As climate change continues to worsen, people all over the world have begun to look to alternative forms of energy. Solar energy is renewable, inexhaustible and incredibly versatile. We can use it to power everything from cars to tablets. Keep reading to see how solar energy is used today.
10 Solar Energy Uses
Humans have been using the sun as a heat source for centuries — we’ve just refined our usage in the modern world. Here are some of the ways solar energy helps create heat, electricity, light and more:
1. Photovoltaic Electricity Generation
This kind of solar energy is the one you typically think of. If you’ve ever driven past a solar panel on a rooftop, you’re probably looking at photovoltaic electricity generation in action. It works by using photovoltaic, or solar cells, which absorb light and convert it directly into electricity. You might see them on homes or businesses, as well as in solar fields and in countless other applications.
2. Thermal Electricity Generation
Thermal electricity generators use mirrors to direct sunlight toward a specific spot, where it is used to boil water. As the water boils, it generates steam, which spins a turbine connected to a generator, thereby creating electricity.
These aren’t common in small applications, but you might find them on a larger scale to create utility power. The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert is the largest, creating enough power for 140,000 homes.
Plants have a unique ability to use photosynthesis to store the solar energy they create. Other methods typically need to use their energy right away.
During photosynthesis, plants produce oxygen and glucose, which fuel companies can use to create energy-dense products, like ethanol fuels from corn. Unfortunately, natural photosynthesis isn’t particularly efficient, so refining or using artificial photosynthesis can help make this a more viable product.
4. Solar-Powered Vehicles
While still in the development phase, the possibility of driving a solar-powered car gets closer with each year. Solar-hybrid cars are becoming more common, but fully solar cars are on the horizon.
You can also find solar-powered boats and public transit vehicles like trains and busses in some eco-friendly cities.
5. Water Heating
You can use the sun for heating, too. Plenty of homes and offices uses these flat-plate devices that collect solar energy from the roof. Many pool owners use solar water heaters, too.
6. Smart Heating, Cooling and Daylighting
Using natural sunlight to warm a home is an excellent way to reduce energy usage. Many designers will place windows on the side of a home that sees the most sunshine or use materials in the walls that absorb sunlight. These methods can reduce energy usage by letting more light and heat in and minimizing the need to turn the lights on.
This works in reverse, too. On hot days, you can draw the blinds and drapes, especially if they’re blackout curtains, to reduce the amount of sunlight warming up your house.
7. Solar Lights
You can find solar-powered lights in any number of environments. Many people use photovoltaic cells with path lights in their garden, while cities can use them on larger lampposts to brighten the streets at night. It can save the city money and help them become more eco-friendly.
Another place you might see solar lights is in developing countries, where grid electricity might be out of reach. Smaller lamps can last someone through the night.
8. Solar Paint
Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology created a paint that can help generate clean energy for a building. It uses a chemical similar to silica gel to absorb solar energy and moisture from the air. It then splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen and collects the hydrogen for energy use.
9. Solar-Powered Backpacks
Backpacks are just one of many new products making use of solar power. You can find students and hikers across the world using backpacks with solar panels to charge their devices. They can stay safer without worrying about needing to charge their phone or power a flashlight in case of an emergency.
10. Solar-Powered Camping Gear
In a similar vein, you can get a wide variety of solar-powered camping gear, including:
- Water purifiers
Campers can minimize the cables and devices they need to carry with them and enjoy safer and more modern amenities even while they’re away from electricity.
Solar Energy for Innovation
As you can tell, solar energy has a massive variety of applications. It can power our homes, help generate fuel for cars and make life easier for everyone while reducing our impact on the health of the planet.