Uses of Solar Energy: What Are Applications of Solar Energy?

uses of solar energyWith the deterioration of the global environment and the depletion of fossil fuels, countries around the world are turning their attention to energy transformation. New energy is considered to be an important direction.

Solar energy, one of the most important elements of new energy generation, has unique advantages and is regarded as one of the most promising power technologies in the 21st century.

Part of making a switch to applications of solar energy is unselfish and instigated by concern about the ever-increasing threat of climate change.

A preliminary study carried out in Europe and the US concluded that ditching fossil fuel for solar energy could potentially contribute to the air pollution by a whopping 90%.

With so many technologies and devices that could potentially be powered with solar, many people are wondering “what are the applications of solar?”

Whether it is charging your phone or providing emergency power to whole home, the list of applications of solar is endless, which makes many people wonder how to use solar energy & how far they could go when they switch to solar. 

Let’s shed some light on some of the uses of solar energy that you should know about.

What Are the Major Applications of Solar Energy?

It is worth noting that solar energy involves capturing the sun’s energy to create either

  1. the so-called concentrated solar power (CSP), or
  2. photovoltaic power (PV).

photovoltaic power is the most common application of solar energy. In a broad sense, that means solar energy can be harnessed for both solar heating and power, respectively.

By converting sunlight into power or heat, solar energy can be leveraged to power heaters, pools, lights, automotive, and gadgets, etc. There’s no doubt that the solar-powered gadgets and appliances available today are more complex than ever before.

#Application 1 - Solar Rooftop

rooftop solar

With a myriad of state-of-the-art electronic devices and gadgets today, it’s not hard to see why the most common solar power examples is rooftop solar. Generating electric power via rooftop solar panels is kind of application that has gained tons of momentum in the last few decades.

As more and more people realize the environmental, social, and financial benefits of solar energy, rooftop solar has increasingly gained traction especially with homeowners in countries and states that receive year-round sunshine, such as Australia, California, Nevada, Florida, and Texas. The rising adoption of rooftop solar is also speedy thanks to the plummeting costs of solar panels, making solar electricity more pervasive, more affordable, and readily available than ever in most countries.

For instance, the solar rooftop capacity in the United States is estimated to be roughly 97.2GW, marking an uptick of a whopping 28,500% from a mere 0.34 GW in 2008. The percentage of national electric power generated through rooftop solar has more than tripled in the last four years, accounting for more than 40%, according to the US Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Rooftop solar can save homeowners thousands of dollars in electric bills each year, not to mention it can help them cut their carbon footprint, and avoid the rising costs of electricity. As you think about going solar with rooftop photovoltaic panels, it is important to consider your home’s sun exposure, roof type, roof condition, aesthetics of your home, roof orientation, as well as your home energy requirements.

#Application 2 - Solar Heating

solar heating

Another core application of solar energy is generating concentrated thermal power. Given the abundance of the sun’s free energy, many businesses like hotels and homeowners are embracing solar space heaters and solar water heaters as alternative ways to heat their properties.

How do they work? Solar water heaters, as the name suggest, make use of water as a medium for transferring thermal energy, while solar space heaters are designed to use air or liquid as a method of harnessing sunlight and converting it into thermal energy. These solar thermal solutions can either be active or passive, in that active solar heating systems leverage pumps to help circulate heated water, while passive ones use natural convection to circulate heated media.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar water heaters are expected to pay back within five to ten years of installation. Those who go for solar heating arrays may expect a payback of 5-10% with a passive system that costs less than the full solar panel system.

Another major benefit of solar energy via solar thermal technology is the capacity to heat central plumbing, pool, Jacuzzi, and other home resources at a fraction of the cost of traditional alternatives like gasoline pumps, oil pumps, electric pumps, etc.

Solar heating is considered as the most affordable way to heat a pool in most regions of the US, according to the DOE. These solar thermal systems can cost anywhere from $3k to $4k and will deliver good returns on your investment within as short as 1.5 years.

#Application 3 - Solar Lighting

One of the most direct and effective ways to enhance sunlight is to use it for outdoor solar lighting, which is a great way to spruce up the curb appeal, security, and resale value of your property. Unlike standard outdoor lights, solar lighting is easy to install, mostly wireless, and collects sunlight to reduce reliance on the utility-supplied electric power at night.

While solar lights are not yet as popular as solar panels, they’re increasingly being used alongside products like smart home thermostats and LED bulbs to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. They are not expensive, too, with most models coming at around $20 a piece.

The prevalence, affordability, and accessibility are some of the top reasons why more and more street lights are powered through solar energy.

#Application 4 - Powering Automotive (Solar-Powered Transit)

pv powered transportation and automotive

An innovative examples of solar energy is PV-powered transportation and automotive. Cars, planes, buses, subways, street trolleys, railroads, and even roads can all be run with solar energy, and solar-powered transportation is increasingly becoming a popular alternative to traditional means.

A few years ago, we saw the first solar-powered plane make a trip around the world, marking a major milestone for the application of solar energy in the transportation industry. Even more exciting, China is using solar-powered businesses to facilitate mass transit in megacities like Beijing while reducing its dire carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, solar-powered cars have recently shown up in motor competitions across the globe. A typical example is the SolarSpirit debut model that participated in racing tournaments in Australia. And we’ve just scraped the surface as far as solar-powered automotive and transit goes.

#Application 5 Powering Wearable Tech

wearable solar tech

If there’s one personal application of solar energy, it’s wearable solar tech. It’s not something new for consumer electronics to be powered with solar. Portable solar chargers can power or charge a wide array of electronics, from cameras and smartphones to e-readers and tablets.

As the tech world embraces solar, we are going to see a bevy of self-charging and eco-friendly solar wearables, including smartwatches, smartphones, step counters, fitness trackers, portable solar chargers, portable power stations, and much more.

#Application 6 Solar Ventilation

Solar ventilation systems have come a very long way. Today, advanced solar ventilation systems like solar attic fans increasingly play an important role in reducing the burden of gas-powered air conditioning as they help in cooling buildings and homes during the hot summer weather. That makes solar ventilation a smart way to use solar energy, particularly for homeowners who haven’t installed rooftop solar panels to offset their central cooling & heating costs in their homes.

Industrial and commercial applications of solar energy include thermal heating technologies that help heat air before being circulated in buildings and industrial settings, helping reduce heating costs.

What Does the Future of Solar Energy Look Like?

Solar energy has certainly made some huge milestones in the last decade. Ten years ago, the global solar industry was fairly tiny and heavily reliant on government incentives and subsidies in solar-centric countries and states like Italy, Germany, and California. Today, we are looking at a huge solar capacity in the neighborhood of 120GW, rolling off the back of plummeting costs of solar panels and innovations in solar technologies, especially in sunnier states like California, where solar has become one of the cheapest sources of power.

Looking forward, it’s apparent that solar is going to become even more affordable, reliable, and accessible. According to industry pundits, solar could be the most prominent source of electric power in most parts of the world by 2030 and by then solar costs would be more than halved. That’ll result in an ancillary benefit for our planet and may as well help us curb climate change.

Future innovations will be centered on the advanced application of solar energy, especially how to better incorporate solar technology into your power systems, businesses, and homes. That means increasing use of low-cost, solar-powered electronic technologies and more advanced power electronics.

All in all, harnessing solar energy will reach the cost-reduction levels that make it an unrivaled source of renewable power compared to oil, gas, and other fossil fuels. In other words, the future of solar energy is bright and it’s going to be a massive win for everyone.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt solar energy will continue to play a crucial role in the world going forward. Nowadays, it has become almost ubiquitous and the major applications of solar include solar electricity, solar lighting, solar heating, solar transportation, and solar ventilation. You can see solar panels installed on rooftops, solar street lights on roadsides, and solar fans for cooling. Of course, more applications of solar energy will emerge as more breakthroughs in solar technology are realized, and what we have listed above is just a tip of the iceberg. The uses of solar energy will also reduce our carbon footprint and make the environment we live in better and better.

FAQ

1. What are the main applications of solar energy?

Solar rooftop, solar heating, solar lighting, powering wearable tech, solar ventilation are the main applications of solar energy.

2. What are advantages of solar energy?

Solar energy is green, no pollution, totally free, and it’s suitable for remote areas that are not connected to the main grid.

3. Why is solar energy popular?

There is no geographical restriction on solar energy. Whether you're in the mountains or the plains, you can easily use it. In addition, it is a completely free resource, simply install solar panels to make use of solar power to reduce your electricity bill.

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