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Solar Concentrators Are The Future of Renewable Energy

A solar concentrator is a device that uses parabolic mirrors to redirect and concentrate the sun’s rays onto a small focal point. They are used in many different applications where solar thermal energy is involved.

Solar concentrators can also be used in photovoltaic solar applications to concentrate the sun's energy onto the solar panel itself. This allows the panel to create much more energy and be more efficient as it is exposed to a much larger amount of sunlight than it normally would be without the collector to redirect the rays directly on the panel. 

Solar concentrators are also used in solar thermal power stations around the globe, and they are the most effective way of producing electricity through solar energy. A solar thermal collector utilizes a large array of solar concentrators or mirrors to redirect and concentrate the sun’s energy onto a focal point. This focal point has reach temperatures in excess of 2000 degrees Celsius. 

In a solar thermal power station, the solar thermal energy generated at the focal point is then transferred to water to make it boil and create steam. This steam is then used to run a steam turbine to create electricity. Solar concentrated energy seems to be the way of the future, as it is possible to create much more energy in a smaller space than with photovoltaic solar power.

History of Solar Concentrators

solar concentratorThe history of concentrated solar power stretches back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The first recorded use of solar concentrators was sometime in the 4th Century B.C. when priests in Ancient Greece used mirrors to concentrate and redirect the sun’s rays onto a focal point in order to light fires and torches for religious ceremonies. The Ancient Romans and the Chinese also used concentrated solar power in the same way around the same time. 

One of the most interesting historical accounts of the use of concentrated solar power comes from the 2nd Century B.C. It was reported that a Greek scientist named Archimedes used a large array of bronze shields arranged around a bay in the sea to reflect and concentrate the sun’s rays onto the ships of the Greeks enemies, thus setting them on fire. 

No one is quite sure whether this actually happened, although it is very possible in theory if the sunlight can be concentrated well enough onto a small enough focal point to create extremely high temperatures capable of lighting a wooden ship on fire. The Greek Navy and attempted and succeeded and recreating this feat in 1973 using the same technologies that were available at the time.

Modern Uses of Concentrated Solar Power

As previously mentioned, concentrated solar power can and is used to create some of the world’s largest solar power stations. In fact, the current record holder for the largest solar power plant belongs to Andasol in Spain, which is a huge concentrated solar power station. However, there are many other uses of concentrated solar energy as well. 

The simplest type of solar collector is a solar greenhouse, which utilizes a technique known as passive solar heating. In this technique, the building itself is the solar collector and the roof of the building is designed to redirect light into the structure where it is then trapped to heat the building. This type of solar thermal collector can and is also used to heat homes and other buildings around the world. 

Other projects that can be built using this technology include a solar sauna and a solar wood drying kiln. Many examples of these structures can be found right here on this website. You can even find plans and instructions so you can easily design and build your own building to take advantage of concentrated solar energy. 

Solar greenhouses and other forms of  solar thermal collectors have been used since the Ancient Greeks and Romans used it to help heat their buildings, and is still extremely popular especially with those who try to build carbon neutral homes. While greenhouses or  passive solar homes are some of the examples of using a solar collector, they are far from the only ones out there. Another use of concentrated solar power that has been around for centuries is a solar cooker

solar cookerA solar cooker functions in basically the same way as a solar greenhouse or solar sauna, in that extreme levels of heat are created inside a well insulated structure. This is accomplished by allowing light and heat from the sun to pass through the roof of the structure where it is then trapped inside. 

This requires that the structure be extremely well insulated and airtight, or else all of the heat will be allowed to escape and the concentrator will not function as effectively. 

There are two distinct types of solar cookers and each uses a different form of solar concentrator. 

A solar box cooker is essentially a very small version of a greenhouse, where heat passes through the lid and is then trapped and stored inside to heat up the box and thus allow it to cook food or boil water. 

The other type is a parabolic solar collector, which essentially uses the same technology that Archimedes used in the 2nd Century B.C. These solar cookers use a parabolic mirror, similar to the ones used in solar thermal power stations, to redirect and concentrate the sun’s light and heat onto a focal point to create high temperatures. Food is then placed in the focal point and is thus cooked by the high temperatures created by the parabolic concentrator.


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