Solar energy is energy created by the heat and light of the sun. Solar power is produced when this energy is converted into electricity or used to heat air, water, or other substances.
There are currently two main types of solar energy technology:
This technology converts sunlight directly into electricity using photovoltaic (PV) cells. The solar PV cells are combined in panels. They can be put on rooftops, integrated into building designs and vehicles, or installed by the thousands across fields to create large-scale solar power plants.
Concentrating solar PV uses fields of sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats to concentrate sunlight onto highly efficient PV cells located inside a receiver at the top of a mast or tower.
This technology converts sunlight into thermal energy (or heat), which in the past has been used mainly for space heating or to heat water (such as in a solar hot water system).
This heat energy can be used to drive a refrigeration cycle to provide solar-based cooling, or to make steam that can be used to generate electricity using a steam turbine. Solar thermal energy can also be used in some industrial processes that currently use gas to produce heat.
Concentrating solar thermal technology harvests the sun’s heat to produce efficient, large-scale power generation. It uses a field of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a thermal receiver, which transfers the heat to a thermal energy storage system. Energy can then be released from storage as required, day and night.
Emerging solar energy technologies
Research and development continues to improve existing solar energy technologies while identifying emerging innovations such as photosynthetic-based solar energy technologies and solar enhanced fuels.
Innovations and developments in solar energy technology and enhanced fuels will benefit everyone by making affordable and reliable energy more accessible to more New Zealand businesses and households.