Solar Thermal Heating

The major applications of solar thermal energy at present are heating swimming pools, heating water for domestic use, and space heating of buildings. For these purposes, the general practice is to use flat-plate solar-energy collectors with a fixed orientation (position).

Where space heating is the main consideration, the highest efficiency with a fixed flat-plate collector is obtained if it faces approximately south and slopes at an angle to the horizon equal to the latitude plus about 15 degrees. 

Solar collectors fall into two general categories: nonconcentrating and concentrating. In the nonconcentrating type, the collector area (i.e. the area that intercepts the solar radiation) is the same as the absorber area (i.e., the area absorbing the radiation). In concentrating collectors, the area intercepting the solar radiation is greater, sometimes hundreds of times greater, than the absorber area. Where temperatures below about 200°F are sufficient, such as for space heating, flat-plate collectors of the nonconcentrating type are generally used.

There are many flat-plate collector designs but generally all consist of (1) a flat-plate absorber, which intercepts and absorbs the solar energy, (2) a transparent cover(s) that allows solar energy to pass through but reduces heat loss from the absorber, (3) a heat-transport fluid (air or water) flowing through tubes to remove heat from the absorber, and (4) a heat insulating backing.

Solar space heating systems can be classified as passive or active. In passive heating systems, the air is circulated past a solar heat surface(s) and through the building by convection (i.e. less dense warm air tends to rise while more dense cooler air moves downward) without the use of mechanical equipment. In active heating systems, fans and pumps are used to circulate the air or the heat absorbing fluid.




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