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Solar Energy Simplified

Energy from the sun, solar energy, is harvested in two methods. Semiconductor technology called Photo-Voltaic (PV) converts light energy into electricity.  Thermal energy from the sun is harvested through heat absorption.  Both types of captured energy can be used immediately or stored for later use.

Using solar and other forms of renewable energy reduces reliance on fossil fuels for energy production, thus using green energy reduces energy bills and reduces emissions. The average household could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 20%.

PV, Photovoltaic, Solar Panels:

The above are interchangeable descriptors for the same product. Essentially panels that convert it into electrical energy.  Solar panels are durable; most come with performance warranties of 20-25 years once purchased they continue to produce electrical power for many years with little or no maintenance other than keeping them clean. A particularly useful characteristic of solar photovoltaic power generation is that it can be installed on any scale; from a single solar powered garden light to an array of many kilowatts.

Short History of Photo Voltaic

In 1839 Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect and explained how electricity could be generated from sunlight. Becquerel claimed that "shining light on an electrode submerged in a conductive solution would create an electric current." photovoltaic power continued to be inefficient and photovoltaics were used mainly for the purposes of measuring light (light meters for photography). More than one hundred years later, in 1941, Russell Ohl an American engineer invented the solar cell.

Passive Solar Water Heating:

Thermal energy obtained from the sun can be used for a number of applications including producing hot water, space heating and cooling via use of absorption chilling technology.  Solar hot water systems have come a long way since the old-fashioned bulky black panels of yesteryear. We now have attractive systems using evacuated tube technology that can produce hot water in summer and winter months.

After heating your home the second largest energy consumption and energy cost in most homes is hot water heating.  Surprisingly in a summer cottage this can be your single largest consumer of energy. Accumulating energy from the sun to heat or assist in heating the hot water in your home has a good payback on investment.

Some countries have made their use mandatory. For example, all homes in Israel have solar hot water systems.

More than one-half million solar hot water systems have been installed in the United States, mostly on single-family homes. The majority of these systems are used to heat swimming pools.

Typically, a homeowner now relying on electricity to heat water could save up to $500 in the first year of operation by installing a solar water heating system. The savings over time increase due to increasing electricity rates. The average solar heating system pays for itself in four to seven years.

Check out our Passive Solar heating pages by clicking here or on the left side of this page..

Short History of Solar Hot Water

Before World War I, solar heated water systems were common in Southern California and Florida.  Changing life styles after the two wars and cheap electrical costs and the discovery of vast oil fields in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela and later Texas effectively displaced this technology. 

About that same time Frank Shuman of Tacony, Pennsylvania developed and parabolic solar collectors and built them at a small farming community on the Nile River 15 miles south of Cairo, Egypt.  Each collector was 204 feet in length, 13 feet in width. A mechanical tracker automatically tilted collector to most efficiently absorb sunlight.  Fifty five horse power of steam was generated to power a series of large irrigation pumps which were able to lift 6000 gallons of water per minute to water arid land.

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Last modified: October 15, 2021