Sunday, 02 March 2008

New ideas for solar power at home

Supplying electricity using fossil fuels continues to emit pollution and CO2 into the atmosphere in large quantities. Nuclear power is cleaner but poses other problems. Huge resources are available free of charge to provide renewable energy. Solar power is a major source, and much attention has been focused on harnessing this resource in recent years. Some of this has been on providing alternative power sources for national electricity grids, while there has also been some attention on developing domestic solar power systems.

Imagine being self sufficient at home for your electricity needs? This could become a reality more easily than many people think!

Solar energy can be harnessed in two main ways. Using the heat provided by the sun for heating water using solar panels. These have been in use in some countries for many years. This is known as thermal energy. Solar panels using copper piping (or other technology) are installed on the roof and provide a major part of the hot water requirements for the average home.

The second main method is to use the light energy to the sun. This is captured using photo voltaic (PV) panels that transform this energy into electricity.

The thermal panels are very efficient if used in a country where there is a large amount of sunshine. The PV system at present is still very expensive. The cost of transforming a home to rely on PV power is very high and it will take many years of electricity savings to recover this cost.

A slightly different approach is to use concentrated solar thermal energy to power steam-driven turbines. The system uses a series of mirrors focused on a very small area to produce a large amount of heat. The heat is used to produce steam to power a steam turbine.

While this technology is being developed for large scale power generation, there has so far been no initiative to develop this type of technology for simple domestic use.

However, a South African based entrepreneur believes that this is a viable solution to providing most of the needs of an average household. The turbine is simple to build, and will not require much space. Research into the amount of mirrors that are required to generate enough heat to drive the turbine is at present unknown, and is the subject of some research that is being undertaken. A large battery can be built to store additional electricity to provide for night time electricity requirements. The main obstacle to the development of this system is the availability funds, and investors are currently being sought out.

The cost of the system is expected to be a fraction of the cost of PV panels. The benefits include not only years of savings on electricity, but a major contribution to the improvement of the environment.

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