Engineering Energy: Solar

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Engineers work to clean up the energy

Sunset with Solar PanelsWith the growing population of today’s world, the need for energy has also increased. The demand for new energy resources are constantly being explored and current sources, redefined. We briefly discussed one type, geothermal, in our previous blog. We will now discuss another type of energy source, solar. The solar energy market has seen substantial growth over the past 20 years, and that growth is not expected to slow down as the solar and PV industries could see sales between $95 billion and $100 billion by 2014.  The sun has always provided energy, but today we are looking for new and innovative ways to harness, use and store that energy.

While the use of solar energy for large scale projects is being developed and refined, one of the most common is for residential or commercial water heating purposes. By using what is known as an active open loop type plumbing system, water is pumped from a storage tank, up through solar panels located on the roof of a structure. A thermostat reads the temperature of the water in a collector and when that temperature becomes greater than that of the tank water, a small pump is activated and water is piped through the system where the water is heated by the sun as it passes through the solar panels, and returned to the water tank or a separate storage tank. These systems, used for home water and pools systems can be intermediately to high costs to install, but with the correctly sized system, these cost are returned in savings on the monthly energy bill.

CAD and FEA are tools in solar design

New and more efficient solar panel technology is being developed all over the world and is quickly becoming a major player in the energy game not only as a green, renewable energy, but in all types of energy. Working with the correct mechanical engineer or engineering firm, can make a great deal of difference when designing a system that is efficient as well as cost effective. An engineering firm with knowledge in the solar field would be able to take the needs of the client, and design a system to meet those needs, using the tools available to them. Using CAD modeling and FEA to design and analyze the system can save on time and costs in the beginning phases of the project. Once the system expectations are defined, there are basic specifications that need to be addressed to get the most from a solar panel energy design. The efficiency of the system relies on the size of the panels as well as the placement, to get the maximum energy from the sun. This efficiency rating of the panel is basically the percentage of the suns exposure to the panel that is turned into energy.

Solar energy is one of the renewable sources that many countries around the world are heavily investing in and touting the rewards. As the world tries to relieve its dependency on dirty energy such as coal and oil, other sources need to be concentrated on. With the technology increasingly getting better and solar energy becoming more efficient, look for more and more applications to be developed. Many cities around the globe are already utilizing solar, as well as other renewable, clean energies as the main sources for power and to decrease the environmental impact that other energy sources have. This trend is picking up traction and hopefully will continue to ensure a cleaner and better world to live in.


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