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Modern Uses of Solar Thermal Energy

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Solar thermal energy is a way of harnessing the energy of the sun to create heat energy. This energy can either be used as is or converted to electricity. Solar energy is an important part of the green energy movement, as it is nonpolluting and comes from a completely renewable resource. However, technologies are still being developed to make this energy source more reliable, efficient, and cost-competitive in today’s energy market. Here are some of the ways solar thermal energy is currently being used for energy generation around the globe.

Solar Thermal Power Plants

In a solar thermal power plant, heat energy from the sun is used similarly to the heat energy released in the combustion of fossil fuels in traditional power plants. The sun’s rays heat carrier fluid to very high temperatures, which is then circulated through pipes to heat water, converting it to steam. The steam is piped to a turbine/generator, where it is converted to mechanical energy which is used to create electricity. In order to condense the sun’s energy so it can heat the carrier fluid effectively, these plants use concentrator systems, typically parabolic troughs, solar dishes, or solar power towers.

Solar Thermal Energy Collectors

Solar thermal energy is also used for heating systems. This type of system is available for heating water in homes as well as swimming pools, and also for heating the inside of buildings. The two types of collector systems are passive and active. Passive relies solely on the heat from the sun without the use of mechanical equipment, whereas active systems use a collector to absorb and collect the thermal energy and then fans or pumps to circulate that energy to heat water or air.

Other Uses of Solar Thermal Energy

Aside from these two main methods of converting thermal energy for modern use, there are other ways solar thermal energy can be used as well. Solar cookers, for instance, use energy from the sun for cooking, drying, and pasteurization. Solar stills can be used to create drinking water and are employed in areas where clean water is needed and not readily available. Solar thermal energy is also used in a drying capacity, such as drying wood for construction and wood fuels intended for combustion. Food products such as fruits and grains are likewise processed using solar drying techniques.

Solar thermal energy provides safe, clean energy for a variety of uses in today’s energy sector. As technologies improve and solar energy becomes more efficient and reliable, it's poised to develop into a more mainstream energy resource powering the modern world.

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