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Solar Thermal Energy

 

HOT WATER DIRECT FROM THE SUN

 

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Solar Thermal Energy

Solar water heating or solar hot water is water heated by the use of solar thermal energy.  Solar heating systems are generally composed of solar thermal collectors, a fluid system to move the heat from the collector to its point of usage.  The system may use electricity for pumping the fluid, and have a reservoir or tank for heat storage and subsequent use.  The systems may be used to heat water for a wide variety of uses, including home, business and industrial uses.  Heating swimming pools, underfloor heating or energy input for space heating or cooling are more specific examples.

Residential solar thermal installations can be subdivided into two kinds of systems: passive (sometimes called "compact") and active (sometimes called "pumped") systems.  Both typically include an auxiliary energy source (electric heating element or connection to a gas or fuel oil central heating system) that is activated when the water in the tank falls below a minimum temperature setting such as 50°C.  Hence, hot water is always available.  The combination of solar water heating and using the back-up heat from a wood stove chimney to heat water can enable a hot water system to work all year round in cooler climates, without the supplemental heat requirement of a solar water heating system being met with fossil fuels or electricity.

Flat-plate collectors for solar water heating were popular in Florida and Southern California in the 1920s.  Levi Yissar built the first prototype Israeli solar water heater and in 1953 he started NerYah Company, Israel's first commercial manufacturer of solar water heaters.  Despite the abundance of sunlight in Israel, solar water heaters were used by only 20% of the population by 1967.  Following the energy crisis in the 1970s, in 1980 the Israeli Knesset passed a law requiring the installation of solar water heaters in all new homes (except high towers with insufficient roof area).  As a result, Israel is now the world leader in the use of solar energy per capita with 85% of the households today using solar thermal systems (3% of the primary national energy consumption).

File:ThermodynamicVSPhotovoltaicpanels.jpg File:SolarHeating.JPG

During this time, there was some resurgence of interest in solar heating in North America. Technical innovation has improved performance, life expectancy and ease of use of these systems.  Installation of solar water heating has become the norm in countries with an abundance of solar radiation, like Cyprus, Israel and Greece, as well as in Japan and Austria, where there is less.

In 2005, Spain became the first country in the world to require the installation of photovoltaic electricity generation in new buildings, and the second (after Israel) to require the installation of solar water heating systems in 2006.  Australia adopted the mandatory regulation for solar thermal for new construction in 2006 as well.

Solar water heating systems have become popular in China, where basic models start at around 1,500 yuan (US$190), much cheaper than in Western countries (around 80% cheaper for a given size of collector).  It is said that at least 30 million Chinese households now have one, and that the popularity is due to the efficient evacuated tubes which allow the heaters to function even under gray skies and at temperatures well below freezing

In order to heat water using solar energy, a collector is fastened to the roof of a building, or on a wall facing the sun. In some cases, the collector may be free-standing. The working fluid is either pumped (active system) or driven by natural convection (passive system) through it.

ACTIVE SYSTEMS

 

PASSIVE SYSTEMS

 

The collector could be made of a simple glass topped insulated box with a flat solar absorber made of sheet metal attached to copper pipes and painted black, or a set of metal tubes surrounded by an evacuated (near vacuum) glass cylinder. In some cases, a parabolic mirror is used to concentrate sunlight on the tube.

A simple water heating system pumps cold water out to a collector to be heated, the heated water flows back to a collection tank. This type of collector can provide enough hot water for an entire family.

Heat is stored in a hot water tank. The volume of this tank needs to be larger with solar heating systems in order to allow for bad weather, and because the optimum final temperature for the absorber is lower than a typical immersion or combustion heater.

The working fluid for the absorber may be the hot water from the tank, but more commonly (at least in active systems) is a separate loop of fluid containing anti-freeze and a corrosion inhibitor which delivers heat to the tank through a heat exchanger (commonly a coil of copper tubing within the tank). Another lower-maintenance concept is the 'drain-back': no anti-freeze is required; instead all the piping is sloped to cause water to drain back to the tank. The tank is not pressurized and is open to atmospheric pressure. As soon as the pump shuts off, flow reverses and the pipes are empty before freezing could occur.

When a solar water heating and hot-water central heating system are used in conjunction, solar heat will either be concentrated in a pre-heating tank that feeds into the tank heated by the central heating, or the solar heat exchanger will replace the lower heating element and the upper element will remain in place to provide for any heating that solar cannot provide. However, the primary need for central heating is at night and in winter when solar gain is lower. Therefore, solar water heating for washing and bathing is often a better application than central heating because supply and demand are better matched.

In many climates, a solar hot water system can provide up to 85% of domestic hot water energy.  This can include domestic non-electric concentrating solar thermal systems. In many northern European countries, combined hot water and space heating systems (solar combisystems) are used to provide 15 to 25% of home heating energy.

 

Reference:    Adapted from Wikipedia® and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
                  and http://www.southface.org/solar/solar-roadmap/solar_how-to/solar-how_solar_works.htm

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