What is Thermal Solar Power?

Ken Black

Thermal solar power is a type of power generation that harnesses the heat from the sun's rays to be used as an energy source. Thermal solar power is different than some other, well-known types of solar power that use light from the sun's rays to convert to electricity. Thermal solar power is best known for its use in water heating, a technology that has been around for decades.

Thermal solar power  harnesses the heat from the sun's rays to be used as an energy source.
Thermal solar power harnesses the heat from the sun's rays to be used as an energy source.

Solar water heaters use solar collectors mounted to the roof of a building, such as a home, to provide heated water to the facility. While there are shortcomings, such as not providing as much heat on a cloudy day, thermal solar power is particularly effective in this application. Many with solar hot water heaters see their electrical bills decrease substantially.

Some of the more unconventional uses of thermal solar power include things like cooking and disinfection. While these uses are rare, they do show the variety of things that can be accomplished using the sun's heat as a power source. In general, however, the real value of the sun comes from its uses in other applications.

Solar thermal collectors are primarily used to heat something such as air or water directly. This heating can have a number of benefits, as previously stated in regards to the solar water heaters. However, solar thermal power has other uses as well. Some of these may help provide energy to a vast amount of people.

Thermal solar power collectors can also be used to produce electricity through an indirect, thermodynamic process. In such cases, heat is often intensified through mirrors and lenses to produce very hot temperatures. This technique is especially effective in desert environments, where there are many sunny days.

The heat collected can then be used to heat water, which in turn creates steam. This steam can then be used to turn conventional turbines, thus producing electricity. This electricity can then be transmitted to the surrounding area.

Thermal solar power offers many benefits over other types of conventional energy generation. Unlike coal, it produces no carbon dioxide and is a renewable fuel source, and produced totally without pollution. Unlike nuclear, there is no hazardous waste to deal with. It provides a virtually limitless supply of power.

However, there are drawbacks as well. The panels needed for large-scale energy production can be very expensive and take up a substantial amount of space. Therefore, start-up costs are not cheap. However, the best spots are desert environments, where land may not cost very much, providing some relief to the higher start-up costs.

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