Passive Solar Heating
Passive solar heating is one of the two main solar technologies that currently exist. In brief, passive solar heating is a cost effective way to provide heat to any building. Let's take a closer look at passive and active solar, and see how we can use each one of them for our needs.
Passive Solar Technologies
Passive solar does not use PV (photovoltaic) solar panels, batteries, inverters, or any other active electrical/mechanical systems when using sunlight for energy. Passive solar can heat water or air (passive solar heating), or move air for ventilating (passive solar cooling). Most commonly, passive solar technology is used for direct and indirect heating of air, water, or thermal mass. It is also used in solar cookers (to cook food) and in solar chimneys (for natural ventilation).
The best example of passive solar heating is a regular window, which allows for the air inside the room to heat up quite naturally. Another good example would be a greenhouse or solarium - a glass-enclosed room exposed to the sunlight. Yet another great example would be a car parked outside for hours on a hot day. Once you open the car's door, you will get blasted by a heat wave. The steering wheel and the seat may even require a few takes to be able to finally handle their temperature.
So can you use passive solar heating to heat up your entire home? Absolutely, you can. The basic idea of a green home built according to a sun-inspired design could include the following features: huge floor to floor insulated windows, large vertical skylights, sun rooms, sun-facing windows, building materials that absorb the sun (e.g., flat black finished walls), airtight construction, special building form to aid natural heat flow, thermal envelope ceiling, etc. Huge barrels with water placed behind the windows would absorb direct passive solar heat, and release the stored heat as needed into the building. Various summer shading devices could be used to keep the house cool in the summertime.
Active Solar Technologies
Active solar devices convert the power of the Sun into usable light or heat, or use it to cool the air, employing electrical/mechanical devices (fans, pumps) to increase the amount of usable heat in the systems. Note that solar-based hot water systems that use fans or pumps to circulate air or water through a solar collector (e.g., solar swimming pool heaters), belong to the active solar technology. A solar collector can be non-concentrating (‘flat-plate'), or concentrating. Most solar collectors employ fixed mounting, but they can also have flexible mounting to track the sun's path for higher efficiency with passive or active solar trackers.
The most recognized example of active solar are photovoltaic solar panels, which absorb the light and generate DC energy, later converted into a regular AC current by a power converter. The obtained power can either be stored in a battery or fed into the grid.
Active vs. Passive Solar
Active solar systems can save more solar power for future use due to enhanced heat transport and transfer. However, passive solar is often easier and cheaper to implement. Both technologies are very powerful, and are actively used in homes and businesses around the globe.
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