Solar power is heating up, quite literally in the case of solar thermal power. Nowadays, it’s not a question of if solar thermal can work for you. It’s more like, “What can solar thermal do for you?” And that is no small amount. Between PV and solar thermal, you can harness enough solar energy to fulfill all your home energy needs.
What is solar thermal?
As opposed to photovoltaics (PV), which converts sunlight directly into electricity, solar thermal collects the sun’s heat and uses it to address several needs around the home. Typically, solar collectors gather solar energy to heat water or some other heat transfer fluid. That harnessed heat is then used to heat the home’s water supply or to heat or cool the living space. Solar thermal power can also be used to create electricity, although this is more common on the larger, commercial scale.
What can solar thermal do for you?
Solar thermal power has four main uses for the average residential home. These can be used singularly or in conjunction to make your home more energy independent.
- Solar Water Heating is the most common, and easiest, solar thermal application. Solar hot water systems may be active or passive. Put simply, solar collectors heat water in a storage tank, which in turn flows to the house, providing hot water for the shower, bath, and sinks. Hot water systems are the most cost-effective type of solar system. A solar hot water system can save a family of four $300 per year, providing up to 80% of their water-heating needs.
- Solar Space Heating is more expensive than water heating, but nonetheless is a very real possibility for solar thermal systems. They are most cost-effective in cold, sunny climates where they can be used year-round and can provide 40-80% of your heating needs. Solar space heating can also be active or passive and can be air- or liquid-based. In solar thermal heating, air or some liquid (commonly water or anti-freeze) is heated and then transferred to the living space via a heat-transfer medium and pumps in an active system. Passive solar thermal heating is possible through a variety of building-integrated technologies. Check out solar sunrooms for one example.
- Solar Space Cooling is on the cutting edge of solar thermal technology. It is still quite rare for residential applications but is also quite possible. It works by using solar heat and either a desiccant or absorbent to extract the humidity (or the warm part) from air and direct the resulting dry, cool air into the home proving, after all, that solar thermal power is cool!
- Solar Pool Heating is another great opportunity for you to use solar thermal power. From solar pool covers to active systems tied into your pump, solar pool heating can drastically lower the energy used to heat pools. Solar pool heaters may cost up to $4,000 but can pay for themselves in five years or less!