The ability of a thermocouple to generate a voltage when there is a temperature difference across it suggests its use as a heat engine capable of producing electricity directly. As a heat engine, its efficiency is limited by the Carnot efficiency, and therefore it must be of the form
where n* depends on the geometry of the device, on the properties of the materials used, and on the matching of the generator to the load.
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The solar Stirling engine is progressively becoming a viable alternative to solar panels for its higher efficiency. Stirling engines might be the best way to harvest the power provided by the sun. This is an easy-to-understand explanation of how Stirling engines work, the different types, and why they are more efficient than steam engines.