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What is Solar Energy?


Bright sun

Solar Energy Information

Solar energy is, of course, the sun's heat. Just about every living thing on the planet is powered by the sun.
In terms of renewable energy, solar energy is the act of capturing and storing the sun's heat for immediate or future use.
Solar power systems are virtually silent and can function for 20-30 years. This means buying 2nd hand units can be an ideal option for the low-budget diy home heating project. Companies supplying components and fittings are on the increase - as demand goes up, costs come down. Check the funding page for changing funding resources. There are three main methods of using solar energy in the UK, though solar cookers are also used - transforming living in desert climates by reducing time and effort searching for wood as well as reducing pollution from fires.
Solar energy production is currently fairly expensive and capturing the sun's power is still proving to be inefficient. As the New Scientist reports, scientists are on the case though with some work discovering ways to double efficiency. It is early days, there are a lot of hurdles to jump in solar cell technology, but there is every reason to expect that solar power will form one of the main players in our future energy consumption - the solar power home will become the norm rather than the extraordinary.

A passive solar power system

captures the sun's energy through the very structure of the building. A passive system does not provide a heat source such as a fireplace or central heating system, but reduces the need for artificial light and heating. This is done mostly by incorporating larger south facing windows with shading apparatus for hotter climates to shield from more aggressive sunshine. Passive solar designs are helped by including other measures - which are a requirement if you are applying for UK grant funding - such as insulation and energy saving appliances. Diy home heating projects can easily incorporate aspects of passive solar heating or cooling.

Active solar water heating

converts solar radiation, (the sun's heat), into heat that can be stored or used immediately. Active (or thermal), solar heating lends itself well to diy water heating projects. Pool heating through solar energy is becoming very popular - easily reducing your energy bills and saving energy.

Photovoltaic (PV)

PV panels or solar cells convert the sun's heat through semiconductors into electricity. Solar PV can potentially provide a significant proportion of electrical needs. As the market grows and efficiency increases, whilst manufacturing costs reduce, installation costs will become competitive with other electricity generation forms. Diy solar heating using photovoltaics is not really feasible. It is more cost-effective to install into new-build than to attempt conversion to an existing building. However, looking at the holistic value - no distribution or transmission costs - virtually total positive environmental impact - solar energy is far more comparable with other customary energy sources.
There are some minor pollutants associated with PV systems. Potentially polluting elements such arsenic and phosporous are introduced to the silicon during manufacture, these help to produce the required electrical properties.
Cadmium and lead in batteries used in some systems could pollute if not recycled properly. Research and design is ongoing to find low environmental impact alternatives. In the mean time users must beware that surplus batteries are not sent to landfill sites, but recycled.
New semiconductors are less likely to use silicon and some thin-film materials contain minute amounts of heavy metals such as cadmium. They are fairly environmentally stable and using cadmium in this form is a good, enviro-friendly means of recycling the by-products of other industries such as zinc mining. It is also worth noting that the silicon used for PV panels tends to be recycled from other industry waste.

How solar energy works
Where to use solar energy
DIY solar heating

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