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Nigel Penlington

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Solar energy

Home \ Environment & Buildings \ Renewable Energy \ Solar energy

There are two main types of renewable energy systems which use the sun, solar thermal systems and solar electric systems.

  1. Solarthermalsystems

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There are two main types of solar thermal system collectors:

  • Flat plate: an absorber plate with a transparent cover to collect the sun’s heat
  • Evacuated tube: glass tubes with the gas inside held in a vacuum and an absorber plate running along the middle of the tube, connected at the end to a manifold from which heated fluid is transported.

Hot water from the panels has to be transferred to the heating device – normally a hot water cylinder – to store heat collected during the day and supply it for use.

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Some solar thermal systems may be eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Click here for more information. 

  1. Solar electric systems

Photovoltaics (PV) or solar electric is the application of solar cells for energy by converting sunlight directly into electricity.

The PV cell consists of one or two layers of a semi-conducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell, it creates an electric field across the layers causing electricity to flow. The greater the intensity of the light, the greater the flow of electricity.

PV cells are referred to in terms of the amount of energy they generate in full sunlight, known as kilowatt peak (kWp). 

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Further information:

Photovoltaics in the UK: An introductory guide for new consumers (Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford)

Rural Community Energy Fund - supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community.