methods of harnessing solar energy

10 Different Methods Of Harnessing Solar Energy

There are several methods of harnessing solar energy.

The sun does more good to the planet aside from providing sunlight.

Every ray coming from the sun we can use to generate electricity and eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

The heat and radiant light from the sun is harnessed through a variety of ever-evolving technologies such as

  • solar heating systems
  • photovoltaics cells (solar panels)
  • solar thermal energy
  • solar buildings
  • heated salt control plants
  • synthetic photosynthesis

What Are the Active And Passive Methods of Harnessing Solar Energy?

Harnessing solar energy can be passive or active, depending on the method.

Photovoltaic cells (solar panels), and solar water heating to bind energy are active solar techniques.

Passive methods include positioning a building towards the sun, choosing the right materials, and designing spaces that positively and naturally regulate airflow.

The availability of solar energy on a large scale makes it a highly valuable source of electricity.

Solar power increases sustainability, decreases pollution, reduces global warming, and eliminates the need of burning fossil fuels.

These are global advantages.

Is The Sun a Nuclear Reactor?

The sun is a primary nuclear reactor.

Nuclear fusion reactions are happening in the depth of the sun.

Extreme temperature in the sun causes the hydrogen atom to come apart, and the nucleus of the hydrogen fuse together.

Once four hydrogen nuclei combine, they form a helium atom that weighs less compared to the four cores of hydrogen.

Nuclear fusion will cause a loss of matter that will be released in space as radiant energy.

How Much of The Sun’s Energy is Used?

A small part of the radiant energy emitting from the sun reaches the earth.

From the radiant heat that reaches the surface of the earth, 15% of it goes back to space.

From the remaining power, 30% is used for water evaporation that results in rain.

The plants, land, and oceans also absorb some part of the sun’s energy.

The rest we can use to harness solar power and generate electricity to fulfill our energy requirements.

Solar energy will play a definite role in the future.

There is continuous development in the technology of solar panels.

Why We Should Harness Solar Power?

Solar Power: Solar Collectors And Solar Space Heating

The sun does not distribute energy to all places evenly.

How much energy a site receives depends on different factors such as the phase of the day, time of the year, latitude, and weather conditions.

A solar collector does what it says: it collects the sun’s energy.

The simplest example of a solar collector and solar heating is a car standing in the sunlight.

When the car’s windows, seat covers, and floor absorb the sun’s energy, they act as solar collectors and convert solar power into heat.

A solar collector should have the following essential things:

  • It should allow the sunlight to pass through it
  • Should absorb the sunlight
  • Must convert the sunlight into heat
  • Has to prevent the heat from escaping

A study suggests that the earth receives 174 PW (petawatt) from the received solar radiation in the upper atmosphere.

From the above 174 PW, around 30% approximately will be reflected space while the rest will be absorbed by the skies, water, and landmasses.

Solar Power: Water Heating

In lower topographical latitudes, water usage for homes requires a temperature of 60o C that can be achieved by solar heating systems.

Two of the most straightforward kinds of solar water heaters are:

  • the evacuated tube collectors
  • the glazed flat plate collectors that are 44% and 34% in use, respectively.

To make the swimming pool warm, the unglazed plastic collectors system is mainly used.

The total capacity of the solar hot water system is 154 GW in 2007.

China is leading in the growth of 70 GW in 2006.

The Chinese are also planning to produce 210 GW by 2021.

However, Israel and Cyprus are the top countries where this system is in usage 90% of which is consumed for domestic use. 

Solar Energy: Heating, Ventilation, and Air-conditioning

In the United States, the total energy consumption for commercial buildings is 30%.

This is when heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems are used.

However, the consumption of energy is 50% in residential housing when using the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.

What is a Thermal Mass?

A material that is used to store heat is known as thermal mass, e.g., storage of solar heat for solar energy.

The typical examples of thermal mass include stone, water, and cement.

In ancient times, these thermal masses were used to capture solar energy during the daytime.

The accumulated solar power is emitted at night.

When the thermal masses are assembled correctly, they can sustain the temperature and decrease the necessity for supplementary heating and chilling equipment.

What Is the Role of Trees and Plants in Heating and Cooling?

Several trees and plants help in promoting the control of solar heating and cooling system.

What happens when trees are planted on the southern sideways of a building in the northern hemisphere or the north sideways in the southern hemisphere?

The leaves of these plants act as shades during hot weather.

They also permit the light to pass through them during the winter season.

There’s one thing to remember during the hot season.

Deciduous trees should not be cultivated on the side of the building that is facing the equator.

This is because they will affect the wintertime solar accessibility.

These trees can be planted on the east and west side of the building.

In this way, they provide a grade of summertime covering without significantly affecting wintertime solar access.


There are solar cookers that, with the usage of sunlight, do baking, drying, and pasteurization.

The simplest and ancient solar cooker is known as a box cooker.

It was first constructed in 1767.

The box cooker comprises an insulated bowl with a transparent cover.

The box cooker performs well when there are cloudy skies and the temperature ranges between 90-150oC.

The other form of solar cooker is a panel cooker.

This uses a reflective panel to have sunlight on an insulated bottle.

Its temperature reaches equivalent to a box cooker.

Another form of solar cooker is Reflector cookers.

These use several concentrating geometries to aim light on the cooking panel.

The reflector cookers can have a temperature of up to 315OC.

But still, they need sunlight to perform their function correctly.

These reflector cookers should be positioned according to the sun.

Process Heat

This is our top pick out of the methods of harnessing solar energy

Some technologies are used for commercial and industries by providing process heat,

This is simply called Process Heat, too.

The first-ever commercial solar processing heat system was built in the United States.

The aim was to provide air conditioning and electrical necessities for a cloth factory.

Water Treatment

These days some technologies make salty water drinkable by a process known as solar distillation.

This technique was first introduced by Arab alchemists.

The first big-scale solar distillation structure was constructed in 1872.

This project of solar distillation had a capacity of 4700 sq. meters of collection area that can generate up to 22700 liters and can operate for 40 years.

Nowadays, different individual skill designs are in operation that includes:

  • single slope
  • double-slope
  • vertical
  • inverted absorber
  • multi-effect design

The most economical design is double sloped.

This is mainly used for dispersed residential purposes.

While the multi-effect design is mostly applicable to a large area.

The process of water distillation through the sun’s energy consists of the containers containing water exposed to sunlight for numerous hours.

The time of exposure differs due to climate change and ranges from 6 hours to 48 hours if the weather is cloudy.

This system is one of the feasible methods for the treatment of domestic water and is safer to store.

This method of water treatment is recommended by W.H.O.

The water treatment by solar energy is under the usage of two million people in emerging countries.

The sunlight can stabilize the pond water by treating it without the usage of any substances or electrical energy.

Another advantage of this process is that the algae utilize carbon dioxide in photosynthesis.

 Molten Salt Technology

The process of retaining the thermal power gathered by towers of the solar power plant is known as Thermal Energy Storage or Molten Salt Technology.

This process helps to create electric energy during bad climates or at night.

There are assumptions to have effectiveness up to 99% per year.

The molten salt technology mixture is mostly comprised of sodium nitrate, calcium nitrate, and potassium nitrate.

This mixture of molten salts is nontoxic and cannot catch fire.

The mentioned technology is already in usage in different metals and biochemical businesses as a heat transportation fluid.

Therefore, the experiment of this mixture of molten salts is already in use, but in the non-solar environment.

The temperature requires to molt the salts is 131oC, but the salt remains in liquid form at 288oC in a cold storage tank that is also insulated.

The liquid then is shifted to the solar collector through different solar panels where the temperature reaches 566oC.

From the solar collector, the fluid then is transferred to a hot storage container.

This thermal storage container is also insulated to store the thermal energy for up to one week.

The super-heated steam generation takes place to fulfill the requirement of electricity by pumping the hot salt to a steam generator from the hot storage containers.

The super-heated steam is significantly in use in different plants of nuclear power, coal, or oil plants.

Concentrated Solar Power

This system uses mirrors or lenses along with a tracking system to concentrate sunshine in one beam to a vast area.

This focused heat can act as a heat foundation for a power plant.

There are many ways of concentrating accessible technologies.

They are:

  • the parabolic trough, concentrating linear reflector
  • the Stirling dish
  • the solar power tower

Several technologies usually track the sun and harvest its energy.

A working fluid, when heated by intense sunlight, can be used to generate power or store energy.

Production of Electricity

The conversation of sunlight to electricity is known as solar power.

This conversation may take place directly via photovoltaics or by indirect concentrated solar energy.

The CSP system uses a tracing system and glass to concentrate on a large area of sunlight to a minor beam.

The usage of photovoltaics changes the light from the sun into electricity by using the photoelectric effect.

There are assumptions that solar energy will be the largest source of electric current by 2050.

The total worldwide consumption of photovoltaics and concentrated solar power will be around 16 % and 11% respectively.

Concentrated solar power started in the 1980s.

The largest solar power plant in the world produces around 392MW and is present in the desert of California.

The other two solar power plants are in Spain that produce around 150 MW and 100 MW.

The two largest photovoltaic plants are in the United States and India that produce around 250 MW and 221 MW, respectively.

The light from the sun is converted to electric current by the solar cells using the photoelectric effect.

Residences are the best places to use photovoltaics.

C. Fritts constructed the first solar cells in the 1880s.

Then a German engineer generated the photocell with the use of silver selenide as a replacement of copper oxide back in 1931.

Later on, two researchers, Calvin and Daryl, made a solar cell by using crystalline silicon in 1954.

The efficacy of solar cells made of crystalline silicon was around 4-6 %, but it increased to 40% in the near past.

Production of Fuel

Some solar chemical procedures are used to obtain chemical reactions by using energy from the sun.

These procedures equalize the energy that we get from the fossil fuel source.

These processes also make it possible to convert heat from the sun to a fuel that can be stored and transported.

Several varieties of fuel production go through artificial photosynthesis.

What Are the Methods to Store Solar Energy?

The energy from the sun can be preserved by a thermal mass system.

This can be done at a valuable temperature for regular or inter-seasonal lengths in the form of heat.

These thermal solar systems use materials that are highly precise to heat water, earth, and stone.

If this thermal solar system is designed correctly, then it can lessen the requirements for heating and cooling.

Apart from the thermal energy storage system, other materials that can act as a thermal storing system are paraffin wax and Glauber’s salt.

These materials are cheap and readily available.

They’re valuable for maintaining the residential temperature.

Salts have a high capacity to store heat and are available at a low cost.

The spices are compatible with conservative power structures.

A project named “Solar Two Project” uses salt to store energy up to 40000 kWh.

Its efficacy is almost 99%.


Engineers are trying to develop a car since the 1980s that utilizes solar power.

In 1987, there was a car race in Australia featuring solar-powered vehicles.

These vehicles should cover a total distance of 3021 km.

The average speed of cars in that race was around 67 km per hour and reached up to 90.87 km per hour in 2007.

Several cars used solar energy through solar panels to operate additional functions like the air conditioning system.

The use of solar energy also reduces fuel consumption.

Solar energy is also useful in transportation in 1975 when the first solar boat was constructed.

Then in 1995, a passenger boat has been built by using photovoltaic panels for the transportation of several people.

Recently, the black solar balloon was constructed.

Ordinary air was used to fill it.

Under the sun, the air in the balloon becomes hot, and expansion takes place.

This expansion of the air in the balloon causes the buoyancy force in the upward direction.

These balloons are also called hot air balloons.

With the development of technologies, several giant balloons were formed for human flight.

Natural Photosynthesis or Biofuels

The generation of thermal energy and the usage of solar photovoltaics face a significant issue of adequate energy storage.

The disadvantage is mainly because the electricity generated by solar photovoltaics and thermal energy should be consumed immediately.

However, plants can store solar energy through the process of photosynthesis.

The method of photosynthesis is a process in which plants use carbon dioxide and water to generate oxygen and glucose.

Several studies were conducted to study the process of photosynthesis in detail.

Now, this process of photosynthesis is used to generate chemical fuels.

These synthetic fuels have adequate energy density for real-world use.

This procedure is already in use to make the fuel ethanol from corn feedstock.

Researchers are working on different crops to generate biofuel, as there are some controversies related to the use of corn to produce fuel.

The researchers are aiming to find the plants that reproduce quickly, have a higher energy density, and can lessen the controversies about food and fuel.

The researchers will follow the process of photosynthesis and will keep on trying to develop biofuel with the help of solar energy.

The only drawback of biofuels is their low efficiency, that is, the efficiency of normal photosynthesis is lesser than 0.5%.

This is the reason why the crops for biofuel need a noteworthy purifying process to be transformed into functional biofuels.

Final Thoughts

There are several ways solar energy can be captured and methods of harnessing solar energy

It’s just a matter of time before mankind will be self-sufficient in its energy supply.

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