People use solar thermal energy for many purposes, including heating water, air, and the interior of buildings and generating electricity.
There are two general types of solar heating systems: passive systems and active systems. Passive solar space heating happens when the sun shines through the windows of a building and warms the interior. Building designs that optimize passive solar heating in the northern hemisphere usually have south-facing windows that allow the sun to shine on solar heat-absorbing walls or floors in the building during the winter.
The solar energy is absorbed by the building materials and heats the interior of buildings by natural radiation and convection. Window overhangs or shades block the sun from entering the windows during the summer to keep the building cool.
Active solar heating systems have collectors for heating a fluid air or a liquid and fans or pumps to move the fluid through the collectors, where it is heated, to the interior of a building or to a heat storage system, where the heat is released, and back to the collector to be reheated. Active solar water heating systems usually have a tank for storing solar heated water.
Solar energy systems for heating water or air usually have nonconcentrating collectors. Solar water heating collectors have metal tubes attached to the absorber.
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A heat-transfer fluid is pumped through the absorber tubes to remove heat from the absorber and transfer the heat to water in a storage tank. Solar systems for heating swimming pool water in warm climates usually do not have covers or insulation for the absorber, and pool water is circulated from the pool through the collectors and back to the pool.
Solar air heating systems use fans to move air through flat-plate collectors and into the interior of buildings. Concentrating collectors —The area intercepting solar radiation is greater, sometimes hundreds of times greater, than the absorber area.
The collector focuses, or concentrates, solar energy onto an absorber. The collector usually moves throughout the day so that it maintains a high degree of concentration on the absorber.
Solar thermal power plants use concentrating solar collector systems because they can produce the high temperature heat needed to generate electricity. Solar explained Solar thermal collectors. What is energy? Units and calculators.
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Heating with the sun's energy People use solar thermal energy for many purposes, including heating water, air, and the interior of buildings and generating electricity. Learn more Historical data on solar thermal systems—Tables Also on Energy Explained U. Frequently asked questions How much of world energy consumption and production is from renewable energy?