7 Uses of Solar Energy
July 12, 2018
Our sun is the source of all life on Earth, and solar energy is useful to us in many different ways. The sun creates two main types of energy – light and heat – that we can harness for many activities ranging from photosynthesis in plants to creating electricity with photovoltaic (PV) cells to heating water and food. So, what are some uses of solar energy? Let’s explore seven common uses and benefits of sunlight in our daily lives.
1. Solar Electricity
This is one of the solar energy applications that has gained a lot of momentum in recent years. As solar panel costs decline and more people become aware of the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy, solar electricity is becoming increasingly accessible. While still a very small percentage of the electricity generated in the U.S. (1.9% in 2017), solar electricity is growing rapidly (almost tripling over a three year period and up +40% versus 2016) according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
A distributed solar PV system is typically installed on the rooftops of homes or businesses. These solar power systems generate electricity to offset the property owner’s usage and send any excess production to the electric grid.
A solar battery can connect to your solar power system to enable you to use solar after the sun goes down, power an EV overnight, or provide backup power during emergencies. Some homeowners may choose to go completely off the grid with a solar power and battery system or a solar power and generator system.
In some cases, solar PV may be installed on an adjacent structure such as a barn or mounted to the ground, and then connected to the meter using underground cabling.
Other uses for solar energy include utility scale solar PV farms that can generate enough electricity to power entire cities. An even more efficient solar technology is concentrated solar power (CSP). A CSP solar farm uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate the sun’s energy towards a tower or other receiver, generating heat that can power a turbine to create electricity. That thermal energy may be stored before powering a generator, which makes it a more flexible source of electricity than solar PV. The world’s largest CSP solar farm is the 390 megawatt (MW) Ivanpah project in California’s Mojave Desert, although an even larger 580 MW CSP plant under construction in Morocco may soon claim that title.
2. Solar Water Heating
Uses for solar energy extend to water heating systems. Most solar water heating solutions create hot water that is consumed inside the home. Solar water heaters use a rooftop cell to absorb the sun’s heat and transfer it to the water tank. Solar water heaters usually have a five to ten year payback according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Another application of solar energy, especially in the southern and southwestern U.S., is heating swimming pools. Water is circulated to a collector where it is heated by sunlight and then pumped back into the pool. With costs between $3,000 and $4,000 and a payback of 1.5 to 7 years, the U.S. DOE says that “solar pool heating is the most cost-effective use of solar energy in many climates.”
3. Solar Heating
Typical uses of solar space heating systems include powering radiant floors or pairing with a Forced Hot Air (FHA) system to heat a home. Passive solar home design can also heat homes and businesses in the winter by taking into consideration the placement of windows and the selection of materials used in the building.
4. Solar Ventilation
Solar ventilation solutions such as solar attic fans can reduce the burden of your HVAC by helping to cool your home during the summer. This may be a good option if you are not able to install a solar PV system that offsets your home’s entire electricity use. One innovative product is the Solatube solar attic fan.
Commercial and industrial applications of solar process heat include solar ventilation technologies that can preheat a building’s air in cold climates, reducing energy costs.
5. Solar Lighting
Solar lights have become ubiquitous and can be found everywhere from home landscaping and security lights to road signs and street lights. These solar lighting technologies for your home are inexpensive and readily available from basic to high-end designs everywhere from your local hardware store to online shopping websites such as Amazon.com.
6. Portable Solar
In our connected world, phones and tablets are always with us and, let’s face it, often running low on battery. Portable solar PV chargers can keep our personal electric devices charged on the go. The technology already exists to integrate solar cells into our phones and has been in watches since the 1970s (see the Citizen Eco-Drive). Researchers in Japan have even developed lightweight, water-resistant solar cells that could someday be sewed into clothing to power our devices.
7. Solar Transportation
Solar-powered vehicles may be the future, with existing applications including buses, trains, airplanes, and race cars built by students in Australia and the U.S. A fully solar-powered car is even slated for commercial release in 2019. This use of solar energy is not yet widely available, unless you own an electric car or EV and charge it with solar panels (generally via a solar-connected battery).
Seven Uses of Solar Energy FAQs
The main uses of solar energy are solar photovoltaics (PV) for electricity, solar heating and cooling (SHC) and concentrating solar power (CSP). SHC systems are primarily used for heating or cooling water and spaces (i.e., your home). CSP systems use reflective devices to concentrate the sun’s energy and are mainly marketed toward utilities.
The uses of solar energy include solar electricity, solar water heating, solar heating, solar ventilation, solar lighting, portable solar (for personal electronic devices) and solar transportation (for electric vehicles).
Solar energy is used the most in China. The country has the largest solar fleet installation, which generates about 205 GW of power. By 2060, China aims to fully neutralize its carbon emissions.
The sun creates two main types of solar energy, light and heat, which people can harness in a variety of ways. For example, some electric vehicles (EVs) use solar photovoltaic (PV) energy to charge their batteries instead of relying on gasoline. Another example is using a solar water heater to heat the water in your swimming pool or the water you use in your house through a sink faucet or shower.
Solar energy is used across the U.S., but it’s most prominent in the states of California, Texas and North Carolina. California uses the most solar energy by far, with over 29,000 megawatts of electricity produced in 2020 alone. This is partly due to a 2018 California law requiring single- and multi-family homes, as well as commercial buildings, to install solar panels starting in 2020.
Solar is the best energy solution because it’s fully renewable, unlike traditional power. This means it’s available every day and can be harnessed anywhere in the world. Solar energy is abundant and benefits the environment and public health by substantially reducing carbon emissions. Solar projects also make better use of underutilized land such as through agrivoltaic farming.
Solar energy is radiant heat and light from the sun that people harness using a variety of technologies. The benefits of solar power include lower monthly electricity bills, improved local air quality and higher home resale values. It also makes the electric grid more resilient, offers a hedge on rising energy costs and provides energy independence for its users.
Solar helps the environment by reducing carbon and methane emissions and decreasing ground and air pollution. Solar also helps decrease water usage and doesn’t pollute the ground, rivers or any natural bodies of water.
A solar ventilation system refers to a transpired solar collector or solar wall that heats air before it enters a building or other structure. Solar ventilation systems are a sustainable and efficient way of lowering a building’s energy consumption and costs through renewable sources.
Solar energy is sourced entirely from the sun. It can be harnessed in a variety of ways using technologies such as solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal and solar heating.
As of 2022, solar energy is the most abundant renewable energy source on the planet. It is inexhaustible, unlike traditional fossil fuel energy sources, which are harmful to the environment and public health.
A Solar-Powered Future
Renewable energy is already becoming a more familiar part of our lives, and innovation will continue to drive new applications of solar energy technologies that will improve our daily lives and help power a cleaner world. How many more uses of solar energy will there be in the future? We are excited to find out!