Solar energy is energy that comes from the sun. This energy can be harnessed in two ways; by converting the light to electricity, known as Solar Power or, for hot water systems, simply using the heat, a system known as Solar Thermal.
The vast majority of Solar Power technologies use Photovoltaics (PV). Photovoltaics is a property of certain materials that allows them to be utilized to convert light into Direct Current (DC) electricity. The normal materials used in modern solar cells is typically silicon.
Solar cells themselves are combined into solar panels of all different sizes and shapes to suit any application or power requirement from a single solar cell powering a pocket calculator to thousands of panels combined to create solar power stations that generate sufficient power to supply whole cities.
The actual technology behind all these applications big and small is effectively identical.
The amount of electricity generated by panels depends on the strength of the light that is hitting the solar cells. The measurement of this light intensity is measured in “Full Sun Hours”. One full sun hour is the amount of solar intensity that will create 1000 watts of electricity in one hour with a solar panel area of 1 square meter. If the sun is more powerful than this, then you will get more than 1 full sun hour in one hour of time, if the sun is less intense due to clouds or haze, then you will get less than 1 full sun hour in one hour of time.
In Southern Thailand, the average number of Full Sun Hours a day is approximately 7. This is much higher than what is achieved in Europe but slightly lower than what is achieved in some desert areas.
Solar Thermal systems use the power of the sun to create heat for industrial and residential purposes. The most common systems are roof mounted systems that simply heat up water for use in showers, baths and washing water.
The technology is simple but effective and has been used for decades meaning that the technology has a proven record, is reliable and relatively low cost.
Cooling is also possible through solar thermal, this is an area of solar power that is growing at a fast rate. At the moment, the possibilities are limited due to high installation costs, but costs are dropping every year and in the future this technology is likely to be widely used.