The different types of solar energy equipment include a large variety of devices that permit energy from the sun to be trapped and converted to usable energy, such as electricity or thermal energy. Solar energy equipment is often categorized into two main types: thermal equipment which produces heat, and photovoltaic equipment, or photovoltaic cells, which produce electricity. Solar energy is a massive source of renewable energy which humans have only tapped on a relatively small scale.
Solar energy production with thermal equipment can be used for many applications, such as for heating buildings, or producing hot water for residential use or for use in industrial processes. Thermal systems can also be used to generate electricity indirectly by means of a type of solar energy equipment called a heat engine. Another way of creating electricity using thermal solar power is to use the solar power energy to produce steam, then use the steam to power turbines which generate electricity.
The main type of solar energy equipment which directly generates electricity is the photovoltaic cell, sometimes called a solar cell. This technology incorporates semiconductors made of silicon or similar types of materials, which absorb the energy from waves of light and directly convert this into electrical power. Solar energy companies usually manufacture some kind of module in which solar cells are grouped together, typically with a tough outer covering of glass, which allows sunlight to pass through while protecting the delicate semiconductors below. The electricity generated by the solar cells may be used to power equipment, charge a battery, or feed into an existing electricity grid.
Some of the important types of solar energy equipment include building integrated photovoltaics, standalone photovoltaic devices, and solar power plants. Building integrated photovoltaics are systems that may be incorporated into new buildings, either industrial or domestic, as either a main source of power or a top-up energy generating system. This approach may be particularly attractive for developments that are built at some distance from the usual supply of electricity, or electrical grid.
Standalone photovoltaic devices have been long used to power small machines such as calculators. More recent applications of standalone solar energy equipment include emergency telephones, traffic signs, and parking meters. These types of applications may be particularly attractive for remote locations. Solar energy power plants can generate large amounts of electricity. These types of power station rely on the fact that while sunlight is intermittent in most areas, it is usually possible to predict fairly accurately how much sunlight will be available over months or years.