What are the Different Types of Solar Energy Generation?

N. Madison

Energy that is harnessed from the Sun is called solar energy. When the Sun’s rays reach Earth, their energy can be converted into other types of energy. For example, solar energy can be generated and converted into heat or electricity. Converting solar power into another type of energy is called solar energy generation. One type of solar energy generation uses photovoltaic or PV technology to produce electricity, absorbing light from the sun, and the other type uses solar thermal technology to produce heat energy, absorbing its warmth.

An array of solar panels is pointed at the sun to absorb solar energy.
An array of solar panels is pointed at the sun to absorb solar energy.

When solar energy generation is used to make electricity, solar energy is collected using photovoltaic cells that are usually made of silicon, a nonmetallic element. Photovoltaic cells are capable of producing electricity when exposed to light. As rays from the sun hit photovoltaic cells, photons, which are solar energy particles, are either absorbed or reflected by the cells. Other photons may pass through the cells altogether. As the photons are absorbed, the electrons are released and channeled into an electrical current.

A closeup of a solar panel.
A closeup of a solar panel.

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Solar thermal technology essentially involves heating a liquid to high temperatures, using rays from the sun. With direct thermal collection systems, a collection device is used to collect and store solar energy. There are different types of collector systems, but they typically start with solar panels that gather the sun's heat. These panels are normally designed and positioned to absorb as much of the Sun’s heat as possible during the daylight hours. Within the panels are water-containing solar thermal collectors that the sun’s heat raises to a high temperature, and the heated water is then used for its heat energy.

Some solar energy generation systems operate indirectly. With this type of system, the sun heats a non-water liquid. This heat energy is then transferred into a tank of water.

Both types of solar energy generation have practical applications. With enough solar panels, it’s possible to have light throughout an entire building, run appliances and even cook. Likewise, a person can use solar energy generation to heat an entire home or a swimming pool. Solar energy generation may even help the environment, as it doesn’t give off pollution or create a lot of noise. Unfortunately, the installation of solar technology can be costly, and the weather can have a direct effect on the amount of energy available to a home or business.

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