Solar Energy Conversion Systems

Photo Credit: JRS Brownson

Solar Energy Conversion Systems


Jeffrey R. S. Brownson (PhD)

Director, Solar Ecology program, EMS Energy Institute
Co-Director: 2iE-PSU Centre for Collaborative Engagement
Solar Option Lead: iMPS in Renewable Energy & Sustainability Systems
Associate Professor of Energy and Mineral Engineering / Materials Science and Engineering
John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University

Publisher: Elsevier: Academic Press (2013)


Solar energy conversion requires a different mind-set from traditional energy engineering in order to assess distribution, scales of use, systems design, predictive economic models for fluctuating solar resources, and planning to address transient cycles and social adoption. Solar Energy Conversion Systems examines solar energy conversion as an integrative design process, applying systems thinking methods to a solid knowledge base for creators of solar energy systems. This approach permits different levels of access for the emerging broad audience of scientists, engineers, architects, planners, and economists. Traditional texts in solar energy engineering have often emerged from mechanical or chemical engineering fields. Instead, Solar Energy Conversion Systems approaches solar energy conversion from the perspectives of integrative design, environmental technology, sustainability science, and materials science in the wake of amazing new thin films, polymers, and glasses developed by the optoelectronics and semiconductor industries. This is a new solar text for the new generation of green job designers and developers. It’s highlighted with vignettes that break down solar conversion into useful stories and provides common points of reference, as well as techniques, for effective estimation of evolving technologies.

Key Features

  • Contextualizes solar conversion for systems design and implementation in practical applications
  • Provides a complete understanding of solar power, from underlying science to essential economic outcomes
  • Analytical approach emphasizes systems simulations from measured irradiance and weather data rather than estimations from “rules of thumb”
  • Emphasizes integrative design and solar utility, where trans-disciplinary teams can develop sustainable solar solutions that increase client well-being and ecosystems services for a given locale


The SECS text is designed for a new 3rd-4th year undergraduate solar course or an introductory graduate course in solar energy engineering and the science of solar materials and technologies.

Coding Supplements for Students and Educators

The calculation of parameters in solar energy are facilitated with software algorithms, particularly for chapters 3-8. As such, we have developed coding algorithms for both Scilab (open source) and Python (or Jupyter) to facilitate the learning process. A list of coding examples will be accumulating soon.

Answers to Problem Sets for Educators

The problem sets at the end of the chapter have been worked and will be available to qualified educators. The approval process is managed through Elsevier.

Standard Notation

For the most part, this course will rely on standard solar notation established in 1978 for the journal, Solar Energy. A paper on the subject is available here. I use the 1978 standard notation in our class lectures and the textbook.

Exception: for some algorithms, we will use an alternate convention for orientation/azimuth, where the equator is the critical spatial constraint, not North or South. As such, the solar azimuth or collector azimuth is divided into negative (-0 to -180 degrees) for East, pre-noon directions; and positive (+0 to +180 degrees) for West, post-noon angles. This convention applies equally for both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The choice of basis affects the form of the spherical trigonometric algorithms developed to calculate the angles of incidence.

Supplemental Text

Let it Shine: 6000 Years of Solar Energy, by John Perlin Solar energy context and history. This is not a text of calculations, and describes solar developments over the millenia. One of my new favorite solar texts that was revised and added to from the out of print text by Butti and Perlin, A Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology.