Episode 159: How is solar thermal power generated and used?

Andrew Gellman, Lord Professor of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses how solar thermal power can be used and some of the challenges that are associated with it.

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Solar Explained: Solar Thermal Power Plants from the US Energy Information Administration

Solar Thermal Electricity from the California Consumer Energy Center

Residential Solar Thermal Plant from Lawrence Livermore National Labaratory

Transcript

How is solar thermal power generated and used?

HOST: You have probably heard of solar panels, but do you know there are other ways to generate solar power? On this week’s Energy Bite, Andy Gellman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

ANDY: Although solar panels that generate electricity for local and residential use have received a lot of attention, they are not the only means of extracting useful energy from sunlight. The energy of sunlight can be collected as heat to be used for many purposes that would otherwise require electricity. This is called solar thermal power. For example in many parts of the world roof tops are commonly used to house solar hot water heaters, and they work remarkably well.

HOST: What are the challenges in using solar power?

ANDY: Two of the primary limitations on our use of solar photovoltaic electricity are the cost of the materials and the vast quantity of land that we would need to cover to meet the United States’ energy needs. Efforts to minimize these include research on the development of new materials that have higher efficiencies than silicon. However, even at 100% efficiency, solar photovoltaic cells and solar thermal power stations will require the use of vast amounts of land located in regions with a lot of sunshine.

HOST: Would you consider putting a solar water heater on your house? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

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