Types of Solar Energy

Solar Panel

What would you say about a process that in effect turns sunlight into liquid fuel using carbon dioxide as the input and releasing oxygen as the main byproduct? It’s already a reality in the lab. It will be interesting to see how this new form of alternative energy unfolds in the coming years. I'll tell you more about that particular form of energy in a moment, but first I want you to realize that there are many types of solar energy that most people don't think about. If you mention solar energy to most people, they immediately think of solar photovotalic energy. You know, banks of solar panels tracking the sun and generating electricity.

While that certainly is one form of solar energy, it is far from the only form.

Other pages on this site give considerable detail about the various forms of solar energy. Here I want to give you an overview.

Let’s go to the beginning: radiant heat.

Radiant Heat

We’ve all felt the warmth of the sun on our skin. People have harnessed that heat for generations.

For example, passive solar home heating essentially captures the sun’s radiant heat in an area of thermal mass. The sun also proves to be a very efficient and practical way to heat water.

Passive Solar Home Heating

Solar Hot Water

Solar Chimneys

Solar Pool Heating

Solar Power Tower

Chemical Solar Energy

Another prototypical form of solar energy is photosynthesis. When you think about it, this is the original, naturally occurring type of solar energy. It’s the source of the energy that has driven life on earth.

I can’t claim to understand all the chemistry of photosynthesis (take a look at Wikipedia if you want to give it a go), but basically the process amounts to water and carbon dioxide combining to form sugars (carbohydrates) while releasing oxygen.

This chemical process requires energy to happen and the sun provides that energy. In essence, the energy of the sun light is “trapped” in an organic form.

We can call this type of solar energy chemical solar energy. Although photosynthesis is the original, as you can read about on other pages here, researchers are looking into other ways to use solar energy to drive “green” chemical reactions to produce fuel.

Also, photosynthesis itself can be harnessed in new ways. Check out the links below to find out about very promising new ways to produce energy:

Oil from Algae

Artificial Photosynthesis

Solar Engines And Generators

Sunlight can also be concentrated to heat various substances to high heats and drive engines or generators. Several examples of this application of solar energy are already in commercial production.

Again, you can find a lot more detail on other pages on this site.

Concentrating Solar Energy Systems

Dish and Engine Solar

Linear Solar Concentrators

Natural Solar Lighting

One last one of the types of solar energy that I want to mention is lighting.

Although it seems as obvious as night and day (excuse the bad joke), sun is the original source of illumination on the planet. Yet many building, especially large commercial building are designed in such a way that artificial lighting is required even on a sunny day.

Fortunately, that’s changing. Intelligent design, fiber optics, light shafts and other clever design features are making it more possible to light buildings naturally during the day.

The Best Is Yet to Come...

These are the forms of solar energy than I'm aware of today. I won't be surprised if even more creative ways to harness the sun's energy come along over the next several years. I never cease to be amazed by human creativity there certainly is an impetus now to take advantage of all the energy the sun has to offer.

Links

Solar Energy

Solar Energy Facts

Concentrating Solar Energy Systems

Solar Energy Costs

Linear Solar Concentrators

Solar Chimneys

Solar Hot Water

Solar Water Heating Experiment

Solar Power Tower

return to Alternative Energy Primer Home from Types of Solar Energy