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Passive solar systems integrate solar air heating technologies into a building’s design. Buildings are designed with materials that absorb or reflect solar energy to maintain comfortable indoor air temperatures and provide natural daylight. Floors and walls can be designed to absorb and retain heat during warm days and release it during cool evenings. Sunspaces operate like greenhouses and capture solar heat that can be circulated throughout a building. Trombe walls are thick walls that are painted black and made of a material that absorbs heat, which is stored during the day and released at night. Passive solar designs can also cool buildings, using vents, towers, window overhangs, and other approaches to keep buildings cool in warm climates.

Solar technologies can be used for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Commercial and industrial applications can include air preheating for commercial ventilation systems, solar process heating, and solar cooling. A solar ventilation system can preheat the air before it enters a conventional furnace, reducing fuel consumption. Solar process heat systems provide large quantities of hot water or space heating for industrial applications. A typical system includes solar collectors that work with a pump, a heat exchanger, and one or more large storage tanks. Heat from a solar collector can also be used for commercial and industrial cooling of buildings, much like an air conditioner but with more complex technology.

Concentrated solar power systems focus sunlight on collectors that serve as a heat source to produce steam that drives a turbine and electricity generator. Concentrating solar power systems include parabolic-trough, dish-engine, and power tower technologies. Parabolic-trough systems concentrate the sun’s energy through long rectangular, u-shaped mirrors, which are tilted toward the sun and focus sunlight on a pipe, heating the oil in the pipe and then using it in a conventional steam generator to produce electricity.

Dish-engine systems use a mirrored dish similar to a satellite dish, which collects and concentrates the sun’s heat onto a receiver, which in turn absorbs the heat and transfers it to fluid within the engine. The heat causes the fluid to expand against a piston or turbine to produce mechanical power, which is then used to run a generator to produce electricity. Power tower systems use a large field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the top of a tower, where molten salt is heated and flows through a receiver. The salt’s heat is used to generate electricity through a conventional steam generator. Because molten salt efficiently retains heat, it can be stored for days before being converted into electricity and ensures power production on cloudy days and after the sun has set.

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