal energy
Where Solar PV uses sunlight, solar thermal energy instead uses the heat from the sun. Solar thermal panels don’t necessarily convert one form of energy into another but rather collect heat energy from the sun. This heat builds up in pipes set up in the panel which are filled with a special water-based fluid. The pipes are all connected to a water tank where the heated fluid circulates through the tank to heat the water inside.
Comparatively speaking, solar thermal is more energy efficient than solar PV. More of the sun’s thermal energy is collected and converted into heat, at least 70% of which doesn’t go to waste. In comparison, only around 20% of the sun’s energy is converted into electricity. This is why solar thermal is used to primarily heat up a water supply rather than relying on solar PV to power an electric water heating system.
Concentrated solar energy
While this form of solar energy isn’t something available to homeowners and business owners, it’s still a type of solar energy that is in use on a large scale. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) uses heat energy collected from the sun and captures it using a system of reflective surfaces. The energy is concentrated to a specific point which produces high temperatures, high enough to heat a water tank and produce steam to power a turbine. These power plants generate vast amounts of electricity and work in a very similar way to a fossil-fuel power plant, only solar energy powers the turbines. At present, the largest concentrated solar power plant is based in Morocco on the edge of the Sahara desert, making use of the intense sunlight and heat in the hot climate.
While concentrated solar power is more expensive on a large scale compared to solar PV, it has the advantage of storage. Heat energy can be stored so electricity can be produced during the night.
Which type of solar energy is best?
We may be biassed with our answer but in terms of flexibility and ease of access, solar PV is the best type of solar energy. However, we don’t detract from the other forms of solar energy which all have their place.
On a large scale, solar PV is behind the giants in renewable energy – hydropower and wind. That being said, with more and more solar plants in production, its position as a renewable power supply is only improving with more and more investors making the move. With solar PV panels available for private use, it’s the renewable energy source that you can benefit from independently. If you’re looking to make the change to renewable, green living, solar PV is the way forward.
Getting started on powering your property with the sun
With our team at Dynamic Solar, setting up your solar PV system is a streamlined process. We account for every step of the project, starting with a free quote that covers the panels, installation, wiring and connecting your system. Our end-to-end service even covers maintenance and repair with our panels coming with a 4-year guarantee.
Whether you wish to have solar panels installed at the home or at your business, we have many options for you to consider. If you have limited roof space, we have ground-mounted panels that can power your energy supply from previously unused space going to waste. We also have storage options to keep your energy consumption covered when the sun sets (and when the weather isn’t behaving itself).
To find out more, we’re more than happy to talk through our solar power solutions. You can get in touch with our experts on 01202 985325 or request more information here.