The sun is the source of all life on Earth; it provides us with energy in many ways. Our sun produces two types of energy: light and heat, which we may use for multiple purposes. This includes photosynthesis in plants, electricity generation via photovoltaic (PV) cells, and heating water and food.
What Is Solar Power?
Solar power is a method of generating power by converting solar energy into electricity. It works through solar panels made of photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into direct current power (DC). The DC electricity is then converted to alternating current electricity (AC) via an inverter, and the electricity is then used, supplied into the grid, or stored in a battery.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar technology has been obtainable since the 1950s. Despite that, it has only been regarded as a financially applicable technology for widespread use since the 2000s due to the drop in the solar modules prices.
Various Uses of Solar Energy
So, what are some of the applications of solar energy? Let’s look at 7 ways that sunlight might help us in our daily lives.
#1 Solar Electricity
In recent years, generating electricity has become one of the most popular solar energy uses. Solar energy is becoming more accessible as solar panel costs fall and more people become aware of the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy. Typically, a distributed solar PV system is built on the roofs of homes or businesses.
These solar power systems create enough electricity to cover the property owner’s needs while also sending any surplus to the grid. Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of solar panels have been installed around the country as an increasing number of Americans opt to use the sun’s energy to power their daily life.
A solar battery can be connected to your solar power system to allow you to use solar electricity after sunset. This power can charge an electric vehicle overnight or offer backup power in an emergency. Some households may be able to go entirely off the grid using a solar power and battery system or a solar power and generator system.
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)
Concentrating solar power plants is another efficient solar technology that depends on concentrating the sun’s energy using mirrors. The received energy is used to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. This thermal energy can be stored before being used to power a generator, making it a more flexible source of electricity than solar PV. Now, approximately 1,815 megawatts (MWac) of CSP plants are in operation in the USA.
#2 Solar Water Heating
Instead of gas or electricity, you can use solar energy to heat water. The majority of solar water heating systems produce hot water for houses. Solar water heaters absorb the sun’s heat using a rooftop cell and transfer it to the water tank. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), solar water heaters typically have a five to ten year payback period.
Swimming pool heating is another application of solar energy, particularly in the southern and southwestern United States. Before being pumped back into the pool, water is circulated to a collector and heated by sun rays.
The US DOE claims that “solar pool heating is the most cost-effective use of solar energy in many regions,” with expenses ranging between $3,000 and $4,000 and a payback period ranging from 1.5 to 7 years. The amount of money you save from using this tech is determined by the following factors:
- How much hot water you need.
- The performance of your system.
- Your geographical location as well as your solar resource.
- The cost of conventional fuels like natural gas, oil, or electricity, that your traditional water heater would use in the long run.
Installing a solar water heater can reduce your water heating expenses by 50–80 percent on average. In addition, you will be saved from future fuel shortages and price increases because the sun is free.
#3 Solar Space Heating
Solar space heating systems (a.k.a. active solar heating systems) utilize solar energy to heat a fluid (liquid or air), which is then transferred to the interior area or stored for later use. They are commonly used to power radiant floors or to heat a residence in conjunction with a Forced Hot Air (FHA) system. By considering the materials used in the construction and the placement of windows, passive solar home design can help warm up homes and businesses in the winter.
Liquid-Based Active Solar Heating Systems
Solar liquid collectors are ideal for central heating systems. They’re the same as those used in solar water heaters used in homes. Flat-plate collectors are the most popular, although there are evacuated tube and concentrating collectors, as well.
Solar air heating systems take solar energy in and transfer it using air as the working fluid. Solar air collectors can heat individual rooms directly or pre-heat the air moving through a heat recovery ventilator or the air coil of an air-source heat pump.
Which one is better?
Air collectors generate heat earlier and later in the day than liquid systems. As a result, they generate more usable energy throughout a heating season than a liquid system of equal size. Furthermore, unlike liquid systems, air systems do not freeze. Also, minor leaks in the collectors or distribution ducts in air systems will not cause major issues, but they will degrade performance.
On the other hand, solar air collectors function at lower efficiency than solar liquid collectors. It is because air is a less efficient heat transfer medium than liquid.
#4 Solar Ventilation
Given that the sun is the world’s largest source of heat, using the sun’s heat to cool your home may sound odd. As a matter of fact, It can cool down the place as much as it can heat it up.
Solar ventilation solutions, such as solar attic fans, can help cool your home throughout the summer, reducing the load on your HVAC. If you cannot install a solar PV system that offsets your entire home’s energy needs, this may be a viable solution. Solar attic fans work by sucking in cold air from the soffits and expelling hot air that has accumulated at the attic’s top. The attic fan simply helps the air move more freely, allowing cooler air to circulate.
Another common type of solar air conditioner is absorption chillers. These special devices cool the air by pumping water to many coils or heat exchangers. The cool air is then diffused throughout your home to lower the interior temperature.
#5 Solar Lighting
Solar lighting technology has progressed massively. Today, you can actually see solar lights everywhere; from home landscaping and security lighting to road signs and street lights.
These solar lighting systems for your house are inexpensive and widely available in simple to high-end designs. You can easily get them from your local hardware store or online shopping websites such as Amazon.com. When you look for some options, you’ll see that there are quite a few to choose from, such as:
- Solar street lights;
- Solar spotlights;
- Solar-powered lamp posts;
- Solar lanterns;
- Ambient and decorative solar lights;
- Solar pathway lighting;
- Solar powered-motion lights.
#6 Portable Solar PV Chargers
How bad is it to see your phone’s battery dying during the day? It gets even worse when you are on the road and cannot access your trail map or get help from GPS. This is where portable solar PV chargers come in; they keep our indispensable devices charged on the go.
The number 1 advantage of these chargers is that they do not need an external power source to work. The sun is their source of power, which is great for people who do not have access to a power outlet right away.
Along with other necessary equipment and supplies, a solar charger is a perfect addition to any emergency preparedness kit. It is hard to guess when the weather will turn bad. A severe thunderstorm, tornadoes, or heavy snow can cut off electricity anywhere from a few hours to several days. In fact, a reusable solar phone charger can save the day. It keeps you in touch with loved ones without having to worry about your phone’s battery draining.
#7 Solar Transportation
Can we actually replace fossil fuel with solar energy? Short answer: yes! Different types of solar-powered vehicles are already here, including yachts, buses, cars, trains, and aircraft.
Nevertheless, this type of solar energy application is not yet widespread.
The Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
While there are numerous benefits to switching to solar energy, it is not a decision that should be made overnight. Take the time to compare the benefits and drawbacks of solar energy before deciding whether or not to make the switch. In the hope that we can help you figure out what to do, we made you a list of the pros and cons of solar energy;
Major Advantages of Solar Energy
Solar energy reduces the quantity of carbon and pollutants produced, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This means a cleaner environment for future generations. Even better, unlike the conventional electricity system, which depends on non-renewable resources such as oil and gas, solar energy is renewable. In other words, this energy will never run out.
Saves Money In The Long Run
After putting money into solar panels and overcoming the early installation costs, they quickly pay for themselves; Solar panels can operate for up to 25 years. Homeowners that use solar panels save between six and ten years on their power bills, on average.
Despite popular belief, solar panels can be used anywhere on the planet and in any climate. They can generate power with the smallest amount of sunlight, even if it is cloudy, raining, snowing, or sleeting.
Top Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Expensive (in the beginning)
Installing solar panels for your home is similar to purchasing a car. The initial installation usually needs a big budget. However, if you do your research and make the proper decision, your investment will pay off well for so many years.
Works Only in The Morning
Do we really have to explain this one?! Anyways, you should keep in mind that your rooftop solar panels will not generate electricity at night. This is especially important if you want to live totally off the grid and rely entirely on solar panels to power your home. If you don’t have access to the electric grid, you will need energy storage devices to store the energy generated earlier during the day so that you can use it at night.
Once Installed, They Are Difficult to Move
You could technically relocate your solar panels to your new home. But, in reality, this practically never happens. Why? Moving solar panels to a new position is not a good idea because they are custom-tailored to fit your roof. If you are planning on moving, you can simply add the value of the solar panels to the house price.
In brief, renewable energy is already becoming a more familiar part of our daily lives. Solar panels are now more efficient, cost-effective, and eco-friendly than they have ever been.
Going solar, like any other investment, will not make sense for every household. This is why you should take into account many factors, and think through the pros and cons of solar systems. Solar energy’s key benefits include:
- Lowering your utility bill;
- Reducing your carbon footprint;
- Working despite the weather condition;
- Solar panels are low-maintenance.
At the same time, solar energy has some disadvantages, such as:
- The fact that it does not work for every roof;
- It is not ideal if you are going to move;
- The initial cost can be high;
- It needs extra storage devices to make the most of it.
Innovation will continue to drive new solar energy uses that will improve our lives and contribute to a cleaner planet. How many additional solar energy applications will there be in the future? We can’t wait to find out!
- 7 Uses of Solar Energy
- How to Run Your House Solely on Solar Power | HowStuffWorks
- A Solar-Powered Home: Will It Pay Off?
- Planning a Home Solar Electric System | Department of Energy
- Estimating the Cost and Energy Efficiency of a Solar Water Heater
- How to Use Solar Panels for Cooling Your Home
- Solar Transportation: 4 Solar Vehicles That Are Making Waves
- Solar Energy Pros And Cons – Forbes Advisor
- 11 Pros and Cons of Solar Energy to Consider in 2021