Solar HeatingIt is not unusual for most major news channels to air programs that highlight the detrimental effects of global warming and pollution so it is not surprising to see most home owners trying to do their bit for the environment by choosing solar heating over the conventional for of winter temperature control. Solar energy is an inexhaustible and green source of electricity that can be used to generate enough electrical energy to suffice the needs of a household or just for heating. A solar heating system can be designed to suit any space so here is a look at the various aspects of solar heating systems.
Orientation and Design for Solar Capture
The orientation and design of your home can be made to optimally harness the sun's energy. The architectural idea is to build a space that can utilize sun's energy without the use of solar collectors. In other words, this is the natural form of solar energy utilization; such design and orientation elements include south eastern facing windows that are free from obstruction and can channel sunlight into the house. The use of specific glazes on the window that increase the amount of solar energy absorption and doors and windows that can be will sealed to insulate the house and prevent heat escape.
Solar heaters are available in two types, passive and active heaters
Passive solar heaters: The principle of thermo siphoning the design is entirely structural and there are no mechanical components used in this type of solar heaters. According to the principle, when the warm air from a heating system is pushed out; it results in the drawing of cold air into the heating system. Keeping in with the principle, the passive solar heater has two compartments; one that faces the sunlight and captures the heat produced by solar energy and the rear insulated compartment. The solar hater is installed at the bottom of a South Eastern facing window. The front compartment acts as the energy collector; there are two vents at the tops of this compartment. While one vent opens into the top partition the other opens into the rear partition. As the air on the exposed compartment heats up, it rises and flows out of the vent; this in turn causes cold air to enter the rear compartment from where its flows into the front partition and is heated by the sun.
Active solar heaters: Active solar heaters have the same design as a passive heater with one significant difference; that is the use of fans to manipulate the air. Unlike a passive solar heater, the active version does not use thermo siphoning; it consists of Plexiglas box with a metal sheet inside that is painted black; this is used for collecting the energy. A hole is cut into the corner of the Plexiglas box; a fan is installed at the top hole to blow air outwards. The box also has a series of groves that create some amount of air turbulence which slows the air flow; holding it back for longer so that it can reach the desired temperature. The fan draws the cold air in through the bottom inlet as the warm air is thrown outwards; the cool air sucked in is subsequently heated by the sun's energy ; as the air warms up it rises through the system where it is captured by the fan and blown into the space being heated.
Capturing solar energy:
There are two ways to capture solar energy through the use of:
Thermal solar panel: This is an old world technique for the capture of solar energy The technology is fairly simple; the assembly consists of a flat metal panel encased inside a glass box; this is used to capture solar heat; these are more convenient than photovoltaic cells because they have fewer mechanical components and can capture solar heat at relatively lower temperatures. Also, they can harness solar energy more efficiently and a smaller surface area is needed to generate the required amount of energy to heat an area as compared to photovoltaic cells. Solar panels are usually mounted on the roof top or in the back yard and all you have to do is plug in the necessary wires and your heating system will be up and running.
These panels can also produce electrical energy to suffice your household needs; a solar panel can capture up to 70% of the solar energy while photovoltaic cells can only capture abut 12%. Solar panels were originally meant to be used exclusively for water heating but their efficiency makes them suitable for electricity generation as well.
Photovoltaic cells: these are new generation surfaces for solar energy capture, even though their efficiency lags behind at a mere 12%; these are aesthetically pleasing because they can attached to the roof like regular roof shingles. They are exclusively used for generating electricity from solar energy and can help you to live off the grid or you could only use these cells to power the boiler. Photovoltaic cells are five times more expensive than solar panels and need a larger surface area. However, they are efficient all year round unlike the solar panels which give their peak output in summer whereas their winter output is dismal.
Things to consider for solar hating installation:
You will need to ensure that your house has the features which will aid in the maximum capture and retention of solar energy such as:
Insulation: Your house will have to be insulated to retain solar heat; any air leakage will impede your attempts to keep the house warm. You may have to enlist the help of a professional to ensure that the house is properly insulated to get optimal solar energy usage.
Heating system design: If you just intend to use the solar heater in a single room, a small convention window unit is all you will need; however, if you intend to use solar heat in the entire house, you will need to use a collector.
Collector features: The size of the collector is an important constraint that will have a direct bearing on the amount of heat generated. Also, the temperature inside a collector can go up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit even in winter so it is recommended that you use overheating protection or a cover that will protect the panels when not in use.
Optimal use of the heat energy: Installing adjustable heating elements in the house can help you conserve energy because heat will not be wasted in areas that are not in use. You can also use insulated pipe to minimize the heat loss during transfer.
Energy storage: This is a vital part of the solar heating system; energy can be stored through the use of sand or a water tank; this way the excess energy captured during the day can be out to use at night. Without an energy storage system, you will not be able to use the solar heating system at night.
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"I don't understand this - how can you generate "solar energy" without photovoltaics?"