Solar thermal technology is the production of solar thermal energy, a carbon-free, alternate source of energy generated from the sun. It is renewable, unlike the power generated from fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, or even oil. It is important to understand that it is not the same thing as Photovoltaic or PV Energy. Although both are generated from and produced with energy from the sun, their different manners of production makes them significantly different.
Characteristics of Solar Thermal Energy
- It can require large plants that generate electricity indirectly.
- Fluid is heated with heat rays collected from the sun, producing steam.
- This steam powers a generator, which produces electricity.
- This ongoing process allows for the storage of energy for use at night or on cloudy days.
- Sunlight is converted directly into electricity.
- This instant conversion means no energy is stored.
- No stored energy makes it efficient only during daylight hours.
- Solar energy is produced by the sun, making it renewable daily.
- Replenishing comes from the sun, making it more reliable over time.
- More naturally renewed energy means less imported energy, saving money.
- Almost no pollutants are produced during energy production.
- No carbon emissions are produced, whatsoever.
- Devices does not have to be constantly monitored after being installed.
- Smaller workforce is needed to maintain these facilities.
- Many devices utilize much simpler technology than PV panels.
- Systems are built to gather and store the heat from the sun.
- Depending on the system, heat can be stored for several days.
- Makes it more efficient at night and during overcast days.
- Today, it is more expensive to produce than fossil fuel energy because of the lack of plants.
- Start-up costs for equipment are higher due to higher per-unit rate of energy produced.
- Requires the sunlight to produce heat. Not very reliable on cloudy days or at night.
- Owners need a backup energy source during low-production times.
- Produced by sunlight, making it an endless source of energy.
- Reduces the need for imported oil to produce energy.
- No noise pollution. Solar cell electricity production is a silent process.
- No air pollution or water pollution. Produced by sunshine, through a natural process.
- System can be produced in many different sizes, depending on energy needs.
- Equipment can be moved or enlarged, as energy needs change.
- Cadmium and arsenic are used during production.
- Controllable through recycling and using correct disposal procedures.
- Costs more to produce than conventional energy due to equipment manufacturing costs.
- Equipment is not manufactured to store energy, making it inefficient on non-sunny days.
- Stored hot water cools down over a period of time, during inefficient periods.
Advantages of Solar Thermal Energy
- Renewable Source of Energy
- Environmentally Safe
- Low Maintenance
Disadvantages of Solar Thermal Energy
- More Expensive than Solar Electric
- Not Consistent
Advantages of PV
- Renewable Energy Source
- Size & Convenience
Disadvantages of PV
- Some Toxins Produced
- Higher Costs
- No Storage
Just recently, in 2008, California residents suffered the consequences of a power grid failure due to six days of peak demand. This record breaking demand was the caused of outages throughout the state. In the wake of this energy crisis, California’s solar thermal plants continuously produced energy at a rate of 110 percent capacity.
This just goes to show that this energy is not just a reliable source of energy for consumers, but it can also a very efficient energy source across an entire state. Whether used as a main or backup energy source, overtime it can save you money, while promoting a healthy, clean environment.