Flat Plate Solar Collector Basics Explained Flat Plate Solar Collector Basics Explained

As technology continues to advance in efforts to find alternate energy sources, solar energy is becoming a viable option thanks to inventions like the flat plate solar collector. The flat plate solar collector is the most common solar collector used for heating water and air in your home. It has long been proven that there is enough energy coming from the sun on a daily basis to power the entire United States of America. Solar collectors are one of many ways to harness that energy and put it to practical use.  

Invention of Flat Plate Solar Collectors

The flat plate solar collector was first designed in the 1950s by Hottel and Whillier as an early attempt as an alternative to nuclear or coal power. Knowing the heat coming from the sun could somehow be harnessed, the invention took shape in determining what would be needed to convert the heat from the sun into practical energy that could be used.

How Flat Plate Solar Collectors Work

The collectors are made up of many different parts that work together to produce energy from the sunlight. The outside consists of a flat plate dark surface that absorbs the solar energy. There is a transparent layer underneath that simultaneously allows the solar energy to pass through t while also reducing the overall heat loss. The energy is built up in a heat transport fluid such as anti-freeze, water, or air that flows through a series of tubes designed to remove the heat from the absorber. All of this is on top of a backing that is heat insulated to maintain as much of the energy as possible during the process.


The sunlight comes into the panel, is absorbed into the absorber which travels through the tubes which transfer the heat to an insulated water tank. This heated water is then able to produce energy through the steam it produces. There are many variations on the different components of flat panel solar collectors but they all work in a similar fashion.


Flat plate Solar Collectors vs Evacuated Tube Collectors

Since the first invention of this technology there has been debate between the two primary methods of creating solar energy. Evacuated tube collectors harness glass tubing that heats up the absorber (water, anti-freeze) that is used to heat the water to produce energy. There are arguments on both sides at to which method is safer, more efficient, and produces more energy.


The main difference between the two sources has to do with the size of the panels as well as the environment they are in. Evacuated tubes are more reliable in a fluctuating temperature to still be able to convert the sunlight into energy. In very hot locations, flat plate solar collectors will be far more cost efficient so long as the temperature is high. While the benefits of energy despite the temperature may make an argument for evacuated tubes, the much lower cost and space of the flat plate solar collectors usually win out in the end.

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