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Sunlight Into Power: Thermal Solar Devices And Photovoltaic

There is much talk about turning sunlight into power... Learn more about the technology at play.

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Photo: onlinewoman (flickr)

Scientists are investigating ways to turn sunlight into power we can use.

Did you know that enough sunlight falls on the earth’s surface every minute to provide energy for the entire world?

The trick, though, is turning sunlight into power we can use for things like heating water and making electricity. And there are two types of technology used to do this: thermal solar devices, and photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels.

So, what’s the difference?

Thermal solar technology is the more straightforward of the two.

To heat water for a home, for example, thermal solar typically involves panels that capture sunlight and use it to directly heat air or water. There are no wires, switches, or batteries. It’s a fairly direct and efficient conversion of sunlight into heat.

Photovoltaic

PV solar technology is more complex. When sunlight hits a PV cell, electrons in the cell are knocked out of their orbits. Electric fields channel the electrons in a current used to generate electricity.

Unlike thermal solar panels, PV technology isn’t very efficient. A typical solar panel converts only around twenty percent of the sunlight it absorbs into electricity. The most advanced panels may be close to forty percent efficient.

The Future

So PV solar technology has a ways to go. But scientists are working hard to improve solar cells, using nanotechnology and other advanced technologies to make PV panels more powerful.

Solar technology may never become efficient enough to power the entire world on its own. But it will no doubt play an important role in our energy future.

Read More: Solar Thermal vs. PV: Which Tech Will Utilities Favor? (greentechmedia)

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