First Edition, 2011
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1- Introduction Chapter 2 - Photovoltaics Chapter 3 - Solar Panel Chapter 4 - Solar Water Heating Chapter 5 - Solar Combisystem Chapter 6 - Solar Thermal Collector Chapter 7 - Active Solar Chapter 8 - Solar Thermal Energy Chapter 9 - Space-Based Solar Power
The PS10 concentrates sunlight from a field of heliostats on a central tower. Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. PV converts light into electric current using the photoelectric effect. Commercial CSP plants were first developed in the 1980s, and the 354 MW SEGS CSP installation is the largest solar power plant in the world and is located in the Mojave Desert of California. Other large CSP plants include the Solnova Solar Power Station (150 MW) and the Andasol solar power station (100 MW), both in Spain. The 80 MW Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant in Canada, is the world’s largest photovoltaic plant.
Average insolation showing land area (small black dots) required to replace the world primary energy supply with solar electricity. 18 TW is 568 Exajoule (EJ) per year. Insolation for most people is from 150 to 300 W/m² or 3.5 to 7.0 kWh/m²/day. Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity. Sunlight can be converted directly into electricity using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly with concentrated solar power (CSP), which normally focuses the sun's energy to boil water which is then used to provide power, and other technologies, such as the sterling engine dishes which use a sterling cycle engine to power a generator. Photovoltaics were initially used to power small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to off-grid homes powered by a photovoltaic array. The only significant problem with solar power is installation cost, although cost has been decreasing due to the learning curve. Developing countries in particular may not have the funds to build solar power plants, although small solar applications are now replacing other sources in the developing world.
Concentrating solar power
Solar troughs are the most widely deployed. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage. A parabolic trough consists of a linear parabolic reflector that concentrates light onto a receiver positioned along the reflector's focal line. The receiver is a tube positioned right above the middle of the parabolic mirror and is filled with a working fluid. The reflector is made to follow the Sun during the daylight hours by tracking along a single axis. Parabolic trough systems provide the best land-use factor of any solar technology. The SEGS plants in California and Acciona's Nevada Solar One near Boulder City, Nevada are representatives of this technology. The Suntrof-Mulk parabolic trough, developed by Melvin Prueitt, uses a technique inspired by Archimedes' principle to rotate the mirrors. Concentrating linear fresnel reflectors are CSP-plants which use many thin mirror strips instead of parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto two tubes with working fluid. This has the advantage that flat mirrors can be used which are much cheaper than parabolic mirrors, and that more reflectors can be placed in the same amount of space,
allowing more of the available sunlight to be used. Concentrating linear fresnel reflectors can be used in either large or more compact plants. A stirling solar dish, or dish engine system, consists of a stand-alone parabolic reflector that concentrates light onto a receiver positioned at the reflector's focal point. The reflector tracks the Sun along two axes. Parabolic dish systems give the highest efficiency among CSP technologies. The 50 kW Big Dish in Canberra, Australia is an example of this technology. The stirling solar dish combines a parabolic concentrating dish with a stirling heat engine which normally drives an electric generator. The advantages of stirling solar over photovoltaic cells are higher efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity and longer lifetime. A solar power tower uses an array of tracking reflectors (heliostats) to concentrate light on a central receiver atop a tower. Power towers are more cost effective, offer higher efficiency and better energy storage capability among CSP technologies. The Solar Two in Barstow, California and the Planta Solar 10 in Sanlucar la Mayor, Spain are representatives of this technology.
11 MW Serpa solar power plant in Portugal
A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current using the photoelectric effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s. In 1931 a German engineer, Dr Bruno Lange, developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide. Although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity, both Ernst Werner von Siemens and James Clerk Maxwell recognized the importance of this discovery. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the silicon solar cell in 1954. These early solar cells cost 286 USD/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%. Solar power has great potential, but in 2008 supplied less than 0.02% of the world's total energy supply. There are many competing technologies, including fourteen types of photovoltaic cells, such as thin film, monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, and amorphous cells, as well as multiple types of concentrating solar power. It is too early to know which technology will become dominant. The earliest significant application of solar cells was as a back-up power source to the Vanguard I satellite in 1958, which allowed it to continue transmitting for over a year after its chemical battery was exhausted. The successful operation of solar cells on this mission was duplicated in many other Soviet and American satellites, and by the late 1960s, PV had become the established source of power for them. Photovoltaics went on to play an essential part in the success of early commercial satellites such as Telstar, and they remain vital to the telecommunications infrastructure today. The high cost of solar cells limited terrestrial uses throughout the 1960s. This changed in the early 1970s when prices reached levels that made PV generation competitive in remote areas without grid access. Early terrestrial uses included powering telecommunication stations, off-shore oil rigs, navigational buoys and railroad crossings. These off-grid applications accounted for over half of worldwide installed capacity until 2004.
Building-integrated photovoltaics cover the roofs of an increasing number of homes. The 1973 oil crisis stimulated a rapid rise in the production of PV during the 1970s and early 1980s. Economies of scale which resulted from increasing production along with improvements in system performance brought the price of PV down from 100 USD/watt in 1971 to 7 USD/watt in 1985. Steadily falling oil prices during the early 1980s led to a reduction in funding for photovoltaic R&D and a discontinuation of the tax credits associated with the Energy Tax Act of 1978. These factors moderated growth to approximately 15% per year from 1984 through 1996. Since the mid-1990s, leadership in the PV sector has shifted from the US to Japan and Europe. Between 1992 and 1994 Japan increased R&D funding, established net metering guidelines, and introduced a subsidy program to encourage the installation of residential PV systems. As a result, PV installations in the country climbed from 31.2 MW in 1994 to 318 MW in 1999, and worldwide production growth increased to 30% in the late 1990s. Germany became the leading PV market worldwide since revising its Feed-in tariff system as part of the Renewable Energy Sources Act. Installed PV capacity has risen from 100 MW in 2000 to approximately 4,150 MW at the end of 2007. After 2007, Spain became the largest PV market after adopting a similar feed-in tariff structure in 2004, installing almost half of the photovoltaics (45%) in the world, in 2008, while
France, Italy, South Korea and the U.S. have seen rapid growth recently due to various incentive programs and local market conditions. Recent Studies have shown that the global PV market is forecast to exceed 16 GW in the year 2010 . The power output of domestic photovoltaic devices is usually described in kilowatt-peak (kWp) units, as most are from 1 to 10 kW.
Development, deployment and economics
Nellis Solar Power Plant, 14 MW power plant installed 2007 in Nevada, USA The early development of solar technologies starting in the 1860s was driven by an expectation that coal would soon become scarce. However development of solar technologies stagnated in the early 20th century in the face of the increasing availability, economy, and utility of coal and petroleum. In 1974 it was estimated that only six private homes in all of North America were entirely heated or cooled by functional solar power systems. The 1973 oil embargo and 1979 energy crisis caused a reorganization of energy policies around the world and brought renewed attention to developing solar technologies. Deployment strategies focused on incentive programs such as the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program in the US and the Sunshine Program in Japan. Other
efforts included the formation of research facilities in the US (SERI, now NREL), Japan (NEDO), and Germany (Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE). Between 1970 and 1983 photovoltaic installations grew rapidly, but falling oil prices in the early 1980s moderated the growth of PV from 1984 to 1996. Since 1997, PV development has accelerated due to supply issues with oil and natural gas, global warming concerns, and the improving economic position of PV relative to other energy technologies. Photovoltaic production growth has averaged 40% per year since 2000 and installed capacity reached 10.6 GW at the end of 2007, and 14.73 GW in 2008. Since 2006 it has been economical for investors to install photovoltaics for free in return for a long term power purchase agreement. 50% of commercial systems were installed in this manner in 2007 and it is expected that 90% will by 2009. Nellis Air Force Base is receiving photoelectric power for about 2.2 ¢/kWh and grid power for 9 ¢/kWh. Commercial concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) plants were first developed in the 1980s. CSP plants such as SEGS project in the United States have a levelized energy cost (LEC) of 12–14 ¢/kWh. The 11 MW PS10 power tower in Spain, completed in late 2005, is Europe's first commercial CSP system, and a total capacity of 300 MW is expected to be installed in the same area by 2013. Operational Solar Thermal Power Stations Capacity (MW) Name Country USA Location Mojave Desert California Notes Collection of 9 units Completed 2010
Solar Energy 354 Generating Systems 150 Solnova Solar Power Station Andasol solar power station
64 Nevada Solar One 50 Ibersol Ciudad Real
50 Alvarado I 50 Extresol 1 50 La Florida
Boulder City, Nevada Puertollano, Ciudad Completed Spain Real May 2009 Completed July Spain Badajoz 2009 Torre de Miguel Completed Spain Sesmero (Badajoz) February 2010 completed July Spain Alvarado (Badajoz) 2010 USA
Solar installations in recent years have also largely begun to expand into residential areas, with governments offering incentive programs to make "green" energy a more economically viable option. In Canada the RESOP (Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program), introduced in 2006, and updated in 2009 with the passage of the Green Energy Act, allows residential homeowners in Ontario with solar panel installations to sell the energy they produce back to the grid (i.e., the government) at 42¢/kWh, while drawing power from the grid at an average rate of 6¢/kWh. The program is designed to help promote the government's green agenda and lower the strain often placed on the energy grid at peak hours. In March, 2009 the proposed FIT was increased to 80¢/kWh for small, roof-top systems (≤10 kW). As of November 2010, the largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are the Finsterwalde Solar Park (Germany, 80.7 MW), Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant (Canada, 80 MW), Olmedilla Photovoltaic Park (Spain, 60 MW), the Strasskirchen Solar Park (Germany, 54 MW), the Lieberose Photovoltaic Park (Germany, 53 MW), and the Puertollano Photovoltaic Park (Spain, 50 MW). World's largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants DC Name of PV power Peak Country Notes plant Power (MW) Finsterwalde Solar Park Germany 80.7 Sarnia Photovoltaic Canada 80 Completed October 2010 Power Plant Olmedilla Photovoltaic Spain 60 Completed September 2008 Park Strasskirchen Solar Park Germany 54 Lieberose Photovoltaic Germany 53 2009 Park Puertollano Spain 50 2008 Photovoltaic Park Moura photovoltaic Portugal 46 Completed December 2008 power station Kothen Solar Park Germany 45 2009 Finsterwalde Solar Park Germany 42 2009 550,000 First Solar thin-film CdTe modules. Completed Waldpolenz Solar Park Germany 40 December 2008 Czech 186,960 modules, 35.1 Vepřek Solar Park Republic completed September 2010 Planta Solar La Spain 34.5 Magascona & La
Magasquila The annual International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments, organized by EPIA notes that photovoltaics provides a secure, reliable return on investment, with modules typically lasting 25 to 40 years and with a payback on investment of between 8 to 12 years.
Energy storage methods
This energy park in Geesthacht, Germany, includes solar panels and pumped-storage hydroelectricity.
Seasonal variation of the output of the solar panels at AT&T Park in San Francisco Solar energy is not available at night, making energy storage an important issue in order to provide the continuous availability of energy. Both wind power and solar power are intermittent energy sources, meaning that all available output must be taken when it is available and either stored for when it can be used, or transported, over transmission lines, to where it can be used. Wind power and solar power tend to be somewhat complementary, as there tends to be more wind in the winter and more sun in the summer, but on days with no sun and no wind the difference needs to be made up in some manner. The Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power around the clock, entirely from renewable sources. Solar energy can be stored at high temperatures using molten salts. Salts are an effective storage medium because they are low-cost, have a high specific heat capacity and can deliver heat at temperatures compatible with conventional power systems. The Solar Two used this method of energy storage, allowing it to store 1.44 TJ in its 68 m³ storage tank, enough to provide full output for close to 39 hours, with an efficiency of about 99%. Off-grid PV systems have traditionally used rechargeable batteries to store excess electricity. With grid-tied systems, excess electricity can be sent to the transmission grid. Net metering programs give these systems a credit for the electricity they deliver to the grid. This credit offsets electricity provided from the grid when the system cannot meet demand, effectively using the grid as a storage mechanism. Credits are normally rolled over month to month and any remaining surplus settled annually. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity stores energy in the form of water pumped when surplus electricity is available, from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation one. The
energy is recovered when demand is high by releasing the water: the pump becomes a turbine, and the motor a hydroelectric power generator.
Experimental solar power
Concentrating photovoltaics in Catalonia, Spain Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) systems employ sunlight concentrated onto photovoltaic surfaces for the purpose of electrical power production. Solar concentrators of all varieties may be used, and these are often mounted on a solar tracker in order to keep the focal point upon the cell as the Sun moves across the sky. Luminescent solar concentrators (when combined with a PV-solar cell) can also be regarded as a CPV system. Luminescent solar concentrators are useful as they can improve performance of PV-solar panels drastically. Thermoelectric, or "thermovoltaic" devices convert a temperature difference between dissimilar materials into an electric current. First proposed as a method to store solar energy by solar pioneer Mouchout in the 1800s, thermoelectrics reemerged in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Under the direction of Soviet scientist Abram Ioffe a concentrating system was used to thermoelectrically generate power for a 1 hp engine. Thermogenerators were later used in the US space program as an energy conversion
technology for powering deep space missions such as Cassini, Galileo and Viking. Research in this area is focused on raising the efficiency of these devices from 7–8% to 15–20%. Space-based solar power is a theoretical design for the collection of solar power in space, for use on Earth. SBSP differs from the usual method of solar power collection in that the solar panels used to collect the energy would reside on a satellite in orbit, often referred to as a solar power satellite (SPS), rather than on Earth's surface. In space, collection of the Sun's energy is unaffected by the day/night cycle, weather, seasons, or the filtering effect of Earth's atmospheric gases. Average solar energy per unit area outside Earth's atmosphere is on the order of ten times that available on Earth's surface. However, there is no shortage of energy reaching the surface. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet each year is about twice the amount of energy that will be obtained forever from coal, oil, natural gas, and mined Uranium, combined, even using breeder reactors.
Nellis Solar Power Plant at Nellis Air Force Base in the USA. These panels track the sun in one axis.
Photovoltaic system 'tree' in Styria, Austria Photovoltaics (PV) is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaic power generation employs solar panels comprising a number of cells containing a photovoltaic material. Materials presently used for photovoltaics include monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium selenide/sulfide. Due to the growing demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacturing of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced considerably in recent years. As of 2010, solar photovoltaics generates electricity in more than 100 countries and, while yet comprising a tiny fraction of the 4800 GW total global power-generating
capacity from all sources, is the fastest growing power-generation technology in the world. Between 2004 and 2009, grid-connected PV capacity increased at an annual average rate of 60 percent, to some 21 GW. Such installations may be ground-mounted (and sometimes integrated with farming and grazing) or built into the roof or walls of a building, known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics or BIPV for short. Off-grid PV accounts for an additional 3–4 GW. Driven by advances in technology and increases in manufacturing scale and sophistication, the cost of photovoltaics has declined steadily since the first solar cells were manufactured. Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity, have supported solar PV installations in many countries.
The photovoltaic effect is the creation of a voltage (or a corresponding electric current) in a material upon exposure to light. Though the photovoltaic effect is directly related to the photoelectric effect, the two processes are different and should be distinguished. In the photoelectric effect, electrons are ejected from a material's surface upon exposure to radiation of sufficient energy. The photovoltaic effect is different in that the generated electrons are transferred between different bands (i.e. from the valence to conduction bands) within the material, resulting in the buildup of a voltage between two electrodes. In most photovoltaic applications the radiation is sunlight and for this reason the devices are known as solar cells. In the case of a p-n junction solar cell, illumination of the material results in the creation of an electric current as excited electrons and the remaining holes are swept in different directions by the built-in electric field of the depletion region. The photovoltaic effect was first observed by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839.
Solar cells produce electricity directly from sunlight Photovoltaics are best known as a method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into electricity. The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light knocking electrons into a higher state of energy to create electricity. The term photovoltaic denotes the unbiased operating mode of a photodiode in which current through the device is entirely due to the transduced light energy. Virtually all photovoltaic devices are some type of photodiode. Solar cells produce direct current electricity from sun light, which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft, but today the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation. In this case an inverter is required to convert the DC to AC. There is a smaller market for off-grid power for remote dwellings, boats, recreational vehicles, electric cars, roadside emergency telephones, remote sensing, and cathodic protection of pipelines.
Average solar irradiance, watts per square metre. Note that this is for a horizontal surface, whereas solar panels are normally mounted at an angle and receive more energy per unit area. The small black dots show the area of solar panels needed to generate all of the world's energy using 8% efficient photovoltaics. Cells require protection from the environment and are usually packaged tightly behind a glass sheet. When more power is required than a single cell can deliver, cells are electrically connected together to form photovoltaic modules, or solar panels. A single module is enough to power an emergency telephone, but for a house or a power plant the modules must be arranged in multiples as arrays. Although the selling price of modules is still too high to compete with grid electricity in most places, significant financial incentives in Japan and then Germany, Italy and France triggered a huge growth in demand, followed quickly by production. In 2008, Spain installed 45% of all photovoltaics, but a change in law limiting the feed-in tariff is expected to cause a precipitous drop in the rate of new installations there, from an extra 2500 MW in 2008, to an expected additional 375 MW in 2009. A significant market has emerged in off-grid locations for solar-power-charged storagebattery based solutions. These often provide the only electricity available. The first commercial installation of this kind was in 1966 on Ogami Island in Japan to transition Ogami Lighthouse from gas torch to fully self-sufficient electrical power. Due to the growing demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacture of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced dramatically in recent years.
Photovoltaic production has been increasing by an average of more than 20 percent each year since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology. At the end of 2009, the cumulative global PV installations surpassed 21,000 megawatts. Germany installed a record 3,800 MW of solar PV in 2009. Roughly 90% of this generating capacity consists of grid-tied electrical systems. Such installations may be groundmounted (and sometimes integrated with farming and grazing) or built into the roof or walls of a building, known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics or BIPV for short. Solar PV power stations today have capacities ranging from 10–60 MW although proposed solar PV power stations will have a capacity of 150 MW or more. World solar photovoltaic (PV) installations were 2.826 gigawatts peak (GWp) in 2007, and 5.95 gigawatts in 2008, and 7.5 gigawatts in 2009. The three leading countries (Germany, Japan and the US) represent nearly 89% of the total worldwide PV installed capacity. According to Navigant Consulting and Electronic Trend Publications, the estimated PV worldwide installations outlooks of 2012 are 18.8GW and 12.3GW respectively. Notably, the manufacture of solar cells and modules had expanded in recent years. Germany installed a record 3,800 MW of solar PV in 2009; in contrast, the US installed about 500 MW in 2009. The previous record, 2,600 MW, was set by Spain in 2008. Germany was also the fastest growing major PV market in the world from 2006 to 2007 industry observers speculate that Germany could install more than 4,500 MW in 2010. The German PV industry generates over 10,000 jobs in production, distribution and installation. By the end of 2006, nearly 88% of all solar PV installations in the EU were in grid-tied applications in Germany. Photovoltaic power capacity is measured as maximum power output under standardized test conditions (STC) in "Wp" (Watts peak). The actual power output at a particular point in time may be less than or greater than this standardized, or "rated," value, depending on geographical location, time of day, weather conditions, and other factors. Solar photovoltaic array capacity factors are typically under 25%, which is lower than many other industrial sources of electricity. Therefore the 2008 installed base peak output would have provided an average output of 3.04 GW (assuming 20% × 15,200 MWp). This represented 0.15 percent of global demand at the time. The EPIA/Greenpeace Advanced Scenario shows that by the year 2030, PV systems could be generating approximately 1,864 GW of electricity around the world. This means that, assuming a serious commitment is made to energy efficiency, enough solar power would be produced globally in twenty-five years’ time to satisfy the electricity needs of almost 14% of the world’s population.
Map of solar electricity potential in Europe. Germany is the current leader in solar production. Photovoltaic panels based on crystalline silicon modules are being partially replaced in the market by panels that employ thin-film solar cells (CdTe CIGS, amorphous Si, microcrystalline Si), which are rapidly growing and are expected to account for 31 percent of the global installed power by 2013. Other developments include casting wafers instead of sawing, concentrator modules, 'Sliver' cells, and continuous printing processes. Due to economies of scale solar panels get less costly as people use and buy more — as manufacturers increase production to meet demand, the cost and price is expected to drop in the years to come. By early 2006, the average cost per installed watt for a residential sized system was about USD 7.50 to USD 9.50, including panels, inverters, mounts, and electrical items. In 2006 investors began offering free solar panel installation in return for a 25 year contract, or Power Purchase Agreement, to purchase electricity at a fixed price, normally
set at or below current electric rates. It is expected that by 2009 over 90% of commercial photovoltaics installed in the United States will be installed using a power purchase agreement. An innovative financing arrangement in Berkeley, California, funded by grants from the EPA and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, lends money to a homeowner for solar system, to be repaid via an additional tax assessment on the property which remains in place for 20 years. This allows installation of the solar system at "relatively little up-front cost to the property owner." The current market leader in solar panel efficiency (measured by energy conversion ratio) is SunPower, a San Jose based company. Sunpower's cells have a conversion ratio of 24.2%, well above the market average of 12–18%. However, advances past this efficiency mark are being pursued in academia and R&D labs with efficiencies of 42% achieved at the University of Delaware in conjunction with DuPont by means of concentration of light The highest efficiencies achieved without concentration include Sharp Corporation at 35.8% using a proprietary triple-junction manufacturing technology in 2009, and Boeing Spectrolab (40.7% also using a triple layer design). A March 2010 experimental demonstration of a design by a Caltech group which has an absorption efficiency of 85% in sunlight and 95% at certain wavelengths (it is claimed to have near perfect quantum efficiency). However, absorption efficiency should not be confused with the sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency.
President Barack Obama speaks at the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center.
As of November 2010, the largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are the Finsterwalde Solar Park (Germany, 80.7 MW), Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant (Canada, 80 MW), Rovigo Photovoltaic Power Plant (Italy, 70 MW), Olmedilla Photovoltaic Park (Spain, 60 MW), the Strasskirchen Solar Park (Germany, 54 MW), the Lieberose Photovoltaic Park (Germany, 53 MW) and the Puertollano Photovoltaic Park (Spain, 50 MW). Larger power stations are under construction, some proposed will have a capacity of 150 MW or more. World's largest photovoltaic power stations (50 MW or larger) Nominal Production PV power Capacity Country Power (Annual Notes station factor (MWp) GW·h) Phase I completed 2009, Finsterwalde Germany 80.7 phase II Solar Park and III 2010 Sarnia Completed Photovoltaic Canada 80 120 0.17 October Power Plant 2010 Rovigo Completed Photovoltaic Italy 70 November Power Plant 2010 Olmedilla Completed Photovoltaic Spain 60 85 0.16 September Park 2008 Strasskirchen Germany 54 57 0.12 Solar Park Lieberose Completed 53 Photovoltaic Germany 53 0.11 in 2009 Park Topaz Solar Farm is a proposed 550 MW solar photovoltaic power plant which is to be built northwest of California Valley in the US at a cost of over $1 billion. Built on 9.5 square miles (25 km2) of ranchland, the project would utilize thin-film PV panels designed and manufactured by OptiSolar in Hayward and Sacramento. The project would deliver approximately 1,100 gigawatt-hours (GW·h) annually of renewable energy. The project is expected to begin construction in 2010, begin power delivery in 2011, and be fully operational by 2013. High Plains Ranch is a proposed 250 MW solar photovoltaic power plant which is to be built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of California Valley.
Photovoltaic arrays are often associated with buildings: either integrated into them, mounted on them or mounted nearby on the ground. Arrays are most often retrofitted into existing buildings, usually mounted on top of the existing roof structure or on the existing walls. Alternatively, an array can be located separately from the building but connected by cable to supply power for the building. In 2010, more than four-fifths of the 9,000 MW of solar PV operating in Germany was installed on rooftops.
Photovoltaic solar panels on a house roof. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are increasingly incorporated into new domestic and industrial buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power. Typically, an array is incorporated into the roof or walls of a building. Roof tiles with integrated PV cells are also common. The power output of photovoltaic systems for installation in buildings is usually described in kilowatt-peak units (kWp).
There are many applications of photovoltaics in transport either for motive power or as auxiliary power units, particularly where fuel, maintenance, emissions or noise
requirements preclude internal combustion engines or fuel cells. Due to the limited area available on each vehicle either speed or range or both are limited when used for motive power.
PV on the International Space Station Solar energy is often used to supply power for satellites and spacecraft operating in the inner solar system due to its power/weight ratio. (In the outer solar system, where the sunlight is too weak, radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) are used).
There is considerable military interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); solar power would enable these to stay aloft for months, becoming a much cheaper means of doing some tasks done today by satellites. In September 2007, the first successful flight for 48h under constant power of a UAV was reported . This is likely to be the first commercial use for photovoltaics in flight. Many demonstration solar planes have been built, some of the best known by AeroVironment.
Manned solar planes o Gossamer Penguin, o Solar Challenger - This plane flew 163 miles (262 km) from Paris France to England on solar power. o Sunseeker II - This plane is currently (May 9) on a tour of Europe o HB-SIA. Working prototype for Solar Impulse Project UAVs
Pathfinder and Pathfinder-Plus - This unmanned plane demonstrated that an airplane could stay aloft for an extended period of time fueled purely by solar power. o Helios - Derived from the Pathfinder-Plus, this solar cell & fuel cell powered UAV set a world record for flight at 96,863 feet (29,524 m). o Zephyr - built by Qinetiq, this UAV set the unofficial world record for longest duration unmanned flight at over 82 hours on 31 July 2008 Future projects o Sky sailor (aimed at Martian flight) o Solar Impulse (aimed at manned circumnavigation of the globe) o various solar airship projects e.g. Lockheed Martin's "High Altitude Airship"
Nuna 3 PV powered car
"Solar Taxi" Photovoltaic modules are used commercially as auxiliary power units on passenger cars in order to ventilate the car, reducing the temperature of the passenger compartment while it is parked in the sun. Vehicles such as the 2010 Prius, Aptera 2, Audi A8, and Mazda 929 have had solar sunroof options for ventilation purposes. The area of photovoltaic modules required to power a car with conventional design is too large to be carried onboard. A prototype car and trailer has been built Solar Taxi. According to the website, it is capable of 100 km/day using 6m2 of standard crystalline silicon cells. Electricity is stored using a nickel/salt battery. A stationary system such as a rooftop solar panel, however, can be used to charge conventional electric vehicles. It is also possible to use solar panels to extend the range of a hybrid or electric car, as incorporated in the Fisker Karma, available as an option on the Chevy Volt, on the hood and roof of "Destiny 2000" modifications of Pontiac Fieros, Italdesign Quaranta, Free Drive EV Solar Bug, and numerous other electric vehicles, both concept and production. In May 2007 a partnership of Canadian companies led by Hymotion added PV cells to a Toyota Prius to extend the range. . SEV claims 20 miles per day from their combined 215W module mounted on the car roof and an additional 3kWh battery. On 9 June 2008, the German and French Presidents announced a plan to offer a cedit of 6-8g/km of CO2 emissions for cars fitted with technologies "not yet taken into consideration during the standard measuring cycle of the emissions of a car". This has given rise to speculation that photovoltaic panels might be widely adopted on autos in the near future Anecdotal reports suggest that the 'Zap Xebra' PV module option could extend the car's 40-mile (64 km) by 5 miles (8 km). It is much more feasible to run an ultralight vehicle on solar energy than a standard car. Many prototypes have been built for competitions such as the World Solar Challenge. The solar challenge cars can average 100 km/h for long distances. For 2007 a new
Challenge class specified an upright seating position and smaller solar panels to create a class of vehicle which with little modification could be the basis for a practical proposition for sustainable transport. The winning car still achieved an average speed slightly in excess of 90 km/h (56 mph). The Venturi AstroLab in 2006 was hailed as the world's first commercial electro-solar hybrid car due to be released in January 2008, with a solar range of 18 km/day and a total range of 110 km it can be charged either from the sun or from AC mains. It is also technically possible to use photovoltaic technology, (specifically thermophotovoltaic (TPV) technology) to provide motive power for a car. Fuel is used to heat an emitter. The infrared radiation generated is converted to electricity by a low band gap PV cell (e.g. GaSb). A protoype TPV hybrid car was even built. The "Viking 29" was the World’s first thermophotovoltaic (TPV) powered automobile, designed and built by the Vehicle Research Institute (VRI) at Western Washington University. Efficiency would need to be increased and cost decreased to make TPV competitive with fuel cells or internal combustion engines.
Tûranor PlanetSolar, the world's largest solar-powered boat Various demonstration systems have been made. Curiously, none yet takes advantage of the huge power gain that water cooling would bring.
Japan's biggest shipping line Nippon Yusen KK and Nippon Oil Corporation said solar panels capable of generating 40 kilowatts of electricity would be placed on top of a 60,000 tonne car carrier ship to be used by Toyota Motor Corporation. n 2007, PV powered boat Transatlantic 21 successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean power only by solar electricity. In 2010, the Tûranor PlanetSolar, a 30 metre long, 15.2 metre wide catamaran yacht powered by 470 square metres of solar panels, was unveiled. It is set to circumnavigate the Earth and is so far the largest solar-powered boat ever built.
PV panels were tested as APUs on Italian rolling stock under EU project. PVTRAIN PVTrain concluded that the most interest for PV in rail transport was on freight cars where on board electrical power would allow new functionality:
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GPS or other positioning devices, so as to improve its use in fleet management and efficiency. Electric locks, a video monitor and remote control system for cars with sliding doors, so as to reduce the risk of robbery for valuable goods. ABS brakes, which would raise the maximum velocity of freight cars to 160 km/h, improving productivity.
In addition to on-vehicle solar panels, there is the possibility to use stationary panels to generate electricity specifically for use in transport. A few pilot plants have been built in the framework of the "Heliotram" project, such as the tram depots in Hannover Leinhausen and Geneva (Bachet de Pesay) . The 150kWp Geneva site injected 600V DC directly into the tram/trolleybus electricity network provided about 1% of the electricity used by the Geneva transport network at its opening in 1999. Direct feed to a DC grids avoids losses through DC to AC conversion. DC grids are only to be found in electric powered transport: railways, trams and trolleybuses.
Personal Rapid Transit
JPods PRT concept with photovoltaic panels above guideways Several Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) concepts incorporate photovoltaic panels.
For both road and rail transport in urban areas, there is an increasing requirement to protect people against the noise emitted by trains and road vehicles. Vertical or inclined walls are built by the side of the right of way to do this. The requirement to build the barrier can allocate the cost of the rigid packaging of a solar panel to the sound wall, making the marginal cost of installing a solar sound barrier instead of a passive one lower. . In 2010, Belgian rail operator Infrabel was near to completing the world's largest solar installation on a railway, a 4MWp installation on a sound barrier roof near the Peerdsbos natural park, between Schoten et Brasschaat . PV has traditionally been used for electric power in space. PV is rarely used to provide motive power in transport applications, but is being used increasingly to provide auxiliary power in boats and cars. A self-contained solar vehicle would have limited power and low utility, but a solar-charged vehicle would allow use of solar power for transportation. Solar-powered cars have been demonstrated.
Solar parking meter. Until a decade or so ago, PV was used frequently to power calculators and novelty devices. Improvements in integrated circuits and low power LCD displays make it possible to power such devices for several years between battery changes, making PV use less common. In contrast, solar powered remote fixed devices have seen increasing use recently in locations where significant connection cost makes grid power prohibitively expensive. Such applications include water pumps, parking meters, emergency telephones, trash compactors, temporary traffic signs, and remote guard posts & signals.
Developing countries where many villages are often more than five kilometers away from grid power have begun using photovoltaics. In remote locations in India a rural lighting program has been providing solar powered LED lighting to replace kerosene lamps. The solar powered lamps were sold at about the cost of a few month's supply of kerosene. Cuba is working to provide solar power for areas that are off grid. These are areas where the social costs and benefits offer an excellent case for going solar though the lack of profitability could relegate such endeavors to humanitarian goals.
A 45 mi (72 km) section of roadway in Idaho is being used to test the possibility of installing solar panels into the road surface, as roads are generally unobstructed to the sun and represent about the percentage of land area needed to replace other energy sources with solar power.
Solar Power satellites
Design studies of large solar power collection satellites have been conducted for decades. The idea was first proposed by Peter Glaser, then of Arthur D. Little Inc; NASA conducted a long series of engineering and economic feasibility studies in the 1970s, and interest has revived in first years of the 21st century. From a practical economic viewpoint, the key issue for such satellites appears to be the launch cost. Additional considerations will include developing space based assembly techniques, but they seem to be less a hurdle than the capital cost. These will be reduced as photovoltaic cell costs are reduced or alternatively efficiency increased.
Temperature Generally, temperatures above room temperature reduce the performance of photovoltaics. Optimum Orientation of Solar Panels For best performance, terrestrial PV systems aim to maximize the time they face the sun. Solar trackers aim to achieve this by moving PV panels to follow the sun. The increase can be by as much as 20% in winter and by as much as 50% in summer. Static mounted systems can be optimized by analysis of the Sun path. Panels are often set to latitude tilt, an angle equal to the latitude, but performance can be improved by adjusting the angle for summer or winter.
The 89 petawatts of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface is plentiful – almost 6,000 times more than the 15 terawatts equivalent of average power consumed by humans. Additionally, solar electric generation has the highest power density (global mean of 170 W/m²) among renewable energies. Solar power is pollution-free during use. Production end-wastes and emissions are manageable using existing pollution controls. End-of-use recycling technologies are under development and policies are being produced that encourage recycling from producers. PV installations can operate for many years with little maintenance or intervention after their initial set-up, so after the initial capital cost of building any solar power plant, operating costs are extremely low compared to existing power technologies. Solar electric generation is economically superior where grid connection or fuel transport is difficult, costly or impossible. Long-standing examples include satellites, island communities, remote locations and ocean vessels. When grid-connected, solar electric generation replaces some or all of the highest-cost electricity used during times of peak demand (in most climatic regions). This can reduce grid loading, and can eliminate the need for local battery power to provide for use in times of darkness. These features are enabled by net metering. Time-of-use net metering can be highly favorable, but requires newer electronic metering, which may still be impractical for some users. Grid-connected solar electricity can be used locally thus reducing transmission/distribution losses (transmission losses in the US were approximately 7.2% in 1995). Compared to fossil and nuclear energy sources, very little research money has been invested in the development of solar cells, so there is considerable room for improvement. Nevertheless, experimental high efficiency solar cells already have efficiencies of over 40% in case of concentrating photovoltaic cells and efficiencies are rapidly rising while mass-production costs are rapidly falling.
Photovoltaics are costly to install. While the modules are often warranteed for upwards of 20 years, much of the investment in a home-mounted system may be lost if the homeowner moves and the buyer puts less value on the system than the seller. Solar electricity is seen to be expensive. With the UK Feed-In Tariff for green solar energy, Solar PV has been made more accessible to homeowners. Under the scheme,
homeowners can generate both free electricity, and a fee per kWh sold to the grid "Solar PV as a Domestic Investment Opportunity Solar electricity is not produced at night and is much reduced in cloudy conditions. Therefore, a storage or complementary power system is required. Solar electricity production depends on the limited power density of the location's insolation. Average daily output of a flat plate collector at latitude tilt in the contiguous US is 3–7 kilowatt·h/m² and on average lower in Europe. Solar cells produce DC which must be converted to AC (using a grid tie inverter) when used in existing distribution grids. This incurs an energy loss of 4–12%.
A solar panel (photovoltaic module or photovoltaic panel) is a packaged interconnected assembly of solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells. The solar panel can be used as a component of a larger photovoltaic system to generate and supply electricity in commercial and residential applications. Because a single solar panel can only produce a limited amount of power, many installations contain several panels. This is known as a photovoltaic array. A photovoltaic installation typically includes an array of solar panels, an inverter, batteries and interconnection wiring. Photovoltaic systems are used for either on- or off-grid applications, and on spacecraft.
An installation of solar panels in rural Mongolia
A solar panel, or photovoltaic module, is composed of individual PV cells. This crystalline-silicon panel has an aluminium frame and glass on the front.
A PV module on the ISS.
Theory and construction
PV cells connected together in a solar panel. Solar panels use light energy (photons) from the sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. The structural (load carrying) member of a module can either be the top layer (superstrate) or the back layer (substrate). The majority of modules use waferbased crystalline silicon cells or thin-film cells based on cadmium telluride or silicon. Crystalline silicon is a commonly used semiconductor. In order to use the cells in practical applications, they must be:
connected electrically to one another and to the rest of the system
protected from mechanical damage during manufacture, transport, installation and use (in particular against hail impact, wind and snow loads). This is especially important for wafer-based silicon cells which are brittle. protected from moisture, which corrodes metal contacts and interconnections, and for thin-film cells the transparent conductive oxide layer, thus decreasing performance and lifetime.
Most solar panels are rigid, but semi-flexible ones are available, based on thin-film cells. Electrical connections are made in series to achieve a desired output voltage and/or in parallel to provide a desired amount of current source capability. Separate diodes may be needed to avoid reverse currents, in case of partial or total shading, and at night. The p-n junctions of mono-crystalline silicon cells may have adequate reverse current characteristics that these are not necessary. Reverse currents are not only inefficient as they represent power losses, but they can also lead to problematic heating of shaded cells. Solar cells become less efficient at higher temperatures and so it desirable to minimize heat in the panels. Very few modules incorporate any design features to decrease temperature, but installers try to provide good ventilation behind solar panels. Some recent solar panel designs include concentrators in which light is focused by lenses or mirrors onto an array of smaller cells. This enables the use of cells with a high cost per unit area (such as gallium arsenide) in a cost-effective way. Depending on construction, photovoltaic panels can produce electricity from a range of frequencies of light, but usually cannot cover the entire solar range (specifically, ultraviolet, infrared and low or diffused light). Hence much of the incident sunlight energy is wasted by solar panels, and they can give far higher efficiencies if illuminated with monochromatic light. Therefore another design concept is to split the light into different wavelength ranges and direct the beams onto different cells tuned to those ranges. This has been projected to be capable of raising efficiency by 50%. The use of infrared photovoltaic cells has also been proposed to increase efficiencies, and perhaps produce power at night. Sunlight conversion rates (solar panel efficiencies) can vary from 5-18% in commercial production, typically lower than the efficiencies of their cells in isolation. Panels with conversion rates around 18% are in development incorporating innovations such as power generation on the front and back sides.
Crystalline silicon modules
Most solar modules are currently produced from silicon PV cells. These are typically categorized into either monocrystalline or multicrystalline modules.
Third generation solar cells are advanced thin-film cells. They produce high-efficiency conversion at low cost.
Rigid thin-film modules
In rigid thin film modules, the cell and the module are manufactured in the same production line. The cell is created on a glass substrate or superstrate, and the electrical connections are created in situ, a so called "monolithic integration". The substrate or superstrate is laminated with an encapsulant to a front or back sheet, usually another sheet of glass. The main cell technologies in this category are CdTe, or a-Si, or a-Si+uc-Si tandem, or CIGS (or variant). Amorphous silicon has a sunlight conversion rate of 6-12%.
Flexible thin-film modules
Flexible thin film cells and modules are created on the same production line by depositing the photoactive layer and other necessary layers on a flexible substrate. If the substrate is an insulator (e.g. polyester or polyimide film) then monolithic integration can be used. If it is a conductor then another technique for electrical connection must be used. The cells are assembled into modules by laminating them to a transparent colourless fluoropolymer on the front side (typically ETFE or FEP) and a polymer suitable for bonding to the final substrate on the other side. The only commercially available (in MW quantities) flexible module uses amorphous silicon triple junction (from Unisolar). So-called inverted metamorphic (IMM) multijunction solar cells made on compoundsemiconductor technology are just becoming commercialized in July 2008. The University of Michigan's solar car that won the North American Solar challenge in July 2008 used IMM thin-film flexible solar cells. The requirements for residential and commercial are different in that the residential needs are simple and can be packaged so that as technology at the solar cell progress, the other base line equipment such as the battery, inverter and voltage sensing transfer switch still need to be compacted and unitized for residential use. Commercial use, depending on the size of the service will be limited in the photovoltaic cell arena, and more complex parabolic reflectors and solar concentrators are becoming the dominant technology.
The global flexible and thin-film photovoltaic (PV) market, despite caution in the overall PV industry, is expected to experience a CAGR of over 35% to 2019, surpassing 32GW according to a major new study by IntertechPira.
Module embedded electronics
Several companies have begun embedding electronics into PV modules. This enables performing Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) for each module individually, and the measurement of performance data for monitoring and fault detection at module level. Some of these solutions make use of Power Optimizers, a DC to DC converter technology developed to maximize the power harvest from solar photovoltaic systems.
Module performance and lifetime
Module performance is generally rated under Standard Test Conditions (STC) : irradiance of 1,000 W/m², solar spectrum of AM 1.5 and module temperature at 25°C. Electrical characteristics include nominal power (PMAX, measured in W), open circuit voltage (VOC), short circuit current (ISC, measured in amperes), maximum power voltage (VMPP), maximum power current (IMPP), peak power, kWp, and module efficiency (%). Nominal voltage refers to the voltage of the battery that the module is best suited to charge; this is a leftover term from the days when solar panels were used only to charge batteries. The actual voltage output of the panel changes as lighting, temperature and load conditions change, so there is never one specific voltage at which the panel operates. Nominal voltage allows users, at a glance, to make sure the panel is compatible with a given system. Open circuit voltage or VOC is the maximum voltage that the panel can produce when not connected to an electrical circuit or system. VOC can be measured with a meter directly on an illuminated panel's terminals or on its disconnected cable. The peak power rating, kWp, is the maximum output according to STC (not the maximum possible output). Solar panels must withstand heat, cold, rain and hail for many years. Many crystalline silicon module manufacturers offer a warranty that guarantees electrical production for 10 years at 90% of rated power output and 25 years at 80%
7.5 GW of installations were completed and connected in 2009. IMS Research estimates that shipments of PV modules were far higher. Shipments exceeded installations due to the record amount of modules shipped in the final quarter of the year to serve
installations completed in the first quarter of 2010 in booming European markets such as Germany, Italy, France and Czech Republic
Top ten suppliers (by power) in 2009 were: 1. First Solar 2. Suntech 3. Sharp 4. Yingli 5. Trina Solar 6. Sunpower Corporation 7. Kyocera Corporation 8. Canadian Solar 9. SolarWorld AG 10. Sanyo Electric
Average pricing information divides in three pricing categories: those buying small quantities (modules of all sizes in the kilowatt range annually), mid-range buyers (typically up to 10 MWp annually), and large quantity buyers (self explanatory—and with access to the lowest prices). Over the long term—and only in the long-term—there is clearly a systematic reduction in the price of cells and modules. For example in 1998 it was estimated that the quantity cost per watt was about $4.50, which was 33 times lower than the cost in 1970 of $150. Following to RMI, Balance-of-System (BoS) elements, this is, non-module cost of nonmicroinverter solar panels (as wiring, converters, racking systems and various components) make up about half of the total costs of installations. Also, standardizing technologies could encourage greater adoption of solar panels and, in turn, economies of scale.
Solar Trackers increase the amount of energy produced per panel.
Fixed racks hold panels in a single location as the sun moves across the sky.
The fixed rack sets the angle at which the panel is held. Tilt angles equivalent to an installation's latitude is common.
Standards generally used in photovoltaic panels:
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IEC 61215 (crystalline silicon performance), 61646 (thin film performance) and 61730 (all modules, safety) ISO 9488 Solar energy—Vocabulary. UL 1703 CE mark Electrical Safety Tester (EST) Series (EST-460, EST-22V, EST-22H, EST-110).
Devices with photovoltaic modules
Electric devices that includes solar panels:
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Solar cell phone : Sharp announced that its first solar-powered cell phone would be released in summer, 2009. Solar lamp Solar notebook: IUNIKA makes the first Solar Powered Netbook, the Gyy. Solar-pumped laser Solar vehicle Solar plane
Solar Water Heating
Roof-mounted close-coupled thermosiphon solar water heater. Solar water heating (SWH) systems comprise several innovations and many mature renewable energy technologies which have been accepted in most countries for many years. SWH has been widely used in Israel, Australia, Japan, Austria and China and co.
In a "close-coupled" SWH system the storage tank is horizontally mounted immediately above the solar collectors on the roof. No pumping is required as the hot water naturally rises into the tank through thermosiphon flow. In a "pump-circulated" system the storage tank is ground or floor mounted and is below the level of the collectors; a circulating pump moves water or heat transfer fluid between the tank and the collectors. SWH systems are designed to deliver the optimum amount of hot water for most of the year. However, in winter there sometimes may not be sufficient solar heat gain to deliver sufficient hot water. In this case a gas or electric booster is normally used to heat the water.
Hot water heated by the sun is used in many ways. While perhaps best known in a residential setting to provide hot domestic water, solar hot water also has industrial applications, e.g. to generate electricity . Designs suitable for hot climates can be much simpler and cheaper, and can be considered an appropriate technology for these places. The global solar thermal market is dominated by China, Europe, Japan and India.
A solar hot water heater installed on a house in Belgium In order to heat water using solar energy, a collector, often fastened to a roof or a wall facing the sun, heats working fluid that is either pumped (active system) or driven by natural convection (passive system) through it. 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 industrial cases a parabolic mirror can concentrate sunlight on
the tube. Heat is stored in a hot water storage 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 solar collector is lower than a typical immersion or combustion heater. The heat transfer fluid (HTF) 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 lowermaintenance 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. Residential solar thermal installations fall into two groups: 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 55°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. 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.
There are records of solar collectors in the United States dating back to before 1900, comprising a black-painted tank mounted on a roof. In 1896 Clarence Kemp of Baltimore, USA enclosed a tank in a wooden box, thus creating the first 'batch water heater' as they are known today. Although flat-plate collectors for solar water heating were used in Florida and Southern California in the 1920s there was a surge of interest in solar heating in North America after 1960, but specially after the 1973 oil crisis. Work in Israel
Passive (thermisiphon) solar water heaters on a rooftop in Jerusalem Flat plate solar systems were perfected and used on a very large scale in Israel. In the 1950s there was a fuel shortage in the new Israeli state, and the government forbade heating water between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.. Levi Yissar built the first prototype Israeli solar water heater and in 1953 he launched the NerYah Company, Israel's first commercial manufacturer of solar water heating. 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), estimated to save the country two million barrels of oil a year, the highest per capita use of solar energy in the world..
New solar hot water installations during 2007, worldwide. The world saw a rapid growth of the use of solar warm water after 1960, with systems being marketed also in Japan and Australia 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 the Mediterranean, and Japan and Austria, where there Colombia developed a local solar water heating industry thanks to the designs of Las Gaviotas, directed by Paolo Lugari. Driven by a desire to reduce costs in social housing, the team of Gaviotas studied the best systems from Israel, and made adaptations as to meet the specifications set by the Banco Central Hipotecario (BCH) which prescribed that the system must be operational in cities like Bogotá where there are more than 200 days overcast. The ultimate designs were so successful that Las Gaviotas offered in 1984 a 25 year warranty on any of its installations. Over 40,000 were installed, and still function a quarter of a century later. 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 has a variety of incentives (national and state) and regulations (state) for solar thermal introduced starting with MRET in 1997 .
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 . Israel and Cyprus are the per capita leaders in the use of solar water heating systems with over 30%-40% of homes using them.
Types of Solar Water Heating (SWH) systems
A monobloc (thermosiphon) solar heater in Cirque de Mafate, La Réunion The type and complexity of a solar water heating system is mostly determined by:
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The changes in ambient temperature during the day-night cycle. Changes in ambient temperature and solar radiation between summer and winter. The temperature of the water required from the system.
The minimum efficiency of the system is determined by the amount or temperature of hot water required during winter (when the largest amount of hot water is often required).
The maximum efficiency of the system is determined by the need to prevent the water in the system from becoming too hot (to boil, in an extreme case). There are two main categories of solar water heating systems. Passive systems rely on convection or heat pipes to circulate water or heating fluid in the system, while active systems use a pump. In addition, there are a number of other system characteristics that distinguish different designs:
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The type of collector used (see below) The location of the collector - roof mount, ground mount, wall mount The location of the storage tank in relation to the collector The method of heat transfer - open-loop or closed-loop (via heat exchanger) Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collectors can be designed to produce both hot water and electricity.
An integrated collector storage (ICS) system
A special type of passive system is the Integrated Collector Storage (ICS or Batch Heater) where the tank acts as both storage and solar collector. Batch heaters are basically thin rectilinear tanks with glass in front of it generally in or on house wall or roof. They are seldom pressurised and usually depend on gravity flow to deliver their water. They are simple, efficient and less costly than plate and tube collectors but are only suitable in moderate climates with good sunshine. A step up from the ICS is the Convection Heat Storage unit (CHS or thermosiphon). These are often plate type or evacuated tube collectors with built-in insulated tanks. The unit uses convection (movement of hot water upward) to move the water from collector to tank. Neither pumps nor electricity are used to enforce circulation. It is more efficient than an ICS as the collector heats a small(er) amount of water that constantly rises back to the tank. It can be used in areas with less sunshine than the ICS. An CHS also known as a compact system or monobloc has a tank for the heated water and a solar collector mounted on the same chassis. Typically these systems will function by natural convection or heat pipes to transfer the heat energy from the collector to the tank.
Direct systems: (A) Passive CHS system with tank above collector. (B) Active system with pump and controller driven by a photovoltaic panel Direct ('open loop') passive systems use water from the main household water supply to circulate between the collector and the storage tank. When the water in the collector becomes warm, convection causes it to rise and flow towards the water storage tank. They are often not suitable for cold climates since, at night, the water in the collector can freeze and damage the panels. Indirect ('closed loop') passive systems use a non-toxic antifreeze heat transfer fluid (HTF) in the collector. When this fluid is heated, convection causes it to flow to the tank where a passive heat exchanger transfers the heat of the HTF to the water in the tank.
The attraction of passive solar water heating systems lies in their simplicity. There are no mechanical or electrical parts that can break or that require regular supervision or maintenance. Consequently the maintenance of a passive system is simple and cheap. The efficiency of a passive system is often somewhat lower than that of an active system and overheating is largely avoided by the inherent design of a passive system.
Indirect active systems: (C) Indirect system with heat exchanger in tank; (D) Drainback system with drainback reservoir. In these schematics the controller and pump are driven by mains electricity Active solar hot water systems employ a pump to circulate water or HTF between the collector and the storage tank. Like their passive counterparts, active solar water heating systems come as two types: direct active systems pump water directly to the collector and back to the storage tank (direct collectors can contain conventional freeze-vulnerable
metal pipes or low pressure freeze-tolerant silicone rubber pipes), indirect active systems which are usually made of metals pump heat transfer fluid (HTF), the heat of which is transferred to the water in the storage tank. Because the pump should only operate when the fluid in the collector is hotter than the water in the storage tank, a controller is required to turn the pump on and off. The use of an electronically controlled pump has several advantages:
The storage tank can be situated lower than the collectors. In passive systems the storage tank must be located above the collector so that the thermosiphon effect can transport water or HTF from collector to tank. The use of a pump allows the storage tank to be located lower than the collector since the circulation of water or HTF is enforced by the pump. A pumped system allows the storage tank to be located out of sight. Because of the fact that active systems allow freedom in the location of the storage tank, the tank can be located where heat loss from the tank is reduced, e.g. inside the roof of a house. This increases the efficiency of the solar water heating system. New active solar water heating systems can make use of an existing warm water storage tanks ("geysers"), thus avoiding duplication of equipment. Reducing the risk of overheating. If no water from the solar hot water system is used (e.g. when water users are away), the water in the storage tank is likely to overheat. Several pump controllers avoid overheating by activating the pump during the day at during times of low sunlight, or at night. This pumps hot water or HTF from the storage tank through the collector (which can be cool in low light levels), thus cooling the water in the storage tank. Reducing the risk of freezing. For direct active systems in cold weather, where freeze tolerant collectors or drain down approaches are not used, the pump controller can pump hot water from the water storage tank through the collector in order to prevent the water in the collector from freezing, thus avoiding damage to the metal parts of the system.
Active systems can tolerate higher water temperatures than would be the case in an equivalent passive system. Consequently active systems are often more efficient than passive systems but are more complex, more expensive, more difficult to install and rely on either mains or PV sourced electricity to run the pump and controller. Active systems with intelligent controllers Modern active solar water systems have electronic controllers that permit a wide range of functionality such as full programmability; interaction with a backup electric or gasdriven water heater; measurement of the energy produced; sophisticated safety functions; thermostatic and time-clock control of auxiliary heat, hot water circulation loops, or
others; display of error messages or alarms; remote display panels; and remote or local datalogging.
A typical programmable differential controller The most popular pump controller is a differential controller that senses temperature differences between water leaving the solar collector and the water in the storage tank near the heat exchanger. In a typical indirect configuration, the controller turns the pump on when the water in the collector is about 8-10°C warmer than the water in the tank and it turns the pump off when the temperature difference approaches 0 °C. This ensures the water always gains heat from the collector when the pump operates and prevents the pump from cycling on and off too often. In direct systems this "on differential" can be reduced to around 4C because there is no heat exchanger impediment. By allowing more "pump on" time, this improves performance at low light levels. Although the pumps of most active systems are driven by mains electricity, some active solar systems obtain energy to power the pump by a photovoltaic (PV) panel. The PV panel converts sunlight into electricity, which in turn drives the direct current (DC) pump. In this way, water flows through the collector only when the sun is shining. The DC-pump and PV panel must be suitably matched to ensure proper performance. The pump starts when there is sufficient solar radiation available to heat the solar collector and to start the pump. This "pump starting" irradiation varies from 4% to 10% of full sunlight, depending on the pump and its PV power supply. It shuts off later in the day when the available solar energy diminishes. Several DC-pumps are intelligent and employ maximum power point (MPP) tracking to optimise pump rate, for instance during periods of small amounts of electricity from the PV panel during cloudy weather. A PV powered solar controller is sometimes used to prevent the pump from running when there is sunlight to power the pump but the collector is still cooler than the water in storage. The main environmental advantage of a PV-driven pump is that it eliminates the energy / carbon clawback or "parasitics" associated with using a solar thermal systems. Also the solar hot water can still be collected during a power outage. The pump is operated by the sun and is completely independent from mains electricity. Some differential controllers
use power from the PV panel when sunlight is available, but revert to mains electricity when light is not available. The low /variable flow from PV powered pumps for domestic hot water only (no heating) is typically matched with a temperature maximising solar absorber of the serpentine type. This in conjunction with a stratified hot water tank design maximises a small quantity of hot water that reduces the need for the standby heating system to operate. This stategy has been found to maximise efficiency. Active systems with drainback A drain-back system is an indirect active system where heat transfer fluid circulates through the collector, being driven by a pump. However the collector piping is not pressurised and includes an open drainback reservoir. If the pump is switched off, all the heat transfer fluid drains into the drainback reservoir and none remains in the collector. Consequently the collector cannot be damaged by freezing or overheating. This makes this type of system well-suited to colder climates. Active systems with a bubble pump
The bubble separator of a bubble-pump system An active solar water heating system can be equipped with a bubble pump (also known as geyser pump) instead of an electric pump. A bubble pump circulates the heat transfer fluid (HTF) between collector and storage tank using solar power and without any external energy source and is suitable for flat panel as well as vacuum tube systems. In a bubble pump system, the closed HTF circuit is under reduced pressure, which causes the liquid to boil at low temperature as it is heated by the sun. The steam bubbles form a geyser pump, causing an upward flow. The system is designed such that the bubbles are separated from the hot fluid and condensed at the highest point in the circuit, after which the fluid flows downward towards the heat exchanger caused by the difference in fluid levels. The HTF typically arrives at the heat exchanger at 70 °C and returns to the
circulating pump at 50 °C. In frost prone climates the HTF is water with propylene glycol anti-freeze added, usually in the ratio of 60 to 40. Pumping typically starts at about 50°C and increases as the sun rises until equilibrium is reached depending on the efficiency of the heat exchanger, the temperature of the water being heated and the strength of the sun. Freeze protection Freeze protection measures prevent damage to the system due to the expansion of freezing transfer fluid. Some systems drain the transfer fluid from the system when the pump stops. In indirect systems (where the transfer fluid is separated from the heated water), this is called drainback and in direct systems (where the heated water is used as the transfer fluid) it is called draindown. Many indirect systems use anti-freeze (e.g. propylene glycol) in the heat transfer fluid. This approach is simpler and more reliable than drainback and is common in climates where freezing temperatures occur often. In both direct and indirect systems, automatic recirculation may be used for freeze protection. When the water in the collector reaches a temperature near freezing, the controller turns the pump on for a few minutes to warm the collector with water from the tank. In some direct systems, the collectors are manually drained when freezing is expected. This approach is common in climates where freezing temperatures do not occur often. Other direct systems use freeze tolerant solar collectors. Here the water channels of the collector are made of flexible polymers such as silicone rubber. Being non-metal, these can freeze solid without cracking. One European solar collector is being produced to this specification under the Solar Keymark and EN 12975 standards. Overheat protection Particularly when no hot water has been used for some time, the water from the collector can reach very high temperatures in good sunshine, or if the pump fails to operate, such as during a power cut. Designs which may boil the hot water store usually allow for relief of pressure and excess heat through a heat dump. Almost all sealed and unvented solar circuits have pressure relief valves through which excessive water pressure or steam can be vented. Vented systems have a simpler safety feature already built in via the open vent, a simple and virtually fail-safe approach. Some active systems deliberately cool the water in the storage tank by heat export: circulating hot water through the collector at times when there is little sunlight or at night (when solar energy does not heat the collector). Heat export operates most effectively in systems which do not use basal heat exchangers to add heat to the water store (because cool water sinks below hot water). 11 possible types of overheat control in solar thermal have been identified in the International Energy Agency's Task Group 39 on Polymeric materials in solar heating and cooling.
A rough comparison of solar hot water systems
Comparison of SWH systems ICS Active Active Bubble Characteristic Thermosyphon Drainback (Batch) direct indirect Pump Low profileunobtrusive Lightweight collector Survives freezing weather Low maintenance Simple: no ancillary control Retrofit potential to existing store Space saving: no extra storage tank
Collectors used in modern domestic solar water heating systems
Solar thermal collectors capture and retain heat from the sun and transfer this heat to a liquid. Two important physical principles govern the technology of solar thermal collectors:
Any hot object ultimately returns to thermal equilibrium with its environment, due to heat loss from the hot object. The processes that result in this heat loss are conduction, convection and radiation . The efficiency of a solar thermal collector is directly related to heat losses from the collector surface (efficiency being defined as the proportion of heat energy that can be retained for a predefined period of time). Within the context of a solar collector, convection and radiation are the most important sources of heat loss. Thermal insulation is used to slow down heat loss from a hot object to its environment. This is actually a direct manifestation of the Second law of thermodynamics but we may term this the 'equilibrium effect'. Heat is lost more rapidly if the temperature difference between a hot object and its environment is larger. Heat loss is predominantly governed by the thermal gradient between the temperature of the collector surface and the ambient
temperature. Conduction, convection as well as radiation occur more rapidly over large thermal gradients . We may term this the 'delta-t effect'. The most simple approach to solar heating of water is to simply mount a metal tank filled with water in a sunny place. The heat from the sun would then heat the metal tank and the water inside. Indeed, this was how the very first SWH systems worked more than a century ago. However, this setup would be inefficient due to an oversight of the equilibrium effect, above: once when the tank and water has started to be heated, the heat gained would be lost back into the environment, ultimately until the water in the tank would assume the ambient temperature. The challenge is therefore to limit the heat loss from the tank, thus delaying the time until thermal equilibrium is reached. ICS or batch collectors overcome the above problem by putting the water tank in a box that limits the loss of heat from the tank back into the environment . This is achieved by encasing the water tank in a glass-topped box that allows heat from the sun to reach the water tank . However, the other walls of the box are thermally insulated, reducing convection as well as radiation to the environment . In addition, the box can also have a reflective surface on the inside. This reflects heat lost from the tank back towards the tank. In a simple way one could consider an ICS solar water heater as a water tank that has been enclosed in a type of 'oven' that retains heat from the sun as well as heat of the water in the tank. Using a box does not eliminate heat loss from the tank to the environment, but it largely reduces this loss. There are many variations on this basic design, with some ICS collectors comprising several smaller water containers and even including evacuated glass tube technology . This is because ICS collectors have a characteristic that strongly limits the efficiency of the collector: a small surface-tovolume ratio . Since the amount of heat that a tank can absorb from the sun is largely dependent on the surface of the tank directly exposed to the sun, it follows that a small surface would limit the degree to which the water can be heated by the sun. Cylindrical objects such as the tank in an ICS collector inherently have a small surface-to-volume ratio and most modern collectors attempt to increase this ratio for efficient warming of the water in the tank.
Flat plate and evacuated tube collectors side-by-side. Flat plate collectors are an extension of the basic idea to place a collector in an 'oven'like box . Here, a pipe is connected to the water tank and the water is circulated through this pipe and back into the tank. The water tank is now outside the collector that only contains the pipes. Since the surface-to-volume ratio increases sharply as the diameter of a pipe decreases, most flat-plate collectors have pipes less than 1 cm in diameter. The efficiency of the heating process is therefore sharply increased. The design of a flat-plate collector therefore typically takes the shape of a flat box with a robust glass top oriented towards the sun, enclosing a network of piping. In many flat-plate collectors the metal surface of the pipe is increased with flat metal flanges or even a large, flat metal plate to which the pipes are connected . Since the water in a flat-plate collector usually reaches temperatures much higher than that of an ICS, the problem of radiation of heat back to the environment is very important, even though a box-like 'oven' is used. This is because the 'delta-t effect' is becoming important. Formed collectors are a degenerate modification of a flat-plate collector in that the piping of the collector is not enclosed in a box-like 'oven'. Consequently these types of collectors are much less efficient for domestic water heating. However, since water colder than the ambient temperature is heated, these collectors are efficient for that specific purpose. Evacuated tube collectors are a way in which heat loss to the environment , inherent in flat plates, has been reduced. Since heat loss due to convection cannot cross a vacuum, it forms an efficient isolation mechanism to keep heat inside the collector pipes. Since two flat sheets of glass are normally not strong enough to withstand a vacuum, the vacuum is rather created between two concentric tubes. Typically, the water piping in an evacuated tube collector is therefore surrounded by two concentric tubes of glass with a vacuum in between that admits heat from the sun (to heat the pipe) but which limits heat loss back to the environment. The inner tube is coated with a thermal absorbent.
Flat plate collectors are generally more efficient than evacuated tube collectors in full sunshine conditions. However, the energy output of flat plate collectors drops off rapidly in cloudy or cool conditions compared to the output of evacuated tube collectors that decrease less rapidly.
Heating of swimming pools
Both pool covering systems floating atop the water and separate solar thermal collectors may be used for pool heating. Pool covering systems, whether solid sheets or floating disks, act as solar collectors and provide pool heating benefits which, depending on climate, may either supplement the solar thermal collectors discussed below or make them unnecessary. Solar thermal collectors for nonpotable pool water use are often made of plastic. Pool water, mildly corrosive due to chlorine, is circulated through the panels using the existing pool filter or supplemental pump. In mild environments, unglazed plastic collectors are more efficient as a direct system. In cold or windy environments evacuated tubes or flat plates in an indirect configuration do not have pool water pumped through them, they are used in conjunction with a heat exchanger that transfers the heat to pool water. This causes less corrosion. A fairly simple differential temperature controller is used to direct the water to the panels or heat exchanger either by turning a valve or operating the pump. .Once the pool water has reached the required temperature, a diverter valve is used to return pool water directly to the pool without heating . Many systems are configured as drainback systems where the water drains into the pool when the water pump is switched off. The collector panels are usually mounted on a nearby roof, or ground-mounted on a tilted rack. Due to the low temperature difference between the air and the water, the panels are often formed collectors or unglazed flat plate collectors. A simple rule-of-thumb for the required panel area needed is 50% of the pool's surface area . This is for areas where pools are used in the summer season only, not year 'round. Adding solar collectors to a conventional outdoor pool, in a cold climate, can typically extend the pool's comfortable usage by some months or more if an insulating pool cover is also used . An active solar energy system analysis program may be used to optimize the solar pool heating system before it is built.
Economics, energy, environment, and system costs
A laundromat in California with panels on the roof providing hot washing water. Energy production The amount of heat delivered by a solar water heating system depends primarily on the amount of heat delivered by the sun at a particular place (the insolation). In tropical places the insolation can be relatively high, e.g. 7 kW.h per day, whereas the insolation can be much lower in temperate areas where the days are shorter in winter, e.g. 3.2 kW.h per day. Even at the same latitude the average insolation can vary a great deal from location to location due to differences in local weather patterns and the amount of overcast. Useful calculators for estimating insolation at a site can be found with the Joint Research Laboratory of the European Commission and the American National Renewable Energy Laboratory . Below is a table that gives a rough indication of the specifications and energy that could be expected from a solar water heating system involving some 2 m2 of absorber area of the collector, demonstrating two evacuated tube and three flat plate solar water heating systems. Certification information or figures calculated from those data are used. The bottom two rows give estimates for daily energy production (kW.h/day) for a tropical and a temperate scenario. These estimates are for heating water to 50 degrees C above ambient temperature.
With most solar water heating systems, the energy output scales linearly with the surface area of the absorbers. Therefore, when comparing figures, take into account the absorber area of the collector because collectors with less absorber area yield less heat, even within the 2 m2 range. Specifications for many complete solar water heating systems and separate solar collectors can be found at Internet site of the SRCC . Daily energy production (kWth.h) of five solar thermal systems. The evac tube systems used below both have 20 tubes Flat Evac Flat plate Flat plate Evac tube Technology plate tube Indirect Indirect Direct Direct Thermosiphon Configuration active active active active 2 2.49 1.98 1.87 2.85 2.97 Overall size (m ) 2 2.21 1.98 1.72 2.85 2.96 Absorber size (m ) 0.68 0.74 0.61 0.57 0.46 Maximum efficiency Energy production (kW.h/day): - Insolation 5.3 3.2 kW.h/m2/day (temperate) - e.g. Zurich, Switzerland - Insolation 6.5 kW.h/m2/day (tropical) - e.g. Phoenix, USA
The figures are fairly similar between the above collectors, yielding some 4 kW.h/day in a temperate climate and some 8 kW.h/day in a more tropical climate when using a collector with an absorber area of about 2m2 in size. In the temperate scenario this is sufficient to heat 200 litres of water by some 17 degrees C. In the tropical scenario the equivalent heating would be by some 33 degrees C. Many thermosiphon systems are quite efficient and have comparable energy output to equivalent active systems. The efficiency of evacuated tube collectors is somewhat lower than for flat plate collectors because the absorbers are narrower than the tubes and the tubes have space between them, resulting in a significantly larger percentage of inactive overall collector area. Some methods of comparison calculate the efficiency of evacuated tube collectors based on the actual absorber area and not on the 'roof area' of the system as has been done in the above table. The efficiency of the collectors becomes lower if one demands water with a very high temperature. System cost
In sunny, warm locations, where freeze protection is not necessary, an ICS (batch type) solar water heater can be extremely cost effective . In higher latitudes, there are often additional design requirements for cold weather, which add to system complexity. This has the effect of increasing the initial cost (but not the life-cycle cost) of a solar water heating system, to a level much higher than a comparable hot water heater of the conventional type. The biggest single consideration is therefore the large initial financial outlay of solar water heating systems . Offsetting this expense can take several years and the payback period is longer in temperate environments where the insolation is less intense . When calculating the total cost to own and operate, a proper analysis will consider that solar energy is free, thus greatly reducing the operating costs, whereas other energy sources, such as gas and electricity, can be quite expensive over time. Thus, when the initial costs of a solar system are properly financed and compared with energy costs, then in many cases the total monthly cost of solar heat can be less than other more conventional types of hot water heaters (also in conjunction with an existing hot water heater). At higher latitudes, solar heaters may be less effective due to lower solar energy, possibly requiring larger and/or dual-heating systems. In addition, federal and local incentives can be significant. The calculation of long term cost and payback period for a household SWH system depends on a number of factors. Some of these are:
• • • • • • • • •
Price of purchasing solar water heater (more complex systems are more expensive) Efficiency of SWH system purchased Installation cost State or government subsidy for installation of a solar water heater Price of electricity per kW.h Number of kW.h of electricity used per month by a household Annual tax rebates or subsidy for using renewable energy Annual maintenance cost of SWH system Savings in annual maintenenance of conventional (electric/gas/oil) water heating system
The following table gives some idea of the cost and payback period to recover the costs. It does not take into account annual maintenance costs, annual tax rebates and installation costs. However the table does give an indication of the total cost and the order of magnitude of the payback period. The table assumes an energy savings of 140 kW.h per month (about 4.6 kW.h/day) due to SWH. Costs and payback periods assuming a household electricity savings of 140 kW.h/month due to SWH (using 2010 data) Electricity System Effective Electricity Payback Country Currency Subsidy(%) savings/mo cost cost cost/kW.h period(y) nth Austr $Aus 5000 40 3000 0.18 25 9.9 alia
Belgi um Brazi l
4000 2500 14000
50 0 15
2000 2500 11900
0.1 0.25 0.9
14 35 126
11.9 6.0 7.9
Sout ZA Rand h Africa Unite UK d Pound Kingdom Unite US$ d States
Two points are clear from the above table. Firstly, the payback period is shorter in countries with a large amount of insolation and even in parts of the same country with more insolation. This is evident from the payback period less than 10 years in most southern hemisphere countries, listed above. This is partly because of good sunshine, allowing users in those countries to need smaller systems than in temperate areas. Secondly, even in the northern hemisphere countries where payback periods are often longer than 10 years, solar water heating is financially extremely efficient. This is partly because the SWH technology is efficient in capturing irradiation. The payback period for photovoltaic systems is much longer . In many cases the payback period for a SWH system is shortened if it supplies all or nearly all of the warm water requirements used by a household. Many SWH systems supply only a fraction of warm water needs and are augmented by gas or electric heating on a daily basis , thus extending the payback period of such a system. Solar leasing is now available in Spain for solar water heating systems from Pretasol with a typical system costing around 59 euros and rising to 99 euros per month for a system that would provide sufficient hot water for a typical family home of six persons. The payback period would be five years. Australia has instituted a system of Renewable Energy Credits, based on national renewable energy targets. This expands an older system based only on rebates . Operational Carbon / Energy Footprint and Life Cycle Assessment Unfortunately this topic can seem a bit jargon-laden, so to clarify, here are some synonyms. Operational energy footprint (OEF) is also called energy parasitics ratio (EPR) or coefficient of performance (CoP). Operational carbon footprint (OCF) is also called carbon clawback ratio (CCR).
Life cycle assessment is usually referred to as LCA. The source of electricity in an active SWH system determines the extent to which a system contributes to atmospheric carbon during operation. Active solar thermal systems that use mains electricity to pump the fluid through the panels are called 'low carbon solar'. In most systems the pumping cancels the energy savings by about 8% and the carbon savings of the solar by about 20% . However, some new low power pumps will start operation with 1W and use a maximum of 20W. Assuming a solar collector panel delivering 4 kW.h/day and a pump running intermittently from mains electricity for a total of 6 hours during a 12-hour sunny day, the potentially negative effect of such a pump can be reduced to about 3% of the total power produced. The carbon footprint of such household systems varies substantially, depending on whether electricity or other fuels such as natural gas are being displaced by the use of solar. Except where a high proportion of electricity is already generated by non-fossil fuel means, natural gas, a common water heating fuel, in many countries, has typically only about 40% of the carbon intensity of mains electricity per unit of energy delivered. Therefore the 3% or 8% energy clawback in a gas home referred to above could therefore be considered 8% to 20% carbon clawback, a very low figure compared to technologies such as heat pumps. However, zero-carbon active solar thermal systems typically use a 5-30 W PV panel which faces in the same direction as the main solar heating panel and a small, low power diaphragm pump or centrifugal pump to circulate the water. This represents a zero operational carbon and energy footprint: a growing design goal for solar thermal systems. Work is also taking place in a number of parts of the world on developing alternative non-electrical zero carbon pumping systems. These are generally based on thermal expansion and phase changes of liquids and gases, a variety of which are under development. Now looking at a wider picture than just the operational environmental impacts, recognised standards can be used to deliver robust and quantitative life cycle assessment (LCA). LCA takes into account the total environmental cost of acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing, transport, using, servicing and disposing of the equipment. There are several aspects to such an assessment, including:
• • •
The financial costs and gains incurred during the life of the equipment. The energy used during each of the above stages. The CO2 emissions due to each of the above stages.
Each of these aspects may present different trends with respect to a specific SWH device. Financial assessment. The table in the previous section as well as several other studies suggest that the cost of production is gained during the first 5–12 years of use of the
equipment, depending on the insolation, with cost efficiency increasing as the insolation does . In terms of energy, some 60% of the materials of a SWH system goes into the tank, with some 30% towards the collector (thermosiphon flat plate in this case) (Tsiligiridis et al.). In Italy , some 11 GJ of electricity are used in producing the equipment, with about 35% of the energy going towards the manufacturing the tank, with another 35% towards the collector and the main energy-related impact being emissions. The energy used in manufacturing is recovered within the first two to three years of use of the SWH system through heat captured by the equipment a this southern European study. Moving further north into colder, less sunny climates, the energy payback time of a solar water heating system in a UK climate is reported as only 2 years. . This figure was derived from the studied solar water heating system being: direct, retrofitted to an existing water store, PV pumped, freeze tolerant and of 2.8 sqm aperture. For comparison, a solar electric (PV) installation took around 5 years to reach energy payback, according to the same comparative study. In terms of CO2 emissions, a large degree of the emissions-saving traits of a SWH system is dependent on the degree to which water heating by gas or electricity is used to supplement solar heating of water. Using the Eco-indicator 99 points system as a yardstick (i.e. the yearly environmental load of an average European inhabitant) in Greece , a purely gas-driven system may be cheaper in terms of emissions than a solar system. This calculation assumes that the solar system produces about half of the hot water requirements of a household. The production of a test SWH system in Italy produced about 700 kg of CO2, with all the components of manufacture, use and disposal contributing small parts towards this. Maintenance was identified as an emissions-costly activity when the heat transfer fluid (Glycol-based) was periodically replaced. However, the emissions cost was recovered within about two years of use of the equipment through the emissions saved by solar water heating. In Australia , the life cycle emissions of a SWH system are also recovered fairly rapidly, where a SWH system has about 20% of the impact of an electrical water heater and half of the emissions impact of a gas water heater. Analysing their lower impact retrofit solar water heating system, Allen et al (qv) report a production CO2 impact of 337 kg, which is around half the environmental impact reported in the Ardente et al (qv) study. Where information based on established standards are available, the environmental transparency afforded by life cycle analysis allows consumers (of all products) to make increasingly well-informed product selection decisions. As for identifying sectors where this information is likely to appear first, environmental technology suppliers in the microgeneration and renewable energy technology arena are increasingly being pressed by consumers to report typical CoP and LCA figures for their products.
In summary, the energy and emissions cost of a SWH system forms a small part of the life cycle cost and can be recovered fairly rapidly during use of the equipment. Their environmental impacts can be reduced further by sustainable materials sourcing, using non-mains circulation, by reusing existing hot water stores and, in cold climates, by eliminating antifreeze replacement visits.
DIY solar water heating systems (DIY SWH)
With an ever-rising do-it-yourself-community and their increasing environmental awareness, people have begun building their own (small-scale) solar water heating systems from scratch or buying easy to install kits. Plans for solar water heating systems are available on the Internet. and people have set about building them for their own domestic requirements. DIY solar water heating systems are usually much cheaper than commercial ones, and installation costs can sometimes be avoided as well. The DIY solar water heating systems are being used both in the developed world, as in the developing world, to generate hot water. Rather than build DIY solar water heating systems from scratch, many DIY solar enthusiasts are buying simple off-the-shelf solar DIY kits. In particular the new freeze tolerant, zero-carbon PV active systems, are becoming common in parts of Europe. Their simplicity enables them to be plumbed in quickly and safely without the need of a mains electrician. In such installations a low voltage PV powered controller, switches the variable speed pump. In some PV pumped systems, overnight display of temperatures is enabled by internal energy stores such as large supercapacitors.
Considerations for specifying and installing a solar water heating (SWH) system
Except in rare instances it will be inefficient to install a SWH system with no electrical or gas or other fuel backup. Many SWH systems (e.g. thermosiphon systems) have an integrated electrical heater in the integrated tank. Conversely, many active solar systems incorporate a conventional "geyser". But even in a tropical environment there are rainy and cloudy days when the insolation is low and the temperature of the water in the tank increases very little on account of solar heating. Electrical or other backup heating ensures a reliable supply of hot water and ensures control of legionella risks when heated to the base. The temperature stability of a system is dependent on the ratio of the volume of warm water used per day as a fraction of the size of the water reservoir/tank that stores the hot water. If a large proportion of hot water in the reservoir is used each day, a large fraction of the water in the reservoir needs to be heated. This brings about large fluctuations in water temperature every day, with risks of overheating or underheating. Since the amount of heating that needs to take place every day is proportional to hot water usage and not to the size of the reservoir, it pays to have a fairly large reservoir, larger than three times the hot water daily usage. A larger reservoir decreases the daily fluctuations in hot water temperature.
Usually a large SWH system is more efficient economically than a small system. This is because the price of a system is not linearly proportional to the size of the collector, so a square meter of collector is cheaper in a larger system. If this is the case, it pays to use a system that covers all or nearly all of the domestic hot water needs, and not only a small fraction of the needs. This facilitates more rapid cost recovery. Not all installations require new replacement solar hot water stores. Existing stores may be large enough and in suitable condition. Direct systems can be retrofitted to existing stores while indirect systems can be also sometimes be retrofitted using internal and external heat exchangers. The installation of a SWH system needs to be complemented with efficient insulation of all the water pipes connecting the collector and the water storage tank, as well as the storage tank (or "geyser") and the most important warm water outlets. The installation of efficient lagging significantly reduces the heat loss from the hot water system. The installation of lagging on at least two meters of pipe on the cold water inlet of the storage tank reduces heat loss, as does the installation of a "geyser blanket" around the storage tank (if inside a roof). In cold climates the installation of lagging and insulation is often performed even in the absence of a SWH system. On the zero or low carbon choice arena, the most efficient PV pumps are designed start to operate very slowly in very low light levels, so if connected uncontrolled, they may cause a small amount of unwanted circulation early in the morning - for example when there is enough light to drive the pump but while the collector is still cold. To eliminate the risk of hot water in the storage tank from being cooled slightly, control by a PV powered solar controller may be required. The modularity of an evacuated tube collector array allows the adjustment of the collector size by removing some tubes or their heat pipes. Budgeting for a larger than required array of tubes therefore allows for the customisation of collector size to the needs of a particular application, especially in warmer climates. Particularly in locations further towards the poles than 45 degrees from the equator, roof mounted sun facing collectors tend to outperform wall mounted collectors in terms of total energy output. However it is total useful energy output which usually matters most to consumers. So arrays of sunny wall mounted steep collectors can sometimes produce more useful energy because there can be a small increase in winter gain at the expense of a large unused summer surplus.
• • •
EN 806: Specifications for installations inside buildings conveying water for human consumption. General. EN 1717: Protection against pollution of potable water in water installations and general requerements of devices to prevent pollution by backflow. EN 60335: Specification for safety of household and similar electrical appliances. (2-21)
UNE 94002:2005 Thermal solar systems for domestic hot water production. Calculation method for heat demand.
A solar combisystem provides both solar space heating and cooling as well as hot water from a common array of solar thermal collectors, usually backed up an auxiliary nonsolar heat source. Solar combisystems may range in size from those installed in individual properties to those serving several in a block heating scheme. Those serving larger groups of properties district heating tend to be called central solar heating schemes. A large number of different types of solar combisystems are produced - over 20 were identified in the first international survey, conducted as part of IEA Task 14 in 1997. The systems on the market in a particular country may be more restricted, however, as different systems have tended to evolve in different countries. Prior to the 1990s such systems tended to be custom-built for each property. Since then commercialised packages have developed and are now generally used. Depending on the size of the combisystem installed, the annual space heating contribution can range from 10% to 60% or more in ultra-low energy Passivhaus type buildings; even up to 100% where a large seasonal thermal store or concentrating solar thermal heat is used. The remaining heat requirement is supplied by one or more auxiliary sources in order to maintain the heat supply once the solar heated water is exhausted. Such auxiliary heat sources may also use other renewable energy sources (when a geothermal heat pump is used, the combisystem is called geosolar) and, sometimes, rechargeable batteries. During 2001, around 50% of all the domestic solar collectors installed in Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway were to supply combisystems, while in Sweden it was greater. In Germany, where the total collector area installed (900,000 m2) was much larger than in the other countries, 25% was for combisystem installations. Combisystems have also been installed in Canada since the mid 1980s. Some combisystems can incorporate solar thermal cooling in summer .
Following the work of IEA Task 26 (1998 to 2002), solar combisystems can be classified according to two main aspects; firstly by the heat (or cool) storage category (the way in which water is added to and drawn from the storage tank and its effect on stratification); secondly by the auxiliary heat (or cool) management category (the way in which nonsolar-thermal auxiliary heaters or coolers can be integrated into the system). Maintaining stratification (the variation in water temperature from cooler at the foot of a tank to warmer at the top) is important so that the combisystem can supply hot or cool water and space heating and cooling water at different temperatures. Heat and cool storage categories Description No controlled storage device for space heating and cooling. Heat and cool management and stratification enhancement by means of multiple tanks and/or by multiple inlet/outlet pipes and/or by three- or four-way valves to control flow through the inlet/outlet pipes. Heat and cool management using natural convection in storage tanks and/or between them to maintain stratification to a certain extent. Heat and cool management using natural convection in storage tanks and built-in stratification devices. Heat and cool management by natural convection in storage tanks and built-in stratifiers as well as multiple tanks and/or multiple inlet/outlet pipes and/or three- or four-way valves to control flow through the inlet/outlet pipes. Auxiliary heat and cool management categories Description The space heating loop is fed from a single store heated by both solar collectors and the auxiliary heater.
Category A B C D
Category M (mixed mode)
The space heating and cooling loop is fed alternatively by the solar collectors (or a solar water storage tank), or by the auxiliary heater P (parallel mode) or cooler; or there is no hydraulic connection between the solar heat and cool distribution and the auxiliary heat emissions. S (serial mode) The space heating and cooling loop may be fed by the auxiliary heater, or by both the solar collectors (or a solar water storage tank) and the auxiliary heater connected in series on the return line of the space heating loop.
A solar combisystem may therefore be described as being of type B/DS, CS, etc.
Within these types, systems may be configured in many different ways. For the individual house they may – or may not – have the storage tanks, controls and auxiliary heater and cooler integrated into a single prefabricated package. In contrast, there are also large centralised systems serving a number of properties. The simplest combisystems – the Type A – have no "controlled storage device". Instead they pump warm (or cool) water from the solar collectors through underfloor central heating pipes embedded in the concrete floor slab. The floor slab is thickened to provide thermal mass and so that the heat and cool from the pipes (at the bottom of the slab) is released during the evening.
The size and complexity of combisystems, and the number of options available, mean that comparing design alternatives is not straightforward. Useful approximations of performance can be produced relatively easily, however accurate predictions remain difficult. Tools for designing solar combisystems are available, varying from manufacturer's guidelines to nomograms (such as the one developed for IEA Task 26) to various computer simulation software of varying complexity and accuracy. Among the software and packages are CombiSun (released free by the Task 26 team , which can be used for basic system sizing) and the free SHWwin (Austria, in German ). Other commercial systems are available. Solar combisystems generally use underfloor heating and cooling . Concentrating solar thermal technology may be used to make the collectors as small as possible.
Solar combisystems use similar technologies to those used for solar hot water and for regular central heating and underfloor heating, as well as those used in the auxiliary systems - microgeneration technologies or otherwise. The element unique to combisystems is the way that these technologies are combined, and the control systems used to integrate them, plus any stratifier technology that might be employed.
Relationship to low energy building
By the end of the 20th century solar hot water systems had been capable of meeting a significant portion of domestic hot water in many climate zones. However it was only
with the development of reliable low-energy building techniques in the last decades of the century that extending such systems for space heating became realistic in temperate and colder climatic zones. As heat demand reduces, the overall size and cost of the system is reduced, and the lower water temperatures typical of solar heating may be more readily used - especially when coupled with underfloor heating or wall heating. The volume occupied by the equipment also reduces, which also increases the flexibility of its location. In common with other heating systems in low-energy buildings, system performance is more sensitive to the number of occupants, room temperature and ventilation rates, when compared to regular buildings where such effects are small in relation to the higher overall energy demand.
Solar Thermal Collector
Solar Thermal Collector Dish A solar thermal collector is a solar collector designed to collect heat by absorbing sunlight. The term is applied to solar hot water panels, but may also be used to denote more complex installations such as solar parabolic, solar trough and solar towers or simpler installations such as solar air heat. The more complex collectors are generally used in solar power plants where solar heat is used to generate electricity by heating water to produce steam which drives a turbine connected to an electrical generator. The simpler collectors are typically used for supplemental space heating in residential and commercial buildings. A collector is a device for converting the energy in solar radiation into a more usable or storable form. The energy in sunlight is in the form of electromagnetic radiation from the infrared (long) to the ultraviolet (short) wavelengths. The solar energy striking the Earth's surface depends on weather conditions, as well as location and orientation of the surface, but overall, it averages about 1,000 watts per square meter under clear skies with the surface directly perpendicular to the sun's rays.
Types of solar collectors for heat
Solar collectors fall into two general categories: non-concentrating and concentrating. In the non-concentrating type, the collector area (i.e. the area that intercepts the solar radiation) is the same as the absorber area (i.e., the area absorbing the radiation). In these types the whole solar panel absorbs the light. Flat plate and evacuated tube solar collectors are used to collect heat for space heating or domestic hot water.
Flat plate collectors
Flat plate thermal system for water heating deployed on a flat roof. Flat plate collectors, developed by Hottel and Whillier in the 1950s, are the most common type. They consist of (1) a dark flat-plate absorber of solar energy, (2) a transparent cover that allows solar energy to pass through but reduces heat losses, (3) a heat-transport fluid (air, antifreeze or water) to remove heat from the absorber, and (4) a heat insulating backing. The absorber consists of a thin absorber sheet (of thermally stable polymers, aluminum, steel or copper, to which a matt black or selective coating is applied) often backed by a grid or coil of fluid tubing placed in an insulated casing with a glass or polycarbonate cover. In water heat panels, fluid is usually circulated through tubing to transfer heat from the absorber to an insulated water tank. This may be achieved directly or through a heat exchanger. Most air heat fabricates and some water heat manufacturers have a completely flooded absorber consisting of two sheets of metal
which the fluid passes between. Because the heat exchange area is greater they may be marginally more efficient than traditional absorbers. There are a number of absorber piping configurations:
harp - traditional design with bottom pipe risers and top collection pipe, used in low pressure thermosyphon and pumped systems serpentine - one continuous S that maximizes temperature but not total energy yield in variable flow systems, used in compact solar domestic hot water only systems (no space heating role) completely flooded absorber consisting of two sheets of metal stamped to produce a circulation zone. Because the heat exchange area is greater they may be marginally more efficient than traditional absorbers.
As an alternative to metal collectors, new polymer flat plate collectors are now being produced in Europe. These may be wholly polymer, or they may include metal plates in front of freeze-tolerant water channels made of silicone rubber. Polymers, being flexible and therefore freeze-tolerant, are able to contain plain water instead of antifreeze, so that they may be plumbed directly into existing water tanks instead of needing to use heat exchangers which lower efficiency. By dispensing with a heat exchanger in these flat plate panels, temperatures need not be quite so high for the circulation system to be switched on, so such direct circulation panels, whether polymer or otherwise, can be more efficient, particularly at low light levels. Some early selectively coated polymer collectors suffered from overheating when insulated, as stagnation temperatures can exceed the melting point of the polymer. For example, the melting point of polypropylene is 160°C, while the stagnation temperature of insulated thermal collectors can exceed 180°C if control strategies are not used. For this reason polypropylene is not often used in glazed selectively coated solar collectors. Increasingly polymers such as high temperate silicones (which melt at over 250C) are being used. Some non polypropylene polymer based glazed solar collectors are matt black coated rather than selectively coated to reduce the stagnation temperature to 150C or less. In areas where freezing is a possibility, freeze-tolerance (the capability to freeze repeatedly without cracking) can be delivered by the use of flexible polymers. Silicone rubber pipes have been used for this purpose in UK since 1999. Conventional metal collectors are vulnerable to damage from freezing, so if they are water filled they must be carefully plumbed so they completely drain down using gravity before freezing is expected, so that they do not crack. Many metal collectors are installed as part of a sealed heat exchanger system. Rather than having the potable water flow directly through the collectors, a mixture of water and antifreeze such as propylene glycol (which is used in the food industry) is used as a heat exchange fluid to protect against freeze damage down to a locally determined risk temperature that depends on the proportion of propylene glycol in the mixture. The use of glycol lowers the water's heat carrying capacity
marginally, while the addition of an extra heat exchanger may lower system performance at low light levels. A pool or unglazed collector is a simple form of flat-plate collector without a transparent cover. Typically polypropylene or EPDM rubber or silicone rubber is used as an absorber. Used for pool heating it can work quite well when the desired output temperature is near the ambient temperature (that is, when it is warm outside). As the ambient temperature gets cooler, these collectors become less effective. Most flat plate collectors have a life expectancy of over 25 years.
Evacuated tube collectors
Evacuated tube collector Most (if not all) vacuum tube collectors use heat pipes for their core instead of passing liquid directly through them. Evacuated heat pipe tubes (EHPT's) are composed of multiple evacuated glass tubes each containing an absorber plate fused to a heat pipe. The heat from the hot end of the heat pipes is transferred to the transfer fluid (water or an antifreeze mix—typically propylene glycol) of a domestic hot water or hydronic space heating system in a heat exchanger called a "manifold". The manifold is wrapped in insulation and covered by a sheet metal or plastic case to protect it from the elements. The vacuum that surrounds the outside of the tube greatly reduces convection and conduction heat loss to the outside, therefore achieving greater efficiency than flat-plate collectors, especially in colder conditions. This advantage is largely lost in warmer climates, except in those cases where very hot water is desirable, for example commercial
process water. The high temperatures that can occur may require special system design to avoid or mitigate overheating conditions. Some evacuated tubes (glass-metal) are made with one layer of glass that fuses to the heat pipe at the upper end and encloses the heat pipe and absorber in the vacuum. Others (glass-glass) are made with a double layer of glass fused together at one or both ends with a vacuum between the layers (like a vacuum bottle or flask) with the absorber and heat pipe contained at normal atmospheric pressure. Glass-glass tubes have a highly reliable vacuum seal but the two layers of glass reduce the light that reaches the absorber and there is some possibility that moisture will enter the non-evacuated area of the tube and cause absorber corrosion. Glass-metal tubes allow more light to reach the absorber and protect the absorber and heat pipe (contained in the vacuum) from corrosion even if they are made from dissimilar materials. The gaps between the tubes may allow for snow to fall through the collector, minimizing the loss of production in some snowy conditions, though the lack of radiated heat from the tubes can also prevent effective shedding of accumulated snow.
Comparisons of flat plate and evacuated tube collectors
A long standing argument exists between protagonists of these two technologies. Some of this can be related to the physical structure of evacuated tube collectors which have a discontinuous absorbance area. An array of evacuated tubes on a roof has 1) open space between collector tubes and 2) (vacuum-filled) space occupied between the two concentric glass tubes of each collector tube. Consequently, a square meter of roof area covered with evacuated tubes (collector gross area) is larger than the area comprising the actual absorbers (absorber plate area). If evacuated tubes are compared with flat-plate collectors on the basis of area of roof occupied, a different conclusion might be reached than if the areas of absorber were compared. In addition, the way that the ISO 9806 standard specifies the way in which the efficiency of solar thermal collectors should be measured is ambiguous, since these could be measured either in terms of gross area or in terms of absorber area. Unfortunately, power output is not given for thermal collectors as it is for PV panels. This makes it difficult for purchasers and engineers to make informed decisions.
A comparison of the energy output (kW.h/day) of a flat plate collector (blue lines; ThermoDynamics S42-P; absorber 2.8 m2) and an evacuated tube collector (green lines; SunMaxx 20EVT; absorber 3.1 m2. Data obtained from SRCC certification documents on the Internet. Tm-Ta = temperature difference between water in the collector and the ambient temperature. Q = insolation during the measurements. Firstly, as (Tm-Ta) increases the flat plate collector loses efficiency more rapidly than the evac tube collector. This means the flat plate collector is less efficient in producing water higher than 25 degrees C above ambient (i.e. to the right of the red marks on the graph). Secondly, even though the output of both collectors drop off strongly under cloudy conditions (low insolation), the evac tube collector yields significantly more energy under cloudiness than the flat plate collector. Although many factors obstruct the extrapolation from two collectors to two different technologies, above, the basic relationships between their efficiencies remain valid. A field trial illustrating the differences discussed in the figure on the left. A flat plate collector and a similar-sized evacuated tube collector were installed adjacently on a roof, each with a pump, controller and storage tank. Several variables were logged during a day with intermittent rain and cloud. Green line = solar irradiation. The top maroon line indicates the temperature of the evac tube collector for which cycling of the pump is much slower and even stopping for some 30 minutes during the cool parts of the day (irradiation low), indicating a slow rate of heat collection. The temperature of the flat plate collector fell significantly during the day (bottom purple line), but started cycling again later in the day when irradiation increased. The temperature in the water storage tank of the evac tube system (dark blue graph) increased by 8 degrees C during the day while that of the flat plate system (light blue graph) only remained constant. Courtesy ITS-solar.
Flat-plate collectors usually lose more heat to the environment than evacuated tubes and this loss increases with temperature difference. So they are usually inappropriate choice of solar collector for high temperature commercial applications such as process steam production. Evacuated tube collectors have a lower absorber plate area to gross area ratio (typically 60-80% of gross area) compared to flat plates. (In early designs the absorber area only occupied about 50% of the collector panel. However this has changed as the technology has advanced to maximize the absorption area.) Based on absorber plate area, most evacuated tube systems are more efficient per square meter than equivalent flat plate systems. This makes them suitable where roof space is limiting, for example where the number of occupants of a building is higher than the number of square metres of suitable and available roof space. In general, per installed square metre, evacuated tubes deliver marginally more energy when the ambient temperature is low (e.g. during winter) or when the sky is overcast for long periods. However even in areas without much sunshine and solar heat, some low cost flat plate collectors can be more cost efficient than an evacuated tube collectors. Although several European companies manufacture evacuated tube collectors, the evacuated tube market is dominated by manufacturers in the East. Several Chinese companies have long favorable track records of 15–30 years. There is no unambiguous evidence that the two collector technologies (flat-plate and evacuated tube) differ in long term reliability. However, the evacuated tube technology is younger and (especially for newer variants with sealed heat pipes) still need to prove equivalent lifetimes of equipment when compared to flat plates. The modularity of evacuated tubes can be advantages in terms of extendability and maintenance, for example if the vacuum in one particular tube diminishes. For a given absorber area, evacuated tubes can therefore maintain their efficiency over a wide range of ambient temperatures and heating requirements. In most climates, flat-plate collectors will generally be a more cost-effective solution than evacuated tubes. When employed in arrays, when considered instead on a per square metre basis, the efficient but costly evacuated tube collectors can have a net benefit in winter and also give real advantage in the summer months. They are well suited to cold ambient temperatures and work well in situations of consistently low sunshine, providing heat more consistently than flat plate collectors per square metre. On the other hand, heating of water by a medium to low amount (i.e. Tm-Ta) is much more efficiently performed by flat plate collectors. Domestic hot water frequently falls into this medium category. Glazed or unglazed flat collectors are the preferred devices for heating swimming pool water. Unglazed collectors may be suitable in tropical or subtropical environments if domestic hot water needs to be heated by less than 20°C. A contour map can show which type is more effective (both thermal efficiency and energy/cost) for any geographic region. Besides efficiency, there are other differences. EHPT's work as a thermal one-way valve due to their heat pipes. This also gives them an inherent maximum operating temperature which may be considered a safety feature. They have less aerodynamic drag, which may allow them to be laid onto the roof without being tied down. They can collect thermal radiation from the bottom in addition to the top. Tubes can be replaced individually without shutting down the entire system. There is no condensation or corrosion within the tubes. There is the question of vacuum leakage over their lifetime. Flat panels have been
around much longer, and are less expensive. They may be easier to clean. Other properties, such as appearance and ease of installation are more subjective.
Unglazed, "transpired" air collector Solar Air Heat collectors heat air directly, almost always for space heating. They are also used for pre-heating make-up air in commercial and industrial HVAC systems. They fall into two categories: Glazed and Unglazed. Glazed systems have a transparent top sheet as well as insulated side and back panels to minimize heat loss to ambient air. The absorber plates in modern panels can have an absorptivity of more than 93%. Air typically passes along the front or back of the absorber plate while scrubbing heat directly from it. Heated air can then be distributed directly for applications such as space heating and drying or may be stored for later use.
Unglazed systems, or transpired air systems, consist of an absorber plate which air passes across or through as it scrubs heat from the absorber. These systems are typically used for pre-heating make-up air in commercial buildings. These technologies are among the most efficient, dependable, and economical solar technologies available. Payback for glazed solar air heating panels can be less than 9–15 years depending on the fuel being replaced.
Types of solar collectors for electricity generation
Parabolic troughs, dishes and towers described in this section are used almost exclusively in solar power generating stations or for research purposes. The conversion efficiency of a solar collector is expressed as eta0 or η0.
Parabolic trough This type of collector is generally used in solar power plants. A trough-shaped parabolic reflector is used to concentrate sunlight on an insulated tube (Dewar tube) or heat pipe, placed at the focal point, containing coolant which transfers heat from the collectors to the boilers in the power station.
Solar Parabolic dish It is the most powerful type of collector which concentrates sunlight at a single, focal point, via one or more parabolic dishes—arranged in a similar fashion to a reflecting telescope focuses starlight, or a dish antenna focuses radio waves. This geometry may be used in solar furnaces and solar power plants. There are two key phenomena to understand in order to comprehend the design of a parabolic dish. One is that the shape of a parabola is defined such that incoming rays which are parallel to the dish's axis will be reflected toward the focus, no matter where on the dish they arrive. The second key is that the light rays from the sun arriving at the Earth's surface are almost completely parallel. So if dish can be aligned with its axis pointing at the sun, almost all of the incoming radiation will be reflected towards the focal point of the dish—most losses are due to imperfections in the parabolic shape and imperfect reflection. Losses due to atmosphere between the dish and its focal point are minimal, as the dish is generally designed specifically to be small enough that this factor is insignificant on a clear, sunny day. Compare this though with some other designs, and you will see that this could be an important factor, and if the local weather is hazy, or foggy, it may reduce the efficiency of a parabolic dish significantly.
In some power plant designs, a stirling engine coupled to a dynamo, is placed at the focus of the dish, which absorbs the heat of the incident solar radiation, and converts it into electricity.
Power Tower A power tower is a large tower surrounded by tracking mirrors called heliostats. These mirrors align themselves and focus sunlight on the receiver at the top of tower, collected heat is transferred to a power station below.
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Very high temperatures reached. High temperatures are suitable for electricity generation using conventional methods like steam turbine or some direct high temperature chemical reaction. Good efficiency. By concentrating sunlight current systems can get better efficiency than simple solar cells. A larger area can be covered by using relatively inexpensive mirrors rather than using expensive solar cells. Concentrated light can be redirected to a suitable location via optical fiber cable. For example illuminating buildings.
Heat storage for power production during cloudy and overnight conditions can be accomplished, often by underground tank storage of heated fluids. Molten salts have been used to good effect.
Concentrating systems require sun tracking to maintain Sunlight focus at the collector. Inability to provide power in diffused light conditions. Solar Cells are able to provide some output even if the sky becomes a little bit cloudy, but power output from concentrating systems drop drastically in cloudy conditions as diffused light cannot be concentrated passively.
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ISO 9806: Test methods for solar collectors. EN 12975: Thermal solar systems and components. Solar collectors. EN 12976: Thermal solar systems and components. Factory made systems. EN 12977: Thermal solar systems and components. Custom made systems. Solar Keymark: Thermal solar systems and components. Higher level EN 1297X series certification which includes factory visits.
Solar trackers may be driven by active or passive solar technology Active solar technologies are employed to convert solar energy into usable light, heat, cause air-movement for ventilation or cooling, or store heat for future use. Active solar uses electrical or mechanical equipment, such as pumps and fans, to increase the usable heat in a system. Solar energy collection and utilization systems that do not use external energy, like a solar chimney, are classified as passive solar technologies. Solar hot water systems, except those based on the thermosiphon, use pumps or fans to circulate water, an anti-freeze mixture, or air through solar collectors, and are therefore classified under active solar technology. The solar collectors can be nonconcentrating or 'flat-plate', or of various concentrating designs. Most solar-thermal collectors have fixed mounting, but can have a higher performance if they track the path of the sun through the sky. Solar trackers, used to orient photovoltaic arrays or daylighting, may be driven by either passive or active technology.
Solar technology comparison
Active solar-thermal systems, via small pumps or fans, can have significantly higher solar savings fractions than passive solar technologies due to greatly enhanced heat transfer and transport. Many of the most advanced technologies to actively use solar energy are
photovoltaics, or solar energy systems. These are often remunerated through feed in tariffs, which are the most effective means of promoting solar energy.
Solar panels are used in passive and active solar hot water systems Passive solar technologies are means of using sunlight for useful energy without use of active mechanical systems (as contrasted to active solar). Such technologies convert sunlight into usable heat (water, air, thermal mass), cause air-movement for ventilating, or future use, with little use of other energy sources. A common example is a solarium on the equator-side of a building. Passive cooling is the use of the same design principles to reduce summer cooling requirements.Passive solar energy is a type of energy. Technologies that use a significant amount of conventional energy to power pumps or fans are active solar technologies. Some passive systems use a small amount of conventional energy to control dampers, shutters, night insulation, and other devices that enhance solar energy collection, storage, use, and reduce undesirable heat transfer. Passive solar technologies include direct and indirect solar gain for space heating, solar water heating systems based on the thermosiphon or geyser pump, use of thermal mass
and phase-change materials for slowing indoor air temperature swings, solar cookers, the solar chimney for enhancing natural ventilation, and earth sheltering. More widely, passive solar technologies include the solar furnace and solar forge, but these typically require some external energy for aligning their concentrating mirrors or receivers, and historically have not proven to be practical or cost effective for widespread use. 'Lowgrade' energy needs, such as space and water heating, have proven, over time, to be better applications for passive use of solar energy.
Solar Thermal Energy
Solar thermal system for water heating in Santorini, Greece. Solar thermal energy (STE) is a technology for harnessing solar energy for thermal energy (heat). Solar thermal collectors are classified by the USA Energy Information Administration as low-, medium-, or high-temperature collectors. Low temperature collectors are flat plates generally used to heat swimming pools. Medium-temperature collectors are also usually flat plates but are used for heating water or air for residential and commercial use. High temperature collectors concentrate sunlight using mirrors or lenses and are generally used for electric power production. STE is different from photovoltaics, which convert solar energy directly into electricity. While only 600
megawatts of solar thermal power is up and running worldwide in October 2009 according to Dr David Mills of Ausra, another 400 megawatts is under construction and there are 14,000 megawatts of the more serious concentrating solar thermal (CST) projects being developed.
Of the 21,000,000 square feet (2,000,000 m2) of solar thermal collectors produced in the United States in 2006, 16,000,000 square feet (1,500,000 m2) were of the lowtemperature variety. Low-temperature collectors are generally installed to heat swimming pools, although they can also be used for space heating. Collectors can use air or water as the medium to transfer the heat to their destination.
Heating, cooling, and ventilation
MIT's Solar House #1 built in 1939 used seasonal thermal storage for year round heating. In the United States, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems account for over 25 percent (4.75 EJ) of the energy used in commercial buildings and nearly half (10.1 EJ) of the energy used in residential buildings. Solar heating, cooling, and ventilation technologies can be used to offset a portion of this energy. Thermal mass materials store solar energy during the day and release this energy during cooler periods. Common thermal mass materials include stone, concrete, and water. The proportion and placement of thermal mass should consider several factors such as climate, daylighting, and shading conditions. When properly incorporated, thermal mass can passively maintain comfortable temperatures while reducing energy consumption. A solar chimney (or thermal chimney) is a passive solar ventilation system composed of a hollow thermal mass connecting the interior and exterior of a building. As the chimney
warms, the air inside is heated causing an updraft that pulls air through the building. These systems have been in use since Roman times and remain common in the Middle East. Solar space heating with solar air heat collectors is more popular in USA and Canada than heating with solar liquid collectors since most buildings already have a ventilation system for heating and cooling. The two main types of solar air panels are glazed and unglazed. Glazed Solar Collectors are designed primarily for space heating and they recirculate building air through a solar air panel where the air is heated and then directed back into the building. These solar space heating systems require at least two penetrations into the building and only perform when the air in the solar collector is warmer than the building room temperature. Most glazed collectors are used in the residential sector.
Unglazed, "transpired" air collector
Unglazed Solar Collectors are primarily used to pre-heat make-up ventilation air in commercial, industrial and institutional buildings with a high ventilation load. They turn building walls or sections of walls into low cost, high performance, unglazed solar collectors. Also called, "transpired solar panels", they employ a painted perforated metal solar heat absorber that also serves as the exterior wall surface of the building. Heat conducts from the absorber surface to the thermal boundary layer of air 1 mm thick on the outside of the absorber and to air that passes behind the absorber. The boundary layer of air is drawn into a nearby perforation before the heat can escape by convection to the outside air. The heated air is then drawn from behind the absorber plate into the building's ventilation system. A Trombe wall is a passive solar heating and ventilation system consisting of an air channel sandwiched between a window and a sun-facing thermal mass. During the ventilation cycle, sunlight stores heat in the thermal mass and warms the air channel causing circulation through vents at the top and bottom of the wall. During the heating cycle the Trombe wall radiates stored heat. Solar roof ponds are unique solar heating and cooling systems developed by Harold Hay in the 1960s. A basic system consists of a roof-mounted water bladder with a movable insulating cover. This system can control heat exchange between interior and exterior environments by covering and uncovering the bladder between night and day. When heating is a concern the bladder is uncovered during the day allowing sunlight to warm the water bladder and store heat for evening use. When cooling is a concern the covered bladder draws heat from the building's interior during the day and is uncovered at night to radiate heat to the cooler atmosphere. The Skytherm house in Atascadero, California uses a prototype roof pond for heating and cooling. Active solar cooling can be achieved via absorption refrigeration cycles, desiccant cycles, and solar mechanical processes. In 1878, Auguste Mouchout pioneered solar cooling by making ice using a solar steam engine attached to a refrigeration device. Thermal mass, smart windows and shading methods can also be used to provide cooling. The leaves of deciduous trees provide natural shade during the summer while the bare limbs allow light and warmth into a building during the winter. The water content of trees will also help moderate local temperatures.
Solar Evaporation Ponds in the Atacama Desert. Solar process heating systems are designed to provide large quantities of hot water or space heating for nonresidential buildings. Evaporation ponds are shallow ponds that concentrate dissolved solids through evaporation. The use of evaporation ponds to obtain salt from sea water is one of the oldest applications of solar energy. Modern uses include concentrating brine solutions used in leach mining and removing dissolved solids from waste streams. Altogether, evaporation ponds represent one of the largest commercial applications of solar energy in use today. Unglazed transpired collectors (UTC) are perforated sun-facing walls used for preheating ventilation air. UTCs can raise the incoming air temperature up to 22 °C and deliver outlet temperatures of 45-60 °C. The short payback period of transpired collectors (3 to 12 years) make them a more cost-effective alternative to glazed collection systems. As of 2009, over 1500 systems with a combined collector area of 300,000 m² had been installed worldwide. Representatives include an 860 m² collector in Costa Rica used for drying coffee beans and a 1300 m² collector in Coimbatore, India used for drying marigolds. A food processing facility in Modesto, California uses parabolic troughs to produce steam used in the manufacturing process. The 5,000 m² collector area is expected to provide 4.3 GJ per year.
These collectors could be used to produce approximately 50% and more of the hot water needed for residential and commercial use in the United States. In the United States, a typical system costs $4000–$6000 retail ($1400 to $2200 wholesale for the materials) and 30% of the system qualifies for a federal tax credit + additional state credit exists in about half of the states. Labor for a simple open loop system in southern climates can take 3-5 hours for the installation and 4- 6 hours in Northern areas. Northern system require more collector area and more complex plumbing to protect the collector form freezing. With this incentive, the payback time for a typical household is four to nine years, depending on the state. Similar subsidies exist in parts of Europe. A crew of one solar plumber and two assistants with minimal training can install a system per day. Thermosiphon installation have negligible maintenance costs (costs rise if antifreeze and mains power are used for circulation) and in the US reduces a households' operating costs by $6 per person per month. Solar water heating can reduce CO2 emissions of a family of four by 1 ton/year (if replacing natural gas) or 3 ton/year (if replacing electricity). Mediumtemperature installations can use any of several designs: common designs are pressurized glycol, drain back, batch systems and newer low pressure freeze tolerant systems using polymer pipes containing water with photovoltaic pumping. European and International standards are being reviewed to accommodate innovations in design and operation of medium temperature collectors. Operational innovations include "permanently wetted collector" operation. This innovation reduces or even eliminates the occurrence of noflow high temperature stresses called stagnation which would otherwise reduce the life expectancy of collectors.
Solar thermal energy can be very useful in drying wood for construction and wood fuels such as wood chips for combustion. Solar is also used for food products such as fruits, grains, and fish. Crop drying by solar means is environmentally friendly as well as cost effective while improving the quality. The less money it takes to make a product, the less it can be sold for, pleasing both the buyers and the sellers. Technologies in solar drying include ultra low cost pumped transpired plate air collectors based on black fabrics. Solar thermal energy is helpful in the process of drying products such as wood chips and other forms of biomass by raising the heat while allowing air to pass through and get rid of the moisture.
The Solar Bowl above the Solar Kitchen in Auroville, India concentrates sunlight on a movable receiver to produce steam for cooking. Solar cookers use sunlight for cooking, drying and pasteurization. Solar cooking offsets fuel costs, reduces demand for fuel or firewood, and improves air quality by reducing or removing a source of smoke. The simplest type of solar cooker is the box cooker first built by Horace de Saussure in 1767. A basic box cooker consists of an insulated container with a transparent lid. These cookers can be used effectively with partially overcast skies and will typically reach temperatures of 50–100 °C. Concentrating solar cookers use reflectors to concentrate light on a cooking container. The most common reflector geometries are flat plate, disc and parabolic trough type. These designs cook faster and at higher temperatures (up to 350 °C) but require direct light to function properly. The Solar Kitchen in Auroville, India uses a unique concentrating technology known as the solar bowl. Contrary to conventional tracking reflector/fixed receiver systems, the solar bowl uses a fixed spherical reflector with a receiver which tracks the focus of light as the Sun moves across the sky. The solar bowl's receiver reaches temperature of 150 °C that is used to produce steam that helps cook 2,000 daily meals. Many other solar kitchens in India use another unique concentrating technology known as the Scheffler reflector. This technology was first developed by Wolfgang Scheffler in
1986. A Scheffler reflector is a parabolic dish that uses single axis tracking to follow the Sun's daily course. These reflectors have a flexible reflective surface that is able to change its curvature to adjust to seasonal variations in the incident angle of sunlight. Scheffler reflectors have the advantage of having a fixed focal point which improves the ease of cooking and are able to reach temperatures of 450-650 °C. Built in 1999, the world's largest Scheffler reflector system in Abu Road, Rajasthan India is capable of cooking up to 35,000 meals a day. By early 2008, over 2000 large cookers of the Scheffler design had been built worldwide.
Solar stills can be used to make drinking water in areas that clean water is not common. Solar distillation is necessary in these situations to provide people with purified water. Solar energy heats up the water in the still. The water then evaporates and condenses on the bottom of the covering glass.
The solar furnace at Odeillo in the French Pyrenees-Orientales can reach temperatures up to 3,800 degrees Celsius.
Concentrated solar power plant using parabolic trough design. Where temperatures below about 95 °C are sufficient, as for space heating, flat-plate collectors of the nonconcentrating type are generally used. Because of the relatively high heat losses through the glazing, flat plate collectors will not reach temperatures much above 200 °C even when the heat transfer fluid is stagnant. Such temperatures are too low for efficient conversion to electricity. The efficiency of heat engines increases with the temperature of the heat source. To achieve this in solar thermal energy plants, solar radiation is concentrated by mirrors or lenses to obtain higher temperatures — a technique called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). The practical effect of high efficiencies is to reduce the plant's collector size and total land use per unit power generated, reducing the environmental impacts of a power plant as well as its expense. As the temperature increases, different forms of conversion become practical. Up to 600 °C, steam turbines, standard technology, have an efficiency up to 41%. Above this, gas turbines can be more efficient. Higher temperatures are problematic because different materials and techniques are needed. One proposal for very high temperatures is to use liquid fluoride salts operating between 700 °C to 800 °C, using multi-stage turbine systems to achieve 50% or more thermal efficiencies. The higher operating temperatures permit the plant to use higher-temperature dry heat exchangers for its thermal exhaust, reducing the plant's water use — critical in the deserts where large solar plants are practical. High temperatures also make heat storage more efficient, because more watthours are stored per unit of fluid. Since the CSP plant generates heat first of all, it can store the heat before conversion to electricity. With current technology, storage of heat is much cheaper and more efficient than storage of electricity. In this way, the CSP plant can produce electricity day and night. If the CSP site has predictable solar radiation, then the CSP plant becomes a reliable power plant. Reliability can further be improved by installing a back-up system that uses fossil energy. The back-up system can reuse most of the CSP plant, which decreases the cost of the back-up system.
With reliability, unused desert, no pollution, and no fuel costs, the obstacles for large deployment for CSP are cost, aesthetics, land use and similar factors for the necessary connecting high tension lines. Although only a small percentage of the desert is necessary to meet global electricity demand, still a large area must be covered with mirrors or lenses to obtain a significant amount of energy. An important way to decrease cost is the use of a simple design.
During the day the sun has different positions. If the mirrors or lenses do not move, then the focus of the mirrors or lenses changes. Therefore it seems unavoidable that there needs to be a tracking system that follows the position of the sun (for solar photovoltaic a solar tracker is only optional). The tracking system increases the cost and complexity. With this in mind, different designs can be distinguished in how they concentrate the light and track the position of the sun. Parabolic trough designs
Sketch of a parabolic trough design. A change of position of the sun parallel to the receiver does not require adjustment of the mirrors. Parabolic trough power plants use a curved, mirrored trough which reflects the direct solar radiation onto a glass tube containing a fluid (also called a receiver, absorber or collector) running the length of the trough, positioned at the focal point of the reflectors. The trough is parabolic along one axis and linear in the orthogonal axis. For change of the daily position of the sun perpendicular to the receiver, the trough tilts east to west so that the direct radiation remains focused on the receiver. However, seasonal changes in the in angle of sunlight parallel to the trough does not require adjustment of the mirrors, since the light is simply concentrated elsewhere on the receiver. Thus the trough design does not require tracking on a second axis. The receiver may be enclosed in a glass vacuum chamber. The vacuum significantly reduces convective heat loss.
A fluid (also called heat transfer fluid) passes through the receiver and becomes very hot. Common fluids are synthetic oil, molten salt and pressurized steam. The fluid containing the heat is transported to a heat engine where about a third of the heat is converted to electricity. Andasol 1 in Gaudix, Spain uses the Parabolic Trough design which consists of long parallel rows of modular solar collectors. Tracking the sun from East to West by rotation on one axis, the high precision reflector panels concentrate the solar radiation coming directly from the sun onto an absorber pipe located along the focal line of the collector. A heat transfer medium, a synthetic oil like in car engines, is circulated through the absorber pipes at temperatures up to 400 °C and generates live steam to drive the steam turbine generator of a conventional power block.
Concentrating solar power systems are a fast growing source of sustainable energy. Full-scale parabolic trough systems consist of many such troughs laid out in parallel over a large area of land. Since 1985 a solar thermal system using this principle has been in full operation in California in the United States. It is called the SEGS system. Other CSP designs lack this kind of long experience and therefore it can currently be said that the parabolic trough design is the most thoroughly proven CSP technology. The Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) is a collection of nine plants with a total capacity of 350MW. It is currently the largest operational solar system (both thermal and non-thermal). A newer plant is Nevada Solar One plant with a capacity of 64MW. Under
construction are Andasol 1 and Andasol 2 in Spain with each site having a capacity of 50MW. Note however, that those plants have heat storage which requires a larger field of solar collectors relative to the size of the steam turbine-generator to store heat and send heat to the steam turbine at the same time. Heat storage enables better utilization of the steam turbine. With day and some nighttime operation of the steam-turbine Andasol 1 at 50MW peak capacity produces more energy than Nevada Solar One at 64 MW peak capacity, due to the former plant's thermal energy storage system and larger solar field. 553MW new capacity is proposed in Mojave Solar Park, California. Furthermore, 59MW hybrid plant with heat storage is proposed near Barstow, California . Near Kuraymat in Egypt, some 40MW steam is used as input for a gas powered plant. Finally, 25MW steam input for a gas power plant in Hassi R'mel, Algeria. Power tower designs
Solar Two. Flat mirrors focus the light on the top of the tower. The white surfaces below the receiver are used for calibrating the mirror positions.
eSolar's 5 MW Sierra SunTower facility features arrays of heliostats (mirrors with suntracking motion) to concentrate sunlight on to a central receiver mounted at the top of a tower. Sierra SunTower is located in Lancaster, California. Power towers (also known as 'central tower' power plants or 'heliostat' power plants) capture and focus the sun's thermal energy with thousands of tracking mirrors (called heliostats) in roughly a two square mile field. A tower resides in the center of the heliostat field. The heliostats focus concentrated sunlight on a receiver which sits on top of the tower. Within the receiver the concentrated sunlight heats molten salt to over 1,000 °F (538 °C). The heated molten salt then flows into a thermal storage tank where it is stored, maintaining 98% thermal efficiency, and eventually pumped to a steam generator. The steam drives a standard turbine to generate electricity. This process, also known as the "Rankine cycle" is similar to a standard coal-fired power plant, except it is fueled by clean and free solar energy. The advantage of this design above the parabolic trough design is the higher temperature. Thermal energy at higher temperatures can be converted to electricity more efficiently and can be more cheaply stored for later use. Furthermore, there is less need to flatten the ground area. In principle a power tower can be built on a hillside. Mirrors can be flat and plumbing is concentrated in the tower. The disadvantage is that each mirror must have its own dual-axis control, while in the parabolic trough design one axis can be shared for a large array of mirrors.
SolarReserve, a Santa Monica, CA-based solar developer, uses this technology for the development of its concentrated solar thermal plants with storage. The plants were designed by United Technologies Corporation. United Technologies' subsidiary, Rocketdyne, demonstrated the technology at the Solar One (1982–1986) and Solar Two (1995–1999) power tower plants in Southern California, although these plants were designed by the Department of Energy (DOE), Southern California Edison, LA Dept of Water and Power, and California Energy Commission. United Technologies has granted SolarReserve an exclusive worldwide license to develop such power plants. In November 2009, SolarReserve and a Madrid-based renewable energy developer, Preneal, received the key environmental permit that is necessary for the construction of their 50 megawatt solar plant in Spain. This project will generate more than 300,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year, or enough electricity to power almost 70,000 houses in the region. The Alcazar Solar Thermal Power Project will use molten salt as a coolant, which is exclusively licensed to SolarReserve by United Technologies Corporation (UTC). In December 2009, SolarReserve announced two power contracts in the United States. The first was with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for the sale of electricity from SolarReserve's Rice Solar Energy Project. The 150-megawatt solar energy project will be located 30 miles (48 km) northwest of the city of Blythe in eastern Riverside County, California. When completed, SolarReserve's facility will supply approximately 450,000 megawatt-hours annually of clean, reliable electricity—enough to power up to 68,000 homes during peak electricity periods—and will use thermal energy storage for nighttime power generation. The second power contract was a 25-year power purchase agreement with NV Energy for the sale of electricity from SolarReserve's Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. Developed and owned by SolarReserve's subsidiary, Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC, the project will be located near the town of Tonopah in Nye County, Nevada. When completed, Tonopah Solar Energy's facility will supply approximately 480,000 megawatt hours annually. In June 2008, eSolar, a Pasadena, CA-based company founded by Idealab CEO Bill Gross with funding from Google, announced a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the utility Southern California Edison to produce 245 megawatts of power. Also, in February 2009, eSolar announced it had licensed its technology to two development partners, the Princeton, N.J.-based NRG Energy, Inc., and the India-based ACME Group. In the deal with NRG, the companies announced plans to jointly build 500 megawatts of concentrating solar thermal plants throughout the United States. The target goal for the ACME Group was nearly double; ACME plans to start construction on its first eSolar power plant this year, and will build a total of 1 gigawatt over the next 10 years. eSolar's proprietary sun-tracking software coordinates the movement of 24,000 1 metersquare mirrors per 1 tower using optical sensors to adjust and calibrate the mirrors in real time. This allows for a high density of reflective material which enables the development
of modular concentrating solar thermal (CSP) power plants in 46 megawatt (MW) units on approximately π square mile parcels of land, resulting in a land-to-power ratio of 4 acres (16,000 m2) per 1 megawatt. BrightSource Energy entered into a series of power purchase agreements with Pacific Gas and Electric Company in March 2008 for up to 900MW of electricity, the largest solar power commitment ever made by a utility. BrightSource is currently developing a number of solar power plants in Southern California, with construction of the first plant planned to start in 2009. In June 2008, BrightSource Energy dedicated its 4-6 MW Solar Energy Development Center (SEDC) in Israel's Negev Desert. The site, located in the Rotem Industrial Park, features more than 1,600 heliostats that track the sun and reflect light onto a 60 meterhigh tower. The concentrated energy is then used to heat a boiler atop the tower to 550 degrees Celsius, generating superheated steam. A working tower power plant is PS10 in Spain with a capacity of 11MW. The 15MW Solar Tres plant with heat storage is under construction in Spain. In South Africa, a 100MW solar power plant is planned with 4000 to 5000 heliostat mirrors, each having an area of 140 m². A 10MW power plant in Cloncurry, Australia (with purified graphite as heat storage located on the tower directly by the receiver). Out of commission are the 10MW Solar One (later redeveloped and made into Solar Two) and the 2MW Themis plants. A cost/performance comparison between power tower and parabolic trough concentrators was made by the NREL which estimated that by 2020 electricity could be produced from power towers for 5.47 ₡/kWh and for 6.21 ₡/kWh from parabolic troughs. The capacity factor for power towers was estimated to be 72.9% and 56.2% for parabolic troughs. There is some hope that the development of cheap, durable, mass producible heliostat power plant components could bring this cost down. Dish designs
A parabolic solar dish concentrating the sun's rays on the heating element of a Stirling engine. The entire unit acts as a solar tracker. A dish system uses a large, reflective, parabolic dish (similar in shape to satellite television dish). It focuses all the sunlight that strikes the dish up onto to a single point above the dish, where a receiver captures the heat and transforms it into a useful form. Typically the dish is coupled with a Stirling engine in a Dish-Stirling System, but also sometimes a steam engine is used. These create rotational kinetic energy that can be converted to electricity using an electric generator. The advantage of a dish system is that it can achieve much higher temperatures due to the higher concentration of light (as in tower designs). Higher temperatures leads to better conversion to electricity and the dish system is very efficient on this point. However, there are also some disadvantages. Heat to electricity conversion requires moving parts and that results in maintenance. In general, a centralized approach for this conversion is better than the dencentralized concept in the dish design. Second, the (heavy) engine is part of the moving structure, which requires a rigid frame and strong tracking system. Furthermore, parabolic mirrors are used instead of flat mirrors and tracking must be dualaxis. In 2005 Southern California Edison announced an agreement to purchase solar powered Stirling engines from Stirling Energy Systems over a twenty year period and in quantities (20,000 units) sufficient to generate 500 megawatts of electricity. Stirling Energy Systems announced another agreement with San Diego Gas & Electric to provide between 300 and 900 megawatts of electricity. In January 2010, Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar commissioned the first demonstration 1.5-megawatt power plant ("Maricopa Solar") using Stirling technology in Peoria, Arizona. Fresnel reflectors
Wind load is avoided by the low position of the mirrors. Light construction of tracking system due to separation from the receiver. A linear Fresnel reflector power plant uses a series of long, narrow, shallow-curvature (or even flat) mirrors to focus light onto one or more linear receivers positioned above the mirrors. On top of the receiver a small parabolic mirror can be attached for further focusing the light. These systems aim to offer lower overall costs by sharing a receiver between several mirrors (as compared with trough and dish concepts), while still using the simple line-focus geometry with one axis for tracking. This is similar to the trough design (and different from central towers and dishes with dual-axis). The receiver is stationary and so fluid couplings are not required (as in troughs and dishes). The mirrors also do not need to support the receiver, so they are structurally simpler. When suitable aiming strategies are used (mirrors aimed at different receivers at different times of day), this can allow a denser packing of mirrors on available land area. Recent prototypes of these types of systems have been built in Australia (CLFR ) and by Solarmundo in Belgium. The Solarmundo research and development project, with its pilot plant at Liège, was closed down after successful proof of concept of the Linear Fresnel technology. Subsequently, Solar Power Group GmbH (SPG), based in Munich, Germany, was founded by some Solarmundo team members. A Fresnel-based prototype with direct steam generation was built by SPG in conjunction with the German Aerospace Center (DLR ).
Based on the Australian prototype, a 177MW plant had been proposed near San Luis Obispo in California and would be built by Ausra. But Ausra sold its planned California solar farm to First Solar. First Solar will not build the Carrizo project, and the deal has resulted in the cancellation of Ausra’s contract to provide 177 megawatts to P.G.& E . Small capacity plants are an enormous economical challenge with conventional parabolic trough and drive design — few companies build such small projects. There are plans for SHP Europe, former Ausra subsidiary, to build a 6.5 MW combined cycle plant in Portugal. The German company SK Energy ]) has plans to build several small 1-3 MW plants in Southern Europe (esp. in Spain) using Fresnel mirror and steam drive technology (Press Release ). In May 2008, the German Solar Power Group GmbH and the Spanish Laer S.L. agreed the joint execution of a solar thermal power plant in central Spain. This will be the first commercial solar thermal power plant in Spain based on the Fresnel collector technology of the Solar Power Group. The planned size of the power plant will be 10 MW a solar thermal collector field with a fossil co-firing unit as backup system. The start of constructions is planned for 2009. The project is located in Gotarrendura, a small renewable energy pioneering village, about 100 km northwest of Madrid, Spain. A Multi-Tower Solar Array (MTSA) concept, that uses a point-focus Fresnel reflector idea, has also been developed, but has not yet been prototyped. Since March 2009, the Fresnel solar power plant PE 1 of the German company Novatec Biosol is in commercial operation in southern Spain . The solar thermal power plant is based on linear Fresnel collector technology and has an electrical capacity of 1.4 MW. Beside a conventional power block, PE 1 comprises a solar boiler with mirror surface of around 18,000m². The steam is generated by concentrating direct solar irradiation onto a linear receiver which is 7.40m above the ground. An absorber tube is positioned in the focal line of the mirror field in which water is evaporated directly into saturated steam at 270 °C and at a pressure of 55 bar by the concentrated solar energy. Linear Fresnel Reflector (LFR) and compact-LFR Technologies
Fresnel solar power plant PE 1 in southern Spain Rival single axis tracking technologies include the relatively new Linear Fresnel reflector (LFR) and compact-LFR (CLFR) technologies. The LFR differs from that of the parabolic trough in that the absorber is fixed in space above the mirror field. Also, the reflector is composed of many low row segments, which focus collectively on an elevated long tower receiver running parallel to the reflector rotational axis. This system offers a lower cost solution as the absorber row is shared among several rows of mirrors. However, one fundamental difficulty with the LFR technology is the avoidance of shading of incoming solar radiation and blocking of reflected solar radiation by adjacent reflectors. Blocking and shading can be reduced by using absorber towers elevated higher or by increasing the absorber size, which allows increased spacing between reflectors remote from the absorber. Both these solutions increase costs, as larger ground usage is required. The compact linear Fresnel reflector (CLFR) offers an alternate solution to the LFR problem. The classic LFR has only one linear absorber on a single linear tower. This prohibits any option of the direction of orientation of a given reflector. Since this technology would be introduced in a large field, one can assume that there will be many linear absorbers in the system. Therefore, if the linear absorbers are close enough, individual reflectors will have the option of directing reflected solar radiation to at least
two absorbers. This additional factor gives potential for more densely packed arrays, since patterns of alternative reflector inclination can be set up such that closely packed reflectors can be positioned without shading and blocking. CLFR power plants offer reduced costs in all elements of the solar array. These reduced costs encourage the advancement of this technology. Features that enhance the cost effectiveness of this system compared to that of the parabolic trough technology include minimized structural costs, minimized parasitic pumping losses, and low maintenance. Minimized structural costs are attributed to the use of flat or elastically curved glass reflectors instead of costly sagged glass reflectors are mounted close to the ground. Also, the heat transfer loop is separated from the reflector field, avoiding the cost of flexible high pressure lines required in trough systems. Minimized parasitic pumping losses are due to the use of water for the heat transfer fluid with passive direct boiling. The use of glass-evacuated tubes ensures low radiative losses and is inexpensive. Studies of existing CLFR plants have been shown to deliver tracked beam to electricity efficiency of 19% on an annual basis as a preheater. Fresnel lenses Prototypes of Fresnel lens concentrators have been produced for the collection of thermal energy by International Automated Systems. No full-scale thermal systems using Fresnel lenses are known to be in operation, although products incorporating Fresnel lenses in conjunction with photovoltaic cells are already available. The advantage of this design is that lenses are cheaper than mirrors. Furthermore, if a material is chosen that has some flexibility, then a less rigid frame is required to withstand wind load. A new concept of a lightweight, 'non-disruptive' solar concentrator technology using asymmetric Fresnel lenses that occupies minimal ground surface area and allows for large amounts of concentrated solar energy per concentrator is seen in the 'Desert Blooms' project, though a prototype has yet to be made. MicroCSP "MicroCSP" references solar thermal technologies in which concentrating solar power (CSP) collectors are based on the designs used in traditional Concentrating Solar Power systems found in the Mojave Desert but are smaller in collector size, lighter and operate at lower thermal temperatures usually below 315 °C (600 °F). These systems are designed for modular field or rooftop installation where they are easy to protect from high winds, snow and humid deployments. Solar manufacturer Sopogy completed construction on a 1MW CSP plant at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. MicroCSP is used for community-sized power plants (1MW to 50MW), for industrial, agricultural and manufacturing 'process heat' applications, and when large amounts of hot water are needed, such as resort swimming pools, water parks, large laundry facilities, sterilization, distillation and other such uses.
Heat in a solar thermal system is guided by five basic principles: heat gain; heat transfer; heat storage; heat transport; and heat insulation. Here, heat is the measure of the amount of thermal energy an object contains and is determined by the temperature, mass and specific heat of the object. Solar thermal power plants use heat exchangers that are designed for constant working conditions, to provide heat exchange. Heat gain is the heat accumulated from the sun in the system. Solar thermal heat is trapped using the greenhouse effect; the greenhouse effect in this case is the ability of a reflective surface to transmit short wave radiation and reflect long wave radiation. Heat and infrared radiation (IR) are produced when short wave radiation light hits the absorber plate, which is then trapped inside the collector. Fluid, usually water, in the absorber tubes collect the trapped heat and transfer it to a heat storage vault. Heat is transferred either by conduction or convection. When water is heated, kinetic energy is transferred by conduction to water molecules throughout the medium. These molecules spread their thermal energy by conduction and occupy more space than the cold slow moving molecules above them. The distribution of energy from the rising hot water to the sinking cold water contributes to the convection process. Heat is transferred from the absorber plates of the collector in the fluid by conduction. The collector fluid is circulated through the carrier pipes to the heat transfer vault. Inside the vault, heat is transferred throughout the medium through convection. Heat storage enables solar thermal plants to produce electricity during hours without sunlight. Heat is transferred to a thermal storage medium in an insulated reservoir during hours with sunlight, and is withdrawn for power generation during hours lacking sunlight. Thermal storage mediums will be discussed in a heat storage section. Rate of heat transfer is related to the conductive and convection medium as well as the temperature differences. Bodies with large temperature differences transfer heat faster than bodies with lower temperature differences. Heat transport refers to the activity in which heat from a solar collector is transported to the heat storage vault. Heat insulation is vital in both heat transport tubing as well as the storage vault. It prevents heat loss, which in turn relates to energy loss, or decrease in the efficiency of the system.
Heat storage allows a solar thermal plant to produce electricity at night and on overcast days. This allows the use of solar power for baseload generation as well as peak power generation, with the potential of displacing both coal and natural gas fired power plants. Additionally, the utilization of the generator is higher which reduces cost.
Heat is transferred to a thermal storage medium in an insulated reservoir during the day, and withdrawn for power generation at night. Thermal storage media include pressurized steam, concrete, a variety of phase change materials, and molten salts such as sodium and potassium nitrate.
The PS10 solar power tower stores heat in tanks as pressurized steam at 50 bar and 285 °C. The steam condenses and flashes back to steam, when pressure is lowered. Storage is for one hour. It is suggested that longer storage is possible, but that has not been proven yet in an existing power plant.
Molten salt storage
A variety of fluids have been tested to transport the sun's heat, including water, air, oil, and sodium, but molten salt was selected as best. Molten salt is used in solar power tower systems because it is liquid at atmosphere pressure, it provides an efficient, low-cost medium in which to store thermal energy, its operating temperatures are compatible with today's high-pressure and high-temperature steam turbines, and it is non-flammable and nontoxic. In addition, molten salt is used in the chemical and metals industries as a heattransport fluid, so experience with molten-salt systems exists in non-solar settings. The molten salt is a mixture of 60 percent sodium nitrate and 40 percent potassium nitrate, commonly called saltpeter. New studies show that calcium nitrate could be included in the salts mixture to reduce costs and with technical benefits. The salt melts at 220 °C (430 °F) and is kept liquid at 290 °C (550 °F) in an insulated storage tank. The uniqueness of this solar system is in de-coupling the collection of solar energy from producing power, electricity can be generated in periods of inclement weather or even at night using the stored thermal energy in the hot salt tank. Normally tanks are well insulated and can store energy for up to a week. As an example of their size, tanks that provide enough thermal storage to power a 100-megawatt turbine for four hours would be about 9 m (30 ft) tall and 24 m (80 ft) in diameter. The Andasol power plant in Spain is the first commercial solar thermal power plant to utilize molten salt for heat storage and nighttime generation. It came online March 2009.
Graphite heat storage
Direct The proposed power plant in Cloncurry Australia will store heat in purified graphite. The plant has a power tower design. The graphite is located on top of the tower. Heat from the heliostats goes directly to the storage. Heat for energy production is drawn from the graphite. This simplifies the design. Indirect Molten salt coolants are used to transfer heat from the reflectors to heat storage vaults.
The heat from the salts are transferred to a secondary heat transfer fluid via a heat exchanger and then to the storage media, or alternatively, the salts can be used to directly heat graphite. Graphite is used as it has relatively low costs and compatibility with liquid fluoride salts. The high mass and volumetric heat capacity of graphite provide an efficient storage medium.
Phase-change materials for storage
Phase Change Material (PCMs) offer an alternate solution in energy storage. Using a similar heat transfer infrastructure, PCMs have the potential of providing a more efficient means of storage. PCMs can be either organic or inorganic materials. Advantages of organic PCMs include no corrosives, low or no undercooling, and chemical and thermal stability. Disadvantages include low phase-change enthalpy, low thermal conductivity, and flammability. Inorganics are advantageous with greater phase-change enthalpy, but exhibit disadvantages with undercooling, corrosion, phase separation, and lack of thermal stability. The greater phase-change enthalpy in inorganic PCMs make hydrate salts a strong candidate in the solar energy storage field.
Use of water
A design which requires water for condensation or cooling may conflict with location of solar thermal plants in desert areas with good solar radiation but limited water resources. The conflict is illustrated by plans of Solar Millennium, a German company, to build a plant in the Amargosa Valley of Nevada which would require 20% of the water available in the area. Some other projected plants by the same and other companies in the Mojave Desert of California may also be affected by difficulty in obtaining adequate and appropriate water rights. California water law currently prohibits use of potable water for cooling. Other designs require less water. The proposed Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in southeastern California will conserve scarce desert water by using air-cooling to convert the steam back into water. Compared to conventional wet-cooling, this results in a 90 percent reduction in water usage . The water is then returned to the boiler in a closed process which is environmentally friendly.
Conversion rates from solar energy to electrical energy
Of all of these technologies the solar dish/stirling engine has the highest energy efficiency. A single solar dish-Stirling engine installed at Sandia National Laboratories National Solar Thermal Test Facility produces as much as 25 kW of electricity, with a conversion efficiency of 31.25%. Solar parabolic trough plants have been built with efficiencies of about 20%. Fresnel reflectors have an efficiency that is slightly lower (but this is compensated by the denser packing).
The gross conversion efficiencies (taking into account that the solar dishes or troughs occupy only a fraction of the total area of the power plant) are determined by net generating capacity over the solar energy that falls on the total area of the solar plant. The 500-megawatt (MW) SCE/SES plant would extract about 2.75% of the radiation that falls on its 4,500 acres (18.2 km²). For the 50 MW AndaSol Power Plant that is being built in Spain (total area of 1,300×1,500 m = 1.95 km²) gross conversion efficiency comes out at 2.6% Furthermore, efficiency does not directly relate to cost: on calculating total cost, both efficiency and the cost of construction and maintenance should be taken into account.
Since a solar power plant does not use any fuel, the cost consists mostly of capital cost with minor operational and maintenance cost. If the lifetime of the plant and the interest rate is known, then the cost per kWh can be calculated. This is called the levelised energy cost. The first step in the calculation is to determine the investment for the production of 1 kWh in a year. Example, the fact sheet of the Andasol 1 project shows a total investment of 310 million euros for a production of 179 GWh a year. Since 179 GWh is 179 million kWh, the investment per kWh a year production is 310 / 179 = 1.73 euro. Another example is Cloncurry solar power station in Australia. It is planned to produce 30 million kWh a year for an investment of 31 million Australian dollars. So, if this is achieved in reality, the cost would be 1.03 Australian dollar for the production of 1 kWh in a year. This would be significantly cheaper than Andasol 1, which can partially be explained by the higher radiation in Cloncurry over Spain. The investment per kwh cost for one year should not be confused with the cost per kwh over the complete lifetime of such a plant. In most cases the capacity is specified for a power plant (for instance Andasol 1 has a capacity of 50MW). This number is not suitable for comparison, because the capacity factor can differ. If a solar power plant has heat storage, then it can also produce output after sunset, but that will not change the capacity factor, it simply displaces the output. The average capacity factor for a solar power plant, which is a function of tracking, shading and location, is about 20%, meaning that a 50MW capacity power plant will typically provide a yearly output of 50 MW × 24 hrs × 365 days × 20% = 87,600 MWh/year, or 87.6 GWh/yr. Although the investment for one kWh year production is suitable for comparing the price of different solar power plants, it does not give the price per kWh yet. The way of financing has a great influence on the final price. If the technology is proven, an interest rate of 7% should be possible. However, for a new technology investors want a much higher rate to compensate for the higher risk. This has a significant negative effect on the price per kWh. Independent of the way of financing, there is always a linear relation between the investment per kWh production in a year and the price for 1 kWh (before
adding operational and maintenance cost). In other words, if by enhancements of the technology the investments drop by 20%, then the price per kWh also drops by 20%. If a way of financing is assumed where the money is borrowed and repaid every year, in such way that the debt and interest decreases, then the following formula can be used to calculate the division factor: (1 - (1 + interest / 100) ^ -lifetime) / (interest / 100). For a lifetime of 25 years and an interest rate of 7%, the division factor is 11.65. For example, the investment of Andasol 1 was 1.73 euro per kWh, divided by 11.65 results in a price of 0.15 euro per kWh. If one cent operation and maintenance cost is added, then the levelized cost is 0.16 euro per kWh. Other ways of financing, different way of debt repayment, different lifetime expectation, different interest rate, may lead to a significantly different number. If the cost per kWh may follow the inflation, then the inflation rate can be added to the interest rate. If an investor puts his money on the bank for 7%, then he is not compensated for inflation. However, if the cost per kWh is raised with inflation, then he is compensated and he can add 2% (a normal inflation rate) to his return. The Andasol 1 plant has a guaranteed feed-in tariff of 0.21 euro for 25 years. If this number is fixed, after 25 years with 2% inflation, 0.21 euro will have a value comparable with 0.13 euro now. Finally, there is some gap between the first investment and the first production of electricity. This increases the investment with the interest over the period that the plant is not active yet. The modular solar dish (but also solar photovoltaic and wind power) have the advantage that electricity production starts after first construction. Given the fact that solar thermal power is reliable, can deliver peak load and does not cause pollution, a price of US$0.10 per kWh starts to become competitive. Although a price of US$0.06 has been claimed With some operational cost a simple target is 1 dollar (or lower) investment for 1 kWh production in a year.
Space-Based Solar Power
On the left: Part of the solar energy is lost on its way through the atmosphere by the effects of reflection and absorption. On the right: Space-based solar power systems convert sunlight to microwaves outside the atmosphere, avoiding these losses, and the downtime due to Earth's rotation, experienced by surface installations.
Space-based solar power (SBSP) (or historically space solar power- SSP) is a system for the collection of solar power in space, for use on Earth. SBSP differs from the usual method of solar power collection in that the solar panels used to collect the energy would reside on a satellite in orbit, often referred to as a solar power satellite (SPS), rather than on Earth's surface. In space, collection of the Sun's energy is unaffected by the various obstructions which reduce efficiency or capacities of Earth surface solar power collection. The World Radiation Centre's 1985 standard extraterrestrial level for mean solar irradiance at one astronomical unit from the Sun is 1367 W/m2. The integrated total terrestrial solar irradiance is 950 W/m2. Extraterrestrial solar irradiance is thus 144% of the maximum terrestrial irradiance, and has a different radiation profile, including wavelengths blocked by the atmosphere. A major interest in SBSP stems from the length of time the solar collection panels can be exposed to a consistently high amount of solar radiation. For most of the year, a satellite-based solar panel can collect power 24 hours per day, whereas a terrestrial station can collect for at most 12 hours per day, unless at the poles, but then only for 6 months of the year, if weather permits, and only during peak hours—irradiance under the best of conditions is quite reduced near sunset and sunrise. Collection of solar energy in space for use on Earth introduces two new problems and can alleviate an existing one. First, installation of the collection satellites, and second transmitting energy from them to the surface for use. The first requires upgrading and extension of existing solar panel technologies. Since wires extending from Earth's surface to an orbiting satellite are neither practical nor currently possible, many SBSP designs have proposed the use of microwave beams for wireless power transmission. The collecting satellite would convert solar energy into electrical energy, powering a microwave emitter oriented toward a collector on the Earth's surface. Dynamic solar thermal power systems on satellites are also being investigated. Since the beam can be steered, it can be directed as needed to accommodate periods of high power use in particular locations (e.g., during the hottest part of the day in summer, or cold spells in winter). As well, one of the current problems of electricity use is long distance transmission from generating sites to usage sites. Because at least one type of receiving antenna, the rectenna, is relatively inexpensive, it may be possible to reduce the need for electricity transmission lines by sensible siting of receiving antennas, potentially reducing costs and grid interconnect failures, such as the blackouts of 1965 and 2003. Some problems normally associated with terrestrial solar power collection would be entirely avoided by such a design, e.g., dependence on weather conditions, contamination or corrosion, damage by wildlife or plant encroachment, etc. Other problems will likely be encountered, such as more rapid radiation damage or micrometeoroid impacts.
1968: Dr. Peter Glaser introduced the idea of a large solar power satellite system with square miles of solar collectors in high geosynchronous orbit (GEO is an orbit 36,000 km above the equator), for collection and conversion of sun's energy
into an electromagnetic microwave beam to transmit usable energy to large receiving antennas (rectennas) on Earth for distribution.
1973: Dr. Peter Glaser was granted U.S. patent number 3,781,647 for his method of transmitting power over long distances (e.g., from an SPS to the Earth's surface) using microwaves from a large (on the close order of one square kilometer) antenna on the satellite to a much larger one on the ground, now known as a rectenna. 1970s: DOE and NASA examined the Solar Power Satellite (SPS) concept extensively, publishing the design and feasibility studies. 1994: The United States Air Force conducted the Advanced Photovoltaic Experiment using a satellite launched into low Earth orbit by a Pegasus rocket. 1995–1997: NASA conducted a “Fresh Look” study of space solar power (SSP) concepts and technologies. 1998: Space Solar Power Concept Definition Study (CDS) identified credible commercially viable SSP concepts, identifying technical and programmatic risks. 1998: Japan's space agency starts a program for developing a Space Solar Power System (SSPS), which continues to the present day. 1999: NASA's Space Solar Power Exploratory Research and Technology program begun. 2000: John Mankins of NASA testified in the U.S. House of Representatives, saying "Large-scale SSP is a very complex integrated system of systems that requires numerous significant advances in current technology and capabilities. A technology roadmap has been developed that lays out potential paths for achieving all needed advances — albeit over several decades. 2001: PowerSat Corporation founded by William Maness. 2001: Dr. Neville Marzwell of NASA stated, "We now have the technology to convert the sun's energy at the rate of 42 to 56 percent... We have made tremendous progress. ...If you can concentrate the sun's rays through the use of large mirrors or lenses you get more for your money because most of the cost is in the PV arrays... There is a risk element but you can reduce it... You can put these small receivers in the desert or in the mountains away from populated areas. ...We believe that in 15 to 25 years we can lower that cost to 7 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. ...We offer an advantage. You don't need cables, pipes, gas or copper wires. We can send it to you like a cell phone call—where you want it and when you want it, in real time."
2001: NASDA (Japan's national space agency) announced plans to perform additional research and prototyping by launching an experimental satellite with 10 kilowatts and 1 megawatt of power. 2007: The US Pentagon's National Security Space Office (NSSO) issued a report on October 10, 2007 stating they intend to collect solar energy from space for use on Earth to help the United States' ongoing relationship with the Middle East and the battle for oil. The International Space Station may be the first test ground for this new idea, even though it is in a low-earth orbit. 2007: In May 2007 a workshop was held in the USA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to review the current state of the market and technology. 2009: A new company from the US, Space Energy, Inc., announced plans to provide commercial space-based solar power. They say they have developed a "rock-solid business platform" and should be able to provide space-based solar power within a decade. 2009: American company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced it is seeking regulatory approval for an agreement with Solaren to buy 200 MW of solar power, starting in 2016, which Solaren has plans to provide via SBSP. PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall stated that "We've been very careful not to bear risk in this." 2009: PowerSat Corporation filed a patent application concerning ganging multiple power satellites to form a single coherent microwave beam, and a mechanism to use the solar array to power ion thrusters to lift a power satellite from LEO to GEO. 2009: Jaxa, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced plans to orbit solar power satellites that will transmit energy back to earth via microwaves. They hope to have the first prototype orbiting by 2030. 2010: Europe's largest space company EADS Astrium plans to put a solarcollecting demo satellite in space. 2010: Prof. Andrea Massa and Prof. Giorgio Franceschetti will organize a Special Session on the "Analysis of Electromagnetic Wireless Systems for Solar Power Transmission" at the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation.
The SBSP concept, originally known as Satellite Solar Power System ("SSPS") was first described in November 1968 . In 1973 Peter Glaser was granted U.S. patent number
3,781,647 for his method of transmitting power over long distances (e.g., from an SPS to the Earth's surface) using microwaves from a very large (up to one square kilometer) antenna on the satellite to a much larger one on the ground, now known as a rectenna. Glaser then worked at Arthur D. Little, Inc., as a vice-president. NASA signed a contract with ADL to lead four other companies in a broader study in 1974. They found that, while the concept had several major problems—chiefly the expense of putting the required materials in orbit and the lack of experience on projects of this scale in space, it showed enough promise to merit further investigation and research . Between 1978 and 1981 the US Congress authorized DOE and NASA to jointly investigate the concept. They organized the Satellite Power System Concept Development and Evaluation Program . The study remains the most extensive performed to date. Several reports were published investigating the engineering feasibility of such an engineering project. They include:
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Resource Requirements (Critical Materials, Energy, and Land) Financial/Management Scenarios Public Acceptance State and Local Regulations as Applied to Satellite Power System Microwave Receiving Antenna Facilities Student Participation Potential of Laser for SBSP Power Transmission International Agreements Centralization/Decentralization Mapping of Exclusion Areas For Rectenna Sites Economic and Demographic Issues Related to Deployment Some Questions and Answers Meteorological Effects on Laser Beam Propagation and Direct Solar Pumped Lasers Public Outreach Experiment Power Transmission and Reception Technical Summary and Assessment Space Transportation
The project was not continued with the change in Administrations after the 1980 US Federal elections. The Office of Technology Assessment concluded Too little is currently known about the technical, economic, and environmental aspects of SPS to make a sound decision whether to proceed with its development and deployment. In addition, without further research an SPS demonstration or systems-engineering verification program would be a high-risk venture. More recently, the SBSP concept has again become interesting, due to increased energy demand, increased energy costs, and emission implications, starting in 1997 with the
NASA "Fresh Look" . In assessing "What has changed" since the DOE study, this study asserts that Another important change has occurred at the US national policy level. US National Space Policy now calls for NASA to make significant investments in technology (not a particular vehicle) to drive the costs of ETO [Earth to Orbit] transportation down dramatically. This is, of course, an absolute requirement of space solar power. One might take the NASA "Fresh Look" study as encouraging because the main difficulty identified is driving down Earth to Orbit costs. However, Dr. Pete Worden claimed that space-based solar is about five orders of magnitude more expensive than solar power from the Arizona desert. A major factor in this five orders of magnitude is the cost of transporting materials to orbit. Dr. Worden referred to possible solutions as speculative solutions that would not be available for decades at the best, leaving spacebased solar power with no business case for the foreseeable future.
In 1999 NASA's Space Solar Power Exploratory Research and Technology program (SERT) was initiated for the following purpose:
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Perform design studies of selected flight demonstration concepts; Evaluate studies of the general feasibility, design, and requirements. Create conceptual designs of subsystems that make use of advanced SSP technologies to benefit future space or terrestrial applications. Formulate a preliminary plan of action for the U.S. (working with international partners) to undertake an aggressive technology initiative. Construct technology development and demonstration roadmaps for critical Space Solar Power (SSP) elements.
It was to develop a solar power satellite (SPS) concept for a future gigawatt space power systems to provide electrical power by converting the Sun’s energy and beaming it to the Earth's surface. It was also to provide a developmental path to solutions for current space power architectures. Subject to further study, it proposed an inflatable photovoltaic gossamer structure with concentrator lenses or solar heat engines to convert sunlight into electricity. The program looked at both systems in sun-synchronous orbit and geosynchronous orbit. Some of SERT's conclusions include the following:
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The increasing global energy demand is likely to continue for many decades resulting in new power plants of all sizes being built. The environmental impact of those plants and their impact on world energy supplies and geopolitical relationships can be problematic. Renewable energy is a compelling approach, both philosophically and in engineering terms.
Many renewable energy sources are limited in their ability to affordably provide the base load power required for global industrial development and prosperity, because of inherent land and water requirements. Based on their Concept Definition Study, space solar power concepts may be ready to reenter the discussion. Solar power satellites should no longer be envisioned as requiring unimaginably large initial investments in fixed infrastructure before the emplacement of productive power plants can begin. Space solar power systems appear to possess many significant environmental advantages when compared to alternative approaches. The economic viability of space solar power systems depends on many factors and the successful development of various new technologies (not least of which is the availability of much lower cost access to space than has been available), however, the same can be said of many other advanced power technologies options. Space solar power may well emerge as a serious candidate among the options for meeting the energy demands of the 21st century.
The SBSP concept is attractive because space has several major advantages over the Earth's surface for the collection of solar power. There is no air in space, so the collecting surfaces would receive much more intense sunlight, unaffected by weather. In geostationary orbit, an SPS would be illuminated over 99% of the time; such an SPS would be in Earth's shadow on only a few days at the spring and fall equinoxes; and even then for a maximum of 75 minutes late at night when power demands are at their lowest. This characteristic of SBSP avoids the expense of storage facilities (dams, oil storage tanks, coal dumps) necessary in many Earth-based power generation systems. Additionally, SBSP would have fewer or none of the ecological (or political) consequences of fossil fuel systems. SBSP would also be applicable on a global scale. Nuclear power raises questions of proliferation and waste disposal, which pose problems everywhere, but especially in undeveloped areas which are less capable of coping with them. SBSP poses no such known potential threat. This technology can be of value to relief efforts in disaster areas. SBSP could step in at short notice to provide as much power as is necessary both for the relief effort and to provide continuity of energy until ground based transfer methods are restored. There is a significant military advantage to SBSP in that it would provide the option to have almost instantaneous sustained power nearly anywhere on the globe. It has been estimated that the average price of fuel for the US Army exceeds $5 per gallon. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, there is an estimate that fuel costs in some areas approached $20 per gallon. This is undoubtedly due to the cost of physically moving large quantities of fuel, and the massive security costs in protecting these convoys in a war zone. The
estimated costs given above do not include the high cost in the lives of American servicemen and women who are killed or injured during attacks on supply convoys. With a mobile SBSP receiving station, the Army could quickly be provided with megawatts of clean, sustained energy. If a conflict forced a rapid change in the geographic location of Army personnel, the power from SBSP could simply be redirected by altering the position of the SBSP satellites. If SBSP became an established source of power, it could also provide a military benefit in that the supply would inherently be much more secure than traditional energy delivery methods, chances of an energy scarcity based conflict could be much reduced.
Space-based solar power essentially consists of three parts: 1. a means of collecting solar power in space, for example via solar cells or a heat engine 2. a means of transmitting power to earth, for example via microwave or laser 3. a means of receiving power on earth, for example via a microwave antenna (rectenna) The space-based portion will be in a freefall, vacuum environment and will not need to support itself against gravity other than relatively weak tidal stresses. It needs no protection from terrestrial wind or weather, but will have to cope with space-based hazards such as micrometeors and solar storms.
Solar energy conversion (solar photons to DC current)
Two basic methods of converting sunlight to electricity have been studied: photovoltaic (PV) conversion, and solar dynamic (SD) conversion. Most analyses of solar power satellites have focused on photovoltaic conversion (commonly known as “solar cells”). Photovoltaic conversion uses semiconductor cells (e.g., silicon or gallium arsenide) to directly convert photons into electrical power via a quantum mechanical mechanism. Photovoltaic cells are not perfect in practice, as material purity and processing issues during production affect performance; each has been progressively improved for some decades. Some new, thin-film approaches are less efficient (about 20% vs 41% for best in class in each case as of late 2009), but are much less expensive and generally lighter. In an SPS implementation, photovoltaic cells will likely be rather different from the glass-pane protected solar cell panels familiar to many in current terrestrial use, since they will be optimized for weight, and will be designed to be tolerant of the space radiation environment (some thin film silicon solar panels are highly insensitive to ionising radiation), but will not need to be encapsulated against corrosion from environmental exposure or biological deterioration. They do not require the structural support required for terrestrial use, where the considerable gravity and wind loading imposes structural requirements on terrestrial implementations.
Wireless power transmission to the Earth
Wireless power transmission was proposed early on as a means to transfer energy from collection to the Earth's surface. The power could be transmitted as either microwave or laser radiation at a variety of frequencies depending on system design. Whichever choice is made, the transmitting radiation would have to be non-ionizing to avoid potential disturbances either ecologically or biologically. This established an upper limit for the frequency used, as energy per photon (and consequently the ability to cause ionization) increases with frequency. Ionization of biological materials doesn't begin until ultraviolet or higher frequencies, so most radio frequencies would be feasible. Microwave power transmission William C. Brown demonstrated in 1964, during Walter Cronkite's CBS News program, a microwave-powered model helicopter that received all the power it needed for flight from a microwave beam. Between 1969 and 1975, Bill Brown was technical director of a JPL Raytheon program that beamed 30 kW of power over a distance of 1 mile at 84% efficiency. Microwave power transmission of tens of kilowatts has been well proven by existing tests at Goldstone in California (1975) and Grand Bassin on Reunion Island (1997).
More recently, microwave power transmission has been demonstrated, in conjunction with solar energy capture, between a mountain top in Maui and the main island of Hawaii (92 miles away), by a team under John C. Mankins. Technological challenges in terms of array layout, single radiation element design, and overall efficiency, as well as the associated theoretical limits are presently a subject of research, as it is demonstrated by the upcoming Special Session on "Analysis of Electromagnetic Wireless Systems for Solar Power Transmission" to be held in the 2010 IEEE Symposium on Antennas and Propagation. Laser power beaming experiments A large-scale demonstration of power beaming is a necessary step to the development of solar power satellites. Laser power beaming was envisioned by some at NASA as a stepping stone to further industrialization of space. In the 1980s researchers at NASA worked on the potential use of lasers for space-tospace power beaming, focusing primarily on the development of a solar-powered laser. In 1989 it was suggested that power could also be usefully beamed by laser from Earth to space. In 1991 the SELENE project (SpacE Laser ENErgy) was begun, which included the study of laser power beaming for supplying power to a lunar base. In 1988 the use of an Earth-based laser to power an electric thruster for space propulsion was proposed by Grant Logan, with technical details worked out in 1989. He proposed using diamond solar cells operating at six hundred degrees to convert ultraviolet laser light, a technology that has yet to be demonstrated even in the laboratory. His ideas were adapted to be more practical. The SELENE program was a two-year research effort, but the cost of taking the concept to operational status was too high, and the official project was ended in 1993, before reaching a space-based demonstration.
The size of a solar power satellite would be dominated by two factors: the size of the collecting apparatus (e.g. panels and mirrors), and the size of the transmitting antenna. The distance from Earth to geostationary orbit (22,300 miles, 35,700 km), the chosen wavelength of the microwaves, and certain laws of physics (specifically the Rayleigh Criterion or diffraction limit) will all be factors. It has been suggested that, for best efficiency, the satellite antenna should be circular and about 1 kilometer in diameter or larger; the ground antenna (rectenna) should be elliptical, 10 km wide, and a length that makes the rectenna appear circular from GEO (Geostationary Orbit). (Typically, 14 km at some North American latitudes.) Smaller antennas would result in increased losses to diffraction/sidelobes. For the desired (23 mW/cm²) microwave intensity these antennas could transfer between 5 and 10 gigawatts of power.
According to some research, to collect and convert the target volume of power, the satellite would require between 50 and 100 square kilometers of collector area (if readily available ~14% efficient monocrystalline silicon solar cells were deployed). State of the art multi-junction solar cells with a maximum efficiency of 43% could reduce the necessary collector area by two thirds. In any case, an SPS's structure will necessarily be large (perhaps kilometers across), making it larger than most man-made structures on Earth, and building structures of such size in orbit has never been attempted.
GEO The main advantage of locating a space power station in geostationary orbit is that the antenna geometry stays constant, and so keeping the antennas lined up is simpler. Another advantage is that nearly continuous power transmission is immediately available as soon as the first space power station is placed in orbit; other space-based power stations have much longer start-up times before they are producing nearly continuous power.
LEO/MEO instead of GEO
A collection of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) space power stations has been proposed as a precursor to GEO (Geostationary Orbit) space-based solar power. There would be both advantages (shorter energy transmission path, lower cost) and disadvantages (frequent changes in antenna geometries, increased debris collisions, more power stations needed to receive power continuously). It might be possible to deploy LEO systems sooner than GEO because the antenna development would take less time, but it may take longer to prepare and launch the number of required satellites. Moon People such as David Criswell suggest that the moon is the optimum location for solar power stations, and promote lunar solar power. The main advantages of locating the solar power collector on the moon is that most of its mass could be constructed out of locally available lunar materials, using in-situ resource utilization, significantly reducing the amount of mass and therefore the launch costs required compared to other space-based solar power stations.
The Earth-based receiver antenna (or rectenna) is a critical part of the original SPS concept. It would probably consist of many short dipole antennas, connected via diodes. Microwaves broadcast from the SPS will be received in the dipoles with about 85% efficiency . With a conventional microwave antenna, the reception efficiency is still better, but the cost and complexity is also considerably greater, almost certainly
prohibitively so. Rectennas would be multiple kilometers across. Crops and farm animals may be raised underneath a rectenna, as the thin wires used for support and for the dipoles will only slightly reduce sunlight, or non arable land could be used, so such a rectenna would not be as expensive in terms of land use as might be supposed.
Dealing with launch costs
One problem for the SBSP concept is the cost of space launches and the amount of material that would need to be launched. Reusable launch systems are predicted to provide lower launch costs to low Earth orbit (LEO). Much of the material launched need not be delivered to its eventual orbit immediately, which raises the possibility that high efficiency (but slower) engines could move SPS material from LEO to GEO at an acceptable cost. Examples include ion thrusters or nuclear propulsion. Power beaming from geostationary orbit by microwaves carries the difficulty that the required 'optical aperture' sizes are very large. For example, the 1978 NASA SPS study required a 1-km diameter transmitting antenna, and a 10 km diameter receiving rectenna, for a microwave beam at 2.45 GHz. These sizes can be somewhat decreased by using shorter wavelengths, although they have increased atmospheric absorption and even potential beam blockage by rain or water droplets. Because of the thinned array curse, it is not possible to make a narrower beam by combining the beams of several smaller satellites. The large size of the transmitting and receiving antennas means that the minimum practical power level for an SPS will necessarily be high; small SPS systems will be possible, but uneconomic. To give an idea of the scale of the problem, assuming a solar panel mass of 20 kg per kilowatt (without considering the mass of the supporting structure, antenna, or any significant mass reduction of any focusing mirrors) a 4 GW power station would weigh about 80,000 metric tons, all of which would, in current circumstances, be launched from the Earth. Very lightweight designs could likely achieve 1 kg/kW, , meaning 4,000 metric tons for the solar panels for the same 4 GW capacity station. This would be the equivalent of between 40 and 150 heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) launches to send the material to low earth orbit, where it would likely be converted into subassembly solar arrays, which then could use high-efficiency ion-engine style rockets to (slowly) reach GEO (Geostationary orbit). With an estimated serial launch cost for shuttle-based HLLVs of $500 million to $800 million, and launch costs for alternative HLLVs at $78 million, total launch costs would range between $11 billion (low cost HLLV, low weight panels) and $320 billion ('expensive' HLLV, heavier panels). For comparison, the direct cost of a new coal or nuclear power plant ranges from $1 billion to $1.5 billion dollars per GW (not including the full cost to the environment from CO2 emissions or storage of spent nuclear fuel, respectively); another example is the Apollo missions to the Moon cost a
grand total of $24 billion (1970's dollars), taking inflation into account, would cost $140 billion today, more expensive than the construction of the International Space Station.
Building from space
Gerard O'Neill, noting the problem of high launch costs in the early 1970s, proposed building the SPS's in orbit with materials from the Moon. Launch costs from the Moon are potentially much lower than from Earth, due to the lower gravity. This 1970s proposal assumed the then-advertised future launch costing of NASA's space shuttle. This approach would require substantial up front capital investment to establish mass drivers on the Moon. Nevertheless, on 30 April 1979, the Final Report ("Lunar Resources Utilization for Space Construction") by General Dynamics' Convair Division, under NASA contract NAS915560, concluded that use of lunar resources would be cheaper than Earth-based materials for a system of as few as thirty Solar Power Satellites of 10GW capacity each. In 1980, when it became obvious NASA's launch cost estimates for the space shuttle were grossly optimistic, O'Neill et al. published another route to manufacturing using lunar materials with much lower startup costs. This 1980s SPS concept relied less on human presence in space and more on partially self-replicating systems on the lunar surface under remote control of workers stationed on Earth. This proposal suffers from the current lack of such automated systems. The design and construction of these automated systems and their use to produce a mass driver launching system on the moon from lunar materials is expected to take more than twenty years. The partially self replicating systems would include locally produced power generation, perhaps solar cells or heat engine produced electrical power. Asteroid mining has also been seriously considered. A NASA design study evaluated a 10,000 ton mining vehicle (to be assembled in orbit) that would return a 500,000 ton asteroid fragment to geostationary orbit. Only about 3,000 tons of the mining ship would be traditional aerospace-grade payload. The rest would be reaction mass for the massdriver engine, which could be arranged to be the spent rocket stages used to launch the payload. Assuming that 100% of the returned asteroid was useful, and that the asteroid miner itself couldn't be reused, that represents nearly a 95% reduction in launch costs. However, the true merits of such a method would depend on a thorough mineral survey of the candidate asteroids; thus far, we have only estimates of their composition. Having a relatively cheap per pound source of raw materials from space would lessen the concern for low mass designs and result in a different sort of SPS being built. The low cost per pound of lunar materials in O'neill's vision would be supported by using lunar material to manufacture more facilities in orbit than just solar power satellites.
Non-conventional launch methods
SBSP costs might be reduced if a means of putting the materials into orbit were developed that did not rely on rockets. Some possible technologies include ground launch systems such as mass drivers or Lofstrom loops, which would launch using electrical power, or the geosynchronous orbit space elevator. However, these require technology that is yet to be developed. John Hunter of Quicklaunch is working on commercialising the 'Hydrogen Gun', a new form of mass driver which proposes to deliver unmanned payloads to orbit for around 5% of regular launch costs (or $500 per pound; US$1,000 per kilogram) and perform 5 launches per day. Advanced techniques for launching from the moon may reduce the cost of building a solar power satellite from lunar materials. Some proposed techniques include the lunar mass driver and the lunar space elevator, first described by Jerome Pearson. It would require establishing silicon mining and solar cell manufacturing facilities on the Moon.
The use of microwave transmission of power has been the most controversial issue in considering any SPS design. At the Earth's surface, a suggested microwave beam would have a maximum intensity at its center, of 23 mW/cm2 (less than 1/4 the solar irradiation constant), and an intensity of less than 1 mW/cm2 outside of the rectenna fenceline (the receiver's perimeter). These compare with current United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) workplace exposure limits for microwaves, which are 10 mW/cm2, - the limit itself being expressed in voluntary terms and ruled unenforceable for Federal OSHA enforcement purposes. A beam of this intensity is therefore at its center, of a similar magnitude to current safe workplace levels, even for long term or indefinite exposure. Outside the receiver, it is far less than the OSHA long-term levels Over 95% of the beam energy will fall on the rectenna. The remaining microwave energy will be absorbed and dispersed well within standards currently imposed upon microwave emissions around the world. It is important for system efficiency that as much of the microwave radiation as possible be focused on the rectenna. Outside of the rectenna, microwave intensities rapidly decrease, so nearby towns or other human activity should be completely unaffected. Exposure to the beam is able to be minimized in other ways. On the ground, physical access is controllable (e.g., via fencing), and typical aircraft flying through the beam provide passengers with a protective metal shell (i.e., a Faraday Cage), which will intercept the microwaves. Other aircraft (balloons, ultralight, etc.) can avoid exposure by observing airflight control spaces, as is currently done for military and other controlled airspace.
The microwave beam intensity at ground level in the center of the beam would be designed and physically built into the system; simply, the transmitter would be too far away and too small to be able to increase the intensity to unsafe levels, even in principle. In addition, a design constraint is that the microwave beam must not be so intense as to injure wildlife, particularly birds. Experiments with deliberate microwave irradiation at reasonable levels have failed to show negative effects even over multiple generations. Some have suggested locating rectennas offshore , but this presents serious problems, including corrosion, mechanical stresses, and biological contamination. A commonly proposed approach to ensuring fail-safe beam targeting is to use a retrodirective phased array antenna/rectenna. A "pilot" microwave beam emitted from the center of the rectenna on the ground establishes a phase front at the transmitting antenna. There, circuits in each of the antenna's subarrays compare the pilot beam's phase front with an internal clock phase to control the phase of the outgoing signal. This forces the transmitted beam to be centered precisely on the rectenna and to have a high degree of phase uniformity; if the pilot beam is lost for any reason (if the transmitting antenna is turned away from the rectenna, for example) the phase control value fails and the microwave power beam is automatically defocused. Such a system would be physically incapable of focusing its power beam anywhere that did not have a pilot beam transmitter. The long-term effects of beaming power through the ionosphere in the form of microwaves has yet to be studied, but nothing has been suggested which might lead to any significant effect.
Atmospheric damage due to launches
When hot rocket exhaust reacts with atmospheric nitrogen, it can form nitrogen compounds. In particular these nitrogen compounds are problematic when they form in the stratosphere, as they can damage the ozone layer. However, the environmental effect of rocket launches is negligible compared to higher volume polluters, such as airplanes and automobiles.