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These devices convert between 10 and 30 percent of the direct sunlight to electricity. But uncertainties remain regarding their life span and reliability. A particular technical challenge is to develop a Stirling engine that performs well at low cost. (A Stirling engine is one in which heat is added continuously from the outside to a gas contained in a closed system.)
Solar ponds, another solar-thermal source, contain highly saline water near their bottom. Typically, hot water rises to the surface, where it cools off. But salinity makes the water dense, so that hot water can stay at the bottom and thus retain its heat. The pond traps the sun’s radiant heat, creating a high temperature gradient. Hot, salty fluid is drawn out from the bottom of the pond and allowed to evaporate; the vapor is used to drive a Rankine-cycle engine similar to that installed in cars. The cool liquid at the top of the pond can also be used, for air-conditioning.
A by-product of this process is freshwater from the steam. Solar ponds are limited by the large amounts of water they need and are more suited to remote communities that require freshwater as well as energy. Use of solar ponds has been widely investigated in countries with hot, dry climates, such as in Israel.
You may also be interested to look into home solar power systems and home wind turbines.
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