HOW DOES SOLAR POWER WORK?
Do you want to save the planet or just save money on electricity? Whichever it is, solar power can do both for you. Knowing how solar power works is key to choosing the correct system for YOUR needs.
Even on cloudy days, sunlight contains 1000Watts of energy per square meter! This can be harnessed in the following ways:
SOLAR ENERGY COLLECTORS
As the name indicates, solar collectors gather energy from the sun then convert it to heat which is used to heat household water or living areas.
They fall into 2 categories:
FLAT PLATE COLLECTOR
The flat plate collector capture of heat is similar to the way a greenhouse captures heat.
Heat is absorbed from the sun by means of a plate placed on your roof. This heat is then passed on to a tank of water and disseminated through your home in the form of room heating or hot water.
EVACUATED TUBE COLLECTOR
This is very similar to the flat plate collector in that it heats up in the sun and transfers the heat to a tank of water. However, in this instance, the heat is circulated in tubes of coolant. The heat is then moved to the water tank for later use. What is the advantage of this system? The tubes of coolant keep the heat constant. So even if you have freezing temperatures outside, the heat in the pipes is conserved.
WHICH IS BEST FOR ME?
The cheapest by far is the flat plate collector. It’s also the simplest to install. If you live in an area of good yearly sunshine and mild winters it could be ideal as there is a greatly reduced chance of heat loss from the sun. Many also opt to install a system to stay connected to the grid as a backup in case there happens to be several consecutive gloomy days.
Areas that experience low sunshine or freezing winters might find that the evacuated tube collector best. Remember that the tubes of coolant provide enough insulation to ensure constant heat whatever the outside temperature.
PHOTOVOLTAIC CELLS (PV CELLS)
This is the most expensive way to harness solar energy.
Photovoltaic cells basically turn sunshine into electricity.
Light from the sun is absorbed by a silicon semi-conductor on the PV cell. This then harnesses some of the electrons which become an electrical current. Now you can power up your whole home plus gadgets by drawing off the current from your PV cell.
Due to PV cell systems being rather intricate and difficult to install, it’s best to use a professional to set it up for you. This obviously adds to the cost.
If you live in a warm climate you could easily get away with the cheapest option of all – the flat plate collector. However, a colder, less sunny area would probably need the evacuated tube system to ensure a constant supply of heat and hot water. Both can be used with a backup electricity/gas geyser in case of emergencies.
If you’d like to generate electricity for all or part of your home, then the photovoltaic system would be best. It is, however, the most expensive and complicated of the 3. Do in-depth research to find out how many cells you’ll need and use professional to install it.