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TECHNOLOGY: Solar Thermal

The concept of solar thermal energy became prominent in 1767 when the Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure invented the world’s first solar collector, or “hot box”. Solar thermal energy became important in parts of Africa for cooking and water distillation.

Solar thermal” describes technologies that use the heat of the sun for heating water or producing electric power. Flat plate collectors transfer the heat of the sun to water either directly or through the use of another fluid and a heat exchanger. Solar thermal electric generating plants produce electricity by using solar radiation to heat a fluid and produce steam to drive turbine generators. When the fluid is heated by the sun it passes through a heat exchanger to transfer its energy to water to produce the steam.

There are several advantages to solar thermal electricity generation:

•    Electricity and hot water can be provided at the same time,
•    Plants can be scaled to match the application,
•    Utilities can match power production to daytime electricity demand peaks,
•    There are few pollutants associated with solar thermal power production, and
•    Permits can be issued and plants built in as little as 18 months, far faster than conventional fossil fuel or nuclear plants.

Solar thermal electric plants use several different methods for concentrating sunlight, and vary significantly in size.

While solar thermal electric technologies are currently economically competitive in some applications, technological improvements will increase their potential markets significantly.

Solar thermal collectors are the key component of active solar systems, and are designed to meet the specific temperature requirements and climate conditions for the different end-uses. There are several types of solar collectors:

•    Flat-plate collectors
•    Evacuated-tube collectors
•    Concentrating collectors
•    Transpired air collectors

Heating applications that require temperatures below 200oF typically use flat-plate or transpired air collectors.

Category/ies:Solar Tech.
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