Limitations of Residential Solar Thermal Energy Systems (for Generating Electricity)
Concentrated solar thermal energy has been known to be a more effective alternative to solar PV energy because it is generally impervious to any of its common weaknesses. Heat for example, is an element that reduces the efficiency of photovoltaic panels, but solar thermal energy systems instead use this to power a steam turbine.
There is one problem this form of solar energy currently faces however. It is not generally effective to be used on a single residential home. There are many limitations in the idea of a home solar thermal energy system that could make it seem impractical, hindrances that would even make solar PV energy look like the better option.
- There aren’t much small-scale Stirling cycle engines out there. One of the main components of a concentrated solar thermal energy system is the heat engine. Since these engines are often very large, there isn’t really much room to use it for a regular home. The option to use other types of heat engines are there however, although proper home-sized scaling might still be a problem.
- Daily operation of the solar thermal energy system might be too much for the average Joe. Concentrated solar thermal energy technically requires a lot more operations, from heliostat control, heat engine monitoring, to proper electric energy distribution checks. This is unlike regular solar PV energy, where the only thing that you have to actually consider seriously is energy load balancing.
- Consequently, maintenance of the system could also be quite daunting to do. There are more hardware used in a concentrated solar thermal energy system of course, and if this already makes daily operations a hassle to monitor, then maintenance would probably be a nightmare. Unless you are an expert in these renewable energy systems, you might have to consult someone else each time there is a need for a regular maintenance check.
- Also, with that much hardware, it is certain to be a lot more expensive. What are the basic components of a solar PV system? Solar panels, a few electric meters, a battery bank and an inverter. What about a concentrated solar thermal energy system? Heliostats, heliostat turning mechanism, computer program for the mechanism, steam turbine/Stirling engine, thermal oil tank, etc. Installation costs would surely downplay the expected efficiency of the system.
- There is generally more use for solar heat than just for generating electricity. Solar heat energy may be converted into electricity, but the heat itself is simply just as useful for many other purposes. Take the simple but highly cost-effective solar water heating systems for example. Other purposes that might come to mind are passive room heating and water purification.
Please take note that these limitations never indicated that a proper home setup is impossible. It is simply stated that comparatively, it is more difficult and a lot limiting to set up a concentrated solar thermal energy system for your home. In fact, there are a few independent firms out there that are quite determined to make solar thermal energy economically available for residential generation of electricity.
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