Solar Heat and Electric Systems
by Nee Lorenzo
For clean, renewable energy, you can't get much better than the sun. Solar heating and electric systems depend on the sun's energy, converting its rays into practical solutions to power the home and business. Both systems typically consist of solar panels made of semiconductor materials that absorb sunlight. In the United States, they are most efficient in warmer regions such as California, Florida and the Southwest, though every state in the country can benefit from solar energy.
Solar Electric Systems
Solar electric systems are also called photovoltaic, or PV, systems. These systems use photovoltaic technology to convert sunlight into electricity. They typically consist of solar panels, made up of individual solar cells, which are made of semiconductor materials. In essence, when sunlight hits the solar cells, the electrons within them leave their atomic structure and travel into the solar cell circuit to create electricity.
Solar Heating Systems
Solar heating systems are also called solar thermal systems. They have the capacity to heat both water and space. These systems also use solar panels to collect and absorb the sun's energy. The heated water or air then travels to a storage system, which distributes heat throughout the home or building. Solar thermal systems can be used to heat swimming pools and reduce water heating costs in the home or business.
Cost and Savings
The up-front costs of a solar heating or electric system, typically in the tens of thousands of dollars, hinder many homeowners from going solar. While costs vary depending on system size, brand, installation considerations and other factors, homeowners and business owners can take advantage of federal and state rebates and tax incentives that encourage the use of clean technology. In addition, monthly savings in utility bills can add up when you're using free power from the sun.
Solar heating and electric systems are generally low-maintenance. If you cannot afford to install several panels at once, you can start small and add on to your system later. Both heating and electric systems expand easily. Environmental benefits to using solar are a big incentive, as the systems do not generate any pollution or waste when operating. As an energy source, the sun is renewable, unlike oil or coal. Solar systems last for over 15 years, often paying for themselves in time.
Concentrated Solar Power
Solar heat and electricity can be generated in large quantities via a concentrated solar power plant. These plants use mirrors on a large scale to reflect sunlight onto receivers. The receivers convert sunlight into heat, which can then be used to power a steam turbine or generator to make electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy is currently researching ways to develop concentrated solar power on a utility scale.