Solar heat, or energy, is radiation produced by nuclear fission deep within the sun’s core. Solar heat travels to Earth through space via photons, or “packets” of energy. Our Earth’s atmosphere and clouds absorb much of this heat, and the energy varies with the time of day and the season. 1.4 kilowatts per square meter is considered to be the “solar constant;” any substantial change in this wattage would alter or even end life on Earth.
We can make good use of the solar heat that we collect. Primarily, we can tap into solar power stored in water by directing the flowing water through turbines, thus creating hydroelectric power. Since plants are living solar heaters via the process of photosynthesis, we can use a plant’s stored solar energy through natural fuels such as wood, alcohol and methane.
How Do Solar Heaters Work?
To make solar energy work for us, we’ve devised two ways of capturing and using this source of power. “Flat plate collectors” and “concentrating collectors” need large surfaces exposed to the sun to create solar heaters of any purpose. For example, to use the sun’s energy to power a home solar heater for one day requires a collector surface as big as a two-car garage.
Flat plate collectors are just that: flat, thin boxes with transparent covers that are mounted on rooftops facing the sun. To empower solar heaters, the sun’s heat absorbs into the plate and heats either air or water in tubes running within the collector. This type of solar heater is an excellent, predictable way of heating water or a structure, where collectors are concentrated in the roof.
For many industrial heat requirements, flat plate collectors aren’t sufficient. Concentrating collectors in large areas provide much more efficient solar heaters. These collectors actually move to follow the sun, unlike fixed flat plate collectors. They also power solar heaters by using curved mirrors with aluminum or silver reflecting surfaces that gather much more of the sun’s energy than flat plates.
The future of solar heaters is exciting indeed! As we grow more proficient in using the sun as an energy source, we could eliminate the need for gasoline-powered automobiles. We could also generate solar heaters on a large scale. As solar science progresses, we will see government, industry and utility companies forming partnerships to reduce the cost of solar collectors. Imagine: a world without reliance on oil. Peace at last?