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Environment UNCCD – 08

Applications of solar energy 

Solar energy is converted into thermal energy or electrical energy by the following technologies and is used for various applications. 

Flat plate collectors – Among the most common devices used to capture solar energy and convert it to thermal energy are flat-plate collectors, which are used for solar heating applications. Because the intensity of solar radiation at Earth’s surface is so low, these collectors must be large in area. The most widely used flat-plate collectors consist of a blackened metal plate, covered with one or two sheets of glass, that is heated by the sunlight falling on it. This heat is then transferred to air or water, called carrier fluids, that flow past the back of the plate. The heat may be used directly, or it may be transferred to another medium for storage. Flat-plate collectors are commonly used for solar water heaters and house heating. 

Solar ponds – Another method of thermal energy conversion is found in solar ponds, which are bodies of salt water designed to collect and store solar energy. The heat extracted from such ponds enables the production of chemicals, food, textiles, and other industrial products and can also be used to warm greenhouses, swimming pools, and livestock buildings. Solar ponds are sometimes used to produce electricity through the use of the organic Rankine cycle engine, a relatively efficient and economical means of solar energy conversion, which is especially useful in remote locations

Electricity generation – Solar radiation may be converted directly into electricity by solar cells (photovoltaic cells). In such cells, a small electric voltage is generated when light strikes the junction between a metal and a semiconductor (such as silicon) or the junction between two different semiconductors. The power generated by a single photovoltaic cell is typically only about two watts. By connecting large numbers of individual cells together, however, as in solar-panel arrays, hundreds or even thousands of kilowatts of electric power can be generated in a solar electric plant or in a large household array. 

Small photovoltaic cells that operate on sunlight or artificial light have found major use in low-power applications—as power sources for calculators and watches, for example. Larger units have been used to provide power for water pumps and communications systems in remote areas and for weather and communications satellites. 

Solar pump – it utilizes the mechanical power generated by the solar radiation to run the water pump. Solar energy offers several beneficial features which make its utilization in irrigation pumping quite attractive. The solar pump is similar to solar heat engine working in low- temperature range. The source of heat engine works in low- temperature range. The source of heat is a solar collector. 

Other applications – Solar energy is also used on a small scale for purposes other than those described above. In some countries, for instance, solar energy is used to produce salt from seawater by evaporation. Similarly, solar powered desalination units transform salt water into drinking water by converting the Sun’s energy to heat, directly or indirectly, to drive the desalination process.

Solar technology has also emerged for the clean and renewable production of hydrogen as an alternative energy source. Mimicking the process of photosynthesis, artificial leaves are silicon-based devices that use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, leaving virtually no pollutants. Further work is needed to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of these devices for industrial use.

India is assuming the leadership role in the world arena by initiating a global forum for expanding the solar energy consumption especially in the developing countries and tropical countries through the International solar Alliance.  

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