Different Solar Powered Home Technology

solar thermal and solar electric

What Are the Different Solar Technologies For The Home?

There are a number of different solar technologies for the home, but photovoltaic solar powered systems and pool solar are the most common. Solar technologies vary from complex to relatively simple. Some of the most familiar solar technologies are things we see almost everyday, like solar-powered calculators and garden lights. At Baker Electric Solar, the solar technologies we focus on revolve around solar PV.

What Is Solar PV?

Solar PV is one of the most common solar technologies. Generating electricity from solar panels comes from a method called photovoltaics. The effect occurs when voltage is created in a material when that material is exposed to the photons in light. The photovoltaic effect is the physical process of converting sunlight into energy. There are two forms of solar photovoltaic systems – crystalline silicon panels, and the less common thin film strips. Solar PV technology was born in the U.S. in 1954, when Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson developed the silicon photovoltaic cell at Bell Labs. This was the first solar PV energy cell which could convert enough of the sun’s energy into power to run everyday electrical equipment. Solar technologies only took off from there, and lead to the solar PV panels we use today.

PV is a solar technology used in a variety of situations all the way from megawatt sized utility-scale solar projects to a small solar powered generator.

Thin Film Solar Panel Panels

Thin film solar panels are a solar technology that fall under the category of solar PV. A thin film solar cell is created by depositing one or more thin layers of a photovoltaic material on a substrate. Cadmium telluride is the most common material used in thin film panels. Thin film cells typically have a lower efficiency than crystalline silicon cells. While they are cheaper than crystalline silicon solar panels, their inefficiency makes them a poor investment.

Crystalline Silicon Solar Panel Technologies

The most common form of solar PV is crystalline silicon cells. These cells can either be made of a polycrystalline or monocrystalline silicon wafer. Monocrystalline panels are the solar technology we use at Baker Electric Solar because they’re the most efficient panels on the market since they’re made out of the highest-grade silicon.

Monocrystalline solar PV panels are made by cutting the four sides off of cylindrical silicon ingots to make silicon wafers. The Czochralski process, which is the method used to produce the single-crystal silicon, is used to make monocrystalline panels. These panels have a consistent color and rounded edges.

Polycrystalline solar PV panels are made out of mutli-crystal silicon, so the Czochralski process isn’t used to make them. Instead, raw silicon is melted and poured into a square mold, which is then cooled and cut into perfectly square wafers. These panels have a speckled blue color and can be distinguished from monocrystalline panels because they don’t have rounded edges.

These two solar technologies - monocrystalline cells and polycrystalline cells - both fall into the category of solar PV, but since they differ so much in efficiency, we only use monocrystalline panels.

How Does Solar Hot Water Work?

Solar water heating is a solar technology that differs from solar PV because it doesn’t involve electrical energy, but instead uses energy generated by solar thermal or heat energy. Solar water heating works when the sun heats water in a solar thermal systemSolar hot water systems are one of the most popular solar technologies in countries like Israel, where all new residential buildings are required to install them. But this solar technology isn’t nearly as widespread here in the U.S. for use heating water inside homes and businesses. However, this technology is commonly used in the U.S. to heat swimming pools.

What Is Solar Thermal?

Thermal systems are solar technologies which use the sun to heat a substance for various uses. Arguably the most important part of a solar thermal energy system is the collector. The collector is what captures heat by absorbing sunlight. Depending on the collector type, a low, medium or high temperature can be achieved.

Low temperature usage would be something like hot water for a home or business. High temperature usage would be something like heating a substance to 1000F for use at a power plant.

Pool Solar Technologies

A really common use of solar thermal energy here in the U.S. is solar water heating for swimming pools. Here in San Diego County, it’s common for homeowners to get water heating systems installed for creating solar hot water for their pools. Solar hot water uses either a flat collector or evacuated tubes to heat water. The collector acts as an oven and warms water as the water passes through.

Solar Steam Power

Another use of thermal solar is in power plants. Currently, the largest solar thermal plant is the Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert. The plant is comprised of fields of mirrors, called heliostats, which reflect the sun’s light towards a receiver. The receiver is filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the water inside the receiver is heated from the reflected sunlight, it creates a high-temperature steam that then powers a turbine.