There are different types of solar energy that are used today. You ask how many are there. According to recent studies, there are three basic types but we will break it down into five different categories. Below I have listed each type and will describe each as it relates to the different uses.
- Photovoltaic Solar Power-Energy that is created by converting the suns rays into electrical energy is called photovoltaic. I am sure you have seen solar panels on houses or businesses before. These are the devices that convert the solar energy into usable electricity. In a simple form it can be used to power solar lighting, examples of this are traffic signs, yard lighting, or security applications.
- Passive Solar Energy-Passive solar energy can best be described as using the sun's energy without the use of mechanical devices. One example could be the energy from the sun concentrating heat on a black painted block wall which in turn would warm your house. Another example could be how the sun would warm your house through windows facing south. Even the use of sky light boxes on a roof using the sun to light rooms during the day.
- Active Solar Energy-We discussed earlier not using mechanical devices, active solar energy uses mechanical devices such as pumps, or moving shutters controlled my the angle of the sun. Pumps are used to circulate water in applications requiring the moving of the heated water. One residential use would be solar water heating for a swimming pool were the heated water is returned to the pool using a pump. Other examples would be solar water heating and solar space heating were water is pumped through coils of tubing to heat a room.
- Solar Thermal Energy-Sometimes confused with active solar energy, solar thermal energy is the converting of energy into heat. Anything that uses the sun's energy to make heat could be classed as solar thermal energy or energy from the sun to produce heat.
- Concentrating Solar Power-This type of energy is used mainly for large production of electricity, and not recommended for home owners. This is a larger scale operation where electricity might be sold to home owners through their utility supplier.
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