What is solar thermal energy?

Solar thermal energy

Let the sun heat your house’s water, and get steamy in a real sun shower.

In Australia, a quarter of a typical house’s energy goes towards heating water. This heat is most likely generated from your hot water tank, heated by electricity, and ultimately from coal. Consider that all of this energy could instead be provided by the sun, cost- and carbon-free.

What are solar thermal energy and solar hydronics?

The sun can easily be used as a heat source to heat water up before it is transported around the premises. When liquid is used to move heat around, it is known as hydronics. Thus solar hydronics is moving the sun’s heat around via a liquid like water or anti-freeze. This setup is also known as solar thermal or concentrated solar thermal.

How does the solar hydronic system collect heat?

To collect the sun’s heat, the solar collection unit is placed on the roof. The unit is made up of dozens of evacuated tubes laid in a row. The tubes’ design is complex and there are many tubes within each tube. There are evacuated chambers or vacuums in between the internal and external tubes, which stops heat loss.

Sun passes into the outer tube layer, and gradually penetrates into the inner tube which bears a special liquid that holds heat well. The newly heated up liquid travels down the tube which coils up inside a tank. The heat from the coil passively warms the water stored within a tank.

The water is heated up and can stay hot for days.

If or when this water eventually cools, the solar thermal system can have a booster that reheats the water. Booster’s may also be necessary overnight and on cloudy days.

What about solar thermal around the home?

Solar thermal systems have many uses around the home. Pipes from the how water storage tank can run throughout the house and liberate heat as they go.

You can run the pipes underneath the floor to have sun-provided warm floors during winter. Solar thermal/solar hydronic systems can also be used to provide water for hot showers.

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Industrial and commercial solar thermal

Commercial hydronic systems are applicable for many businesses. For instance, a hotel or resort may install a solar thermal system to cater for patrons’ use. Commercial solar thermal systems can cost tens of thousands, but can save money in the long run.

Switching over to an industrial-scaled solar setup requires high short-term costs, but also high long-term savings. Apart from the money savings, there are considerable pollution savings. This is significant since industry has the potential to pollute thicker and faster than individual residence.

For this scale of solar thermal installation, there is equipment: Industrial-sized collecting panels, pumps, and hot water storage vessels.

How much does it cost to purchase and install?

For a floor heating system, you need a variety of components including the hot-water storage tank, a further expansion tank, mixing pump station, and of course the solar collection unit. This material can cost up to $20,000.

Alternatively, some companies provide do-it-yourself (DIY) kits with all of the necessary components and schematics to install such a system yourself.

What are solar CO2 pumps?

Solar CO2 pumps suck in air from the environment, and use the latent heat to warm water for use around your home. They can be used to heat drinking water or water for washing. They can cost anywhere from $10,000 – $40,000.

How do I go about choosing solar thermal tech for my home or business?

With any large purchase, there is always a lot to consider. After doing your own research it may be helpful to speak to a specialised energy consultant about your home heating options. They can help you evaluate how much energy and money you currently expend on heating your home and arrive at the optimal house heating technology.

Shirley Liu

Shirley Liu is a program manager at finder, formerly the publisher for Banking and Investments. She is passionate about helping people make an informed decision, save money and find the best deal for their needs.

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