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The Five Methods of Solar Energy Harvesting

October 3, 2022

Are you tired of overpaying your power company for electricity? Do you want to save money with solar energy at your home? Call PES Solar at 800-650-6519 to schedule a consultation today. 

Solar panels and other solar energy harvesting technologies provide a clean source of electrical and thermal energy to power and heat buildings. Tax breaks and money-saving opportunities have driven many home and business owners to explore the benefits of solar panel installation, and the PES Solar team alone has installed more than one million solar panels throughout Florida.

You’ve likely seen these technologies at work while driving by solar farms and homes with rooftop solar panels. You may have even come across systems by our solar panel contractors in Orlando, Tampa, or West Palm Beach, but panels only represent one method of harvesting solar energy.

The Five Methods for Harvesting Solar Energy

The sun’s light is an incredible renewable resource that doesn’t negatively impact the environment like fossil fuels. The sun provides a plentiful resource, especially in areas with a high number of sunny days per year. 

Humans have been using passive heating systems fueled by solar energy to heat structures for thousands of years. Between these ancient systems and more modern solutions, builders and manufacturers use five main methods to harvest solar energy. Each method provides a specific way to generate heat or electricity.

1. Thermal Energy

If you’ve ever regretted your decision to wear a black shirt on a sunny day, you’ve experienced the power of thermal energy. The sun generates a lot of electromagnetic radiation, including the infrared spectrum, which efficiently absorbs into the color black. This radiation transfers energy as heat, which is why a black or dark-colored object becomes very hot in the sun. 

Scientists call materials that absorb electromagnetic radiation “black bodies” because the color black absorbs all light wavelengths in the visible spectrum. Builders have used this concept of radiation physics to heat homes and communal spaces for millennia, with examples dating as far back as Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome. Many technologies still use this method in thermal energy systems, such as thermosiphons and thermal solar panels. 

2. Molten Salt Thermal Energy

One solar energy harvesting system uses solar radiation to melt salt for energy. These systems use the thermal energy inside molten salt to turn water into steam, which generates electrical power by pushing steam-powered turbines. 

Solar plants that use molten salt systems use a series of heliostat mirrors to direct the sun’s radiation toward a fixed point. These mirrors move with the sun throughout the day to redirect maximum amounts of thermal energy and produce a high temperature close to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The system stores molten salt, which is a liquid, in insulated tanks where it continues to provide thermal energy to the system even on cloudy days. 

3. Solar Water Heaters

Traditional water heaters use electricity or natural gas to create thermal energy, but many homeowners in sunny climates forego these options for solar water heaters. A solar water heater system collects energy using thermal solar panels and transfers that heat energy into circulating water, effectively heating it. 

Some of these systems use a pump to keep the water moving through the system, but others take advantage of the fluid dynamics of hot and cold water. Just as hot air rises above cold air, warm water floats on top of cold water. If the system’s water storage tank rests above the thermal solar panels, the water will circulate automatically. 

4. Vacuum Tube Solar Water Heaters

The solar water heaters described above don’t offer the most efficient method for heating water, but more modern versions have improved the design using vacuum tubes (also called evacuated tubes).

These solar energy harvesting systems collect solar radiation using dark-colored glass vacuum tubes. Due to their cylindrical shape, these transparent tubes absorb the maximum amount of solar energy regardless of the sun’s position. Unlike thermal solar panels, vacuum tubes offer minimal heat loss to provide a highly efficient energy harvesting system. 

Each glass tube contains an inner copper heat pipe that transfers the collected thermal energy to an insulated storage tank via a heat transfer fluid. The stored water maintains the warmer temperature and provides hot water to the home or building even during cold days, which makes these systems practical in cold northern climates.       

5. Photovoltaic Solar Panels

Solar panels that provide electrical power to homes and businesses use photovoltaic solar energy harvesting to convert solar radiation into electricity. This term refers to light (photo) electricity (volt). 

A photovoltaic (PV) solar panel consists of dozens of PV cells. Each cell contains two semiconductors that create what’s called a depletion zone. When light passes through the cell, the two semiconductors react to the light photons, disrupting the depletion zone and generating direct current (DC) electricity. Homes and commercial spaces run primarily on alternating current (AC) power, so the DC electricity that the solar panel produces moves through an inverter to convert it to AC to power appliances and outlets.

Power outputs on photovoltaic solar panels vary based on the size of the panels, the PV cell technology, and other factors. Still, manufacturers continue to search for ways to improve the technology for increasingly efficient solar energy harvesting. 

Let PES Solar Handle Your Solar Panel Installation

PES Solar designs and installs PV solar systems for homes in Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach. We have two decades of experience in the solar energy industry, and we’ve installed thousands of solar systems. You can trust us to bring solar energy to your Florida home, so you can enjoy cost savings, increased home value, tax breaks, and additional energy benefits. 

Click here to learn about how you can use solar power in your home, or call the PES Solar team at 800-650-6519 with any questions you may have. You can also click here to schedule a consultation online if you’re ready to reap the benefits of solar energy harvesting today.