Seven ways to get solar energy

Seven ways to get solar energy

The solar energy can be exploited in many ways, some well-known and others, futurists : photovoltaic panels for homes and large installations, fixed and mobile green touch products, flexible materials, low cost, thermal and thermodynamic systems, concentration, ink and solar shingles, hybrid systems, plates installed in space or artificial leaves. Various companies and research groups, some of them in Spain, are working to generalize these systems and take advantage of this clean and inexhaustible source of energy, even at night.

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1. “Classic” and avant-garde photovoltaic panels

The photovoltaic panels are best known for solar energy. They are based on photoelectric cells that transform the sun’s rays into electricity. These plates can be fixed, typical for roofs, or dynamic, thanks to solar trackers. These devices improve the performance of the panels by following the path of the Sun. The panels can be installed for self-consumption in private or community homes, or on a large scale, such as so-called solar gardens, which sell their electricity to the grid.

2. Thermal: take advantage of heat

The solar thermal fail sunlight to produce electricity and heat. It can be used as heating, to heat water in homes, swimming pools, to cook food or dry products. In addition to domestic systems, it is used in large solar thermal plants (Spain has some of the most powerful in the world).

Conventional thermal systems work during the day. Thermodynamic solar technology, the result of the union of the thermal and the heat pump, takes advantage of the heat of the wind, rain and sun, according to its defenders, even at night, and obtains hot water more efficiently than both technologies.

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3. Concentrate the sun’s rays

The “Concentrating Solar Energy” (CSP) consists of a large number of mirrors that follow the sun and concentrate their heat at one point. This generates steam that drives a turbine to produce electricity. These installations even work at night, since part of the heat is stored in oil or molten salt. Spain is a pioneer in this technology, with plants such as one built on the outskirts of Seville.

This system can also be used on a small scale: the micro-CSP. Its design is much simpler and of smaller dimensions and it can be installed on the roof of a large building, factories or shopping centers.

Technology photovoltaic concentration (CPV) is based on solar cells more efficient than conventional silicon materials. Being more expensive, very small cells and mirrors, lenses, prisms, etc. are installed, which concentrate the solar rays on the cells to increase their power. The USA, Germany and Spain are the most advanced countries in the world in this field.

4. Solar ink

Various companies and research groups are working on the development of “solar ink”. They use new materials, based on nanotechnology, that can be painted or printed on surfaces and that convert the sun’s rays into electricity. Consumers could paint their ceilings, walls or windows and generate their own energy.

5. Solar tiles

The solar shingles look like conventional in shape or color, but also produce electricity or heat. They work like classic photovoltaic panels, but with new systems and materials, such as amorphous or monocrystal line silicon, to be flexible and take that shape. Their higher price and their lower performance than conventional panels makes them only recommended when aesthetics are a priority.

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