Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.

Direct Collection of Solar Energy

People have devised two main types of artificial collectors to directly capture and utilize solar energy: flat plate collectors and concentrating collectors. Both require large surface areas exposed to the Sun since so little of the Sun’s energy reaches Earth’s surface. Even in areas of the United States that receive a lot of sunshine, a collector surface as big as a two-car garage floor is needed to gather the energy that one person typically uses during a single day.

A. Flat Plate Collectors

Flat plate collectors are typically flat, thin boxes with a transparent cover that are mounted on rooftops facing the Sun. The Sun heats a blackened metal plate inside the box, called an absorber plate, that in turn heats fluid (air or water) running through tubes within the collector. The energy transferred to the carrier fluid, divided by the total solar energy that falls on the collector, is called the collector efficiency. Flat plate collectors are typically capable of heating carrier fluids up to 82°C (180°F). Their efficiency in making use of the available energy varies between 40 and 80 percent, depending on the type of collector.

These collectors are used for water and space heating. Homes employ collectors fixed in place on roofs.

In addition to the flat plate collectors, typical hot-water and space heating systems include circulating pumps, temperature sensors, automatic controllers to activate the circulating pump, and a storage device. Either air or a liquid (water or a water-antifreeze mixture) can be used as the fluid in the solar heating system. A rock bed or a well-insulated water storage tank typically serves as an energy storage medium.