Solar energy refers to energy from the sun’s rays. As you might guess, there are countless uses for solar energy. The entire Earth biosphere runs on solar energy. Humans have been using solar energy since before anyone was writing things down or even painting cave walls. The sun powers the entire planet. Without it there is no life of any kind.
According to Energy.gov, “Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth — 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. . . more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use” (6 Things).
Uses of Solar Energy
There are countless industrial and commercial uses of the sun’s rays and heat. The most notable and largest of these uses is concentrating solar power (CSP), which, just as it sounds, involves concentrating sunlight. The concentrated energy is then converted and used as electricity or converted to heat to power turbines that then produce electricity.
In the US in 2017, solar installations produced twice as much electricity as was produced in 2015, bringing the total solar energy produced to 2% of total electrical output. From 2015 to 2017, solar energy production doubled (Weaver). This year, another increase is estimated.
Some Uses of Solar Energy
To generate electricity with solar cells or heat engines.
To take the salt away from sea water.
To use sun rays for drying clothes and towels.
It is used by plants for the process of photosynthesis.
Energysage.com has identified the top 5 uses of solar energy: solar transportation, solar technology, solar lighting, solar heating and rooftop solar (“5 Top”).
Solar transportation refers to solar powered railroads, subways, buses, planes, cars and roads. Solar transportation is becoming ever more popular choice in renewable energy. Recently, a solar powered-aircraft, the Solar Impulse 2, flew around the world. China is using solar buses to reduce carbon and maintain mass transit for densely populated areas. In Australia, thanks to the SolarSpirit, solar cars are getting more recognition (“5 Top”).
Solar Technology, for the purposes of this list will be defined as wearable solar technology. But let us be clear: anything that is powered with electricity could be solar-powered. How the electricity is generated determines if it is solar electricity, not which items it electrifies.
These items are directly solar-powered because you may simply wear them or place them in the sun to charge them.
- Music speakers
- Solar air conditioning
- Solar dryers
- Solar visor radios
- Rechargeable flashlights
- Solar Heating
Solar Heating: Using PV for Thermal Energy
An alternate way to reduce your electricity bill with solar energy is to buy a solar water heater or solar space heater. These do not require a complete solar installation to function because the solar space heaters collect “sunlight and convert it into thermal energy using a liquid or air as a medium, while solar water heaters use water as a method for thermal transfer” (Top 5”).
Solar water heaters and solar space heaters can be passive or active. Passive systems use natural circulation while active systems use pumps to circulate water and make heat.
Of course, a complete solar energy system for your home is more desirable than these small appliances, but it does cost more.
Another stand-alone use for solar energy is pool heating. Simply put, your solar pool heater “uses a solar collector that harnesses sunlight and converts it into heat. Water is then drawn through the collector as a means of heating the pool” (“Top 5”).
Solar lighting may be the most popular use of solar energy. Solar lights were among the first solar technologies to gain popularity. Solar street lights are just one example of the uses of solar lighting.
Most important to homeowners is that installing solar lights instantly improves your home’s energy efficiency. What you will love about solar lighting installations, is that there is no lengthy setup because the lights are wireless. Solar lights collect sun during the day and use it to light up at night. Cheap, almost foolproof, and energy efficient, solar lights are quickly becoming as popular as solar panels.
Additionally, houses with outdoor solar lighting are worth more because the lights are attractive and useful. Some installations “can improve the exterior design of a property, [and] are often as cheap as $20 per light” (“Top 5”). s so common to see solar powered street lights – keep your eye out for those like the one pictured above. Rooftop Solar: A Homeowner’s Best Friend
With all these amazing new gadgets and applications, it is easy to forget about the good ole rooftop solar panel energy system. Nothing has to move or fly in the home solar panel system. But the energy savings your rooftop solar panels can provide is too large to ignore.
Uses of Solar Energy at Home
The home uses of solar energy are also almost endless. As we have seen, solar energy is primarily used to cook and heat water and buildings. However, anything and everything in the home that is currently powered with electricity could be powered with solar-generated electricity because electricity works the same regardless where it comes from.
You home solar energy system has a converter/inverter which, as the word indicates, converts the DC electricity your system produces to AC so that it can be used easily and even fed back into your electric grid.
Probably the first place may solar items were invented for is the outdoors, either the big outdoors or your little outdoors in your yard. Nowadays, the only limit on the use of solar energy is in the products available. The sky is literally the limit when it comes to using solar energy. Click here for an astoundingly long list of things you can power with solar energy. There are at least as many uses for solar energy as there are products on this extensive Wikipedia list.
Solar Energy Technologies for Home
- Photovoltaic Systems for Heating
- Solar Hot Water Heater
- Passive Solar Heating and Daylighting
- Solar Lighting
- Solar Process Space Heating and Cooling
- Car Charging
When you have a solar energy system installed in your home, your home can then make its own electricity. Once your home is making its own electricity, you will receive much lower electricity bills and even possibly get some money back from your utility company. There are numerous websites that feature cost estimators which can tell you about how much solar electricity your home may produce.
The estimated cost to purchase and install a home solar energy system today in the US is between $10 and $15 thousand dollars. According to Sunrun, “in 2013 the monthly average electricity bill was $110.21. Hawaii had the highest average monthly electric bill at $190.36 and New Mexico the lowest at $76.56” (Solar”). Additionally, electric costs may be increased by your utility.
Even if your electric bill is for the average amount, you are spending $1,322.52 per year. Energysage.com suggests that if you first determine how much electricity you are using, you can install enough panels to generate that much electricity, effectively reducing your electric bill to zero. Individual locations rates vary due to differences in the amount utilities pay you for the electricity you feed back into the grid from your home system.
“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar-powered_products.” 2014 December 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org. Webpage. 23 May 2018.
https://www.energy.gov/articles/top-6-things-you-didnt-know-about-solar-energy. n.d. Webpage. 28 March 2018.
“https://www.sunrun.com/solar-savings/average-electric-bil.” 2018. https://www.sunrun.com/. Webpage. 25 May 2018.
Richardson, Luke. “https://news.energysage.com/most-common-solar-energy-uses/.” 2 January 2017. https://news.energysage.com. Webpage. 23 May 2018.
Weaver, John. “https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2018/02/28/solar-rises-to-nearly-2-of-u-s-generation-in-2017/.” 28 February 2018. https://pv-magazine-usa.com. Webpage. 23 May 2018.
Thanks to Tesla for the featured image.