As the sun’s radiation hits the earth, it comes with loads of energy. In one hour only, the amount of energy striking our planet is more than the total global consumption in a year. Therefore, solar energy is a gem that the world can exploit and rely on. However, the exploitation is yet to reach anywhere near the full potential. We will look at the uses of solar energy to understand its application in homes and businesses.
Several technologies convert radiation from the sun into useful energy. Solar photovoltaic is among the most popular tech that converts sunlight into electricity for residential and commercial buildings. Installation of solar technology is on the rise as homeowners seek diversification of energy sources, increase efficiency, and save on costs.
Common Uses of Solar Energy
1. Providing electricity to a household
It is possible to generate power for residential and commercial premises from solar energy. It might seem complicated and expensive, but it is a simple concept. The system involves mounting solar panels on a roof or ground-fixed structures. The panels convert the radiation from the sun into electricity.
The power is in direct current and flows into the inverter for conversion into alternating current. The AC flows into the house’s electrical wiring to power electronic devices similar to the electric services of a local utility company.
In most regions, utility companies offer power buyback for surplus units from your solar panel system. You get credit for the supply to the grid and receive the units when your system has low output. If you are off-grid, you can invest in storage batteries where you store energy for use during low production. Additionally, you can incorporate a backup generator into your system that you can use to provide power to your house.
Solar panel installation is a long term capital investment that will serve your home or business for decades. The federal government incentives have encouraged most homes in USA to go solar. The average cost of installation for 5 kilowatts solar panel systems ranges between 25k and 35k dollars. While such could be a bit high, government subsidies can reduce it by thousands of dollars. It takes an average of 8 to 10 years for your investment in solar energy systems to pay back. After that, your house uses electricity for free.
2. Hot air solar systems
There are heating systems that use hot air instead of water or any other liquid to heat the house. The systems operate by collecting hot air currents from the sun. This is the air just above a rood or a wall that faces the sun. The system then circulates the air through the building. Buildings that use this system have roofing or siding surface constructed to absorb heat.
3. Ventilation fans
Among the many uses of solar energy, there is the regulation temperature in homes. Ventilation fans are crucial as they lower the cooling costs by eliminating hot air from roof space and other areas. In the past, the fans were part of the household electrical systems, which is a setback in the quest to save energy.
However, fans with a small panel that runs a motor without the need to draw electricity from the electrical systems are now available. The self-contained units are ideal for a chicken coop, shed, kennel and garage during the hot summer season. Besides, you can also use solar fans in the patio and kids’ play areas.
4. Heating of swimming pools
Among the most popular leisure activities during summer is swimming. People like it the moment the pool is open except when the water is too cold. Homeowners use solar blankets to increase the temperature of the water. The blanket floats on the water as a passive heating device. It functions by absorbing the heat from the sun and transmitting the same into the water.
However, there is yet another more high tech solution for heating the pools. It involves the installation of a full-fledged system. The system uses solar heating modules placed on the roof to absorb heat from the sun and transmits it through several tubes that coil through the panels. The water circulates from the pool through the loops and flows back into the pool. In the process, there is an increase in temperature.
5. Provision of power to pumps
Among solar energy uses in water heater systems, a pump is a critical component. It pushes water from the solar collector to the storage tank. The pumps require electricity to run. Instead of conventional electricity, solar energy ensures maximum energy saving. Photoelectric panels produce electricity to operate DC motors that circulate in the pumps.
Such systems require some investment, but it significantly lowers the cost of operations. Like any other photoelectric system, it is possible to store solar energy in batteries and power the pumps when the panels are not producing electricity, especially at night.
A greenhouse consists of a transparent material, either plastic or glass that collects solar radiation essential in growing plants. This structure has heating, cooling, and ventilation devices for the regulation of temperatures inside the greenhouse. Nowadays, greenhouses can operate through solar energy.
The radiation from the sun can penetrate through the glazing of the structure. But the heat from the objects inside the greenhouse, including the plants, cannot escape through. Due to that aspect, the radiations remain within the greenhouse structure, which leads to an increase in temperature.
A greenhouse has a closed barrier. There is an enrichment of air in the greenhouse with carbon dioxide. However, the boundary restricts the mixing of the greenhouse air to the one in the atmosphere. Additionally, restriction in transpiration reduces moisture loss. All these elements are solar energy uses in sustaining the growth of plants.
7. Charging of batteries
It is possible to charge any device that uses a battery with solar energy. Photoelectric solar panels produce direct current, a similar form of electricity common in batteries. Nowadays, solar panel kits come with a connection that enables you to charge mobile phones, tablets, and laptops directly.
Besides, it is also possible to charge other types of batteries by incorporating a simple inverter in the system that converts direct current into alternating current (120V). Many solar panels can charge higher capacity batteries that power almost all 120-volt alternating current devices in the house on a large scale.
Households use different fuels, including coal, firewood, cooking gas, and kerosene to cook. However, there is a deterioration in the supply of these fuels. Besides, using others such as dung cakes from animal droppings for cooking is wasteful. It would be better to use the cow dung for farming. The two drawbacks are behind the rise in solar energy uses in cooking. That is why companies are developing solar cookers. Take, for instance, a simple one such as the flat plate box type, which has a blackened interior of insulated metal or wooden box.
Short solar wavelengths radiations are the ones that enter the chamber while the higher ones cannot pass through the glass covers. There is the minimization of reflection of radiation from the black inner surface to the box’s outer side via the two glass casings that minimize loss of heat.
Ensuring the box is airtight minimizes heat loss. There is a rubber strip between the top lid and the box to achieve minimization. When you place the solar cooker in the sun, radiations pass through the glass covers. The black surface absorbs them, which results in a temperature increase in the box.
A solar cooker does not require fuel and attention as the food cooks. Besides, it does not cause pollution to the environment. The food cooks without overflowing, and a good feature of the solar cookers is that cooking does not destroy vitamins and natural tastes. Therefore, the food has a high nutritional value. As people move towards the preservation of vegetables, solar drying is the recommended technique. It maintains the nutrients as you get the dry vegetables.
Solar cookers have negligible maintenance costs. However, the major downside of technology is that you cannot use it at night or when it is cloudy. Besides, you cannot cook food on short notice since this method is time-consuming.
9. Landscape and streets lighting
For the past few years, outdoor lighting has been through underground wiring, drawing electricity from the transformer. But nowadays, it is possible to light the landscape using free-standing lighting fixtures. Each has a storage battery and a small solar panel.
Although these fixtures provided dim light in the past, the current LED technology and batteries’ improvements give more lighting to the landscape. The lights are on throughout the night, and the fixtures do not need wire connections.
As renewable sources of power increase across the world, more solar energy uses will emerge. There are predictions that every industry will adopt a sustainable source of power in the future, particularly solar energy. This is evident through the invention of electric vehicles, which other than other sources of electricity, solar power appears to be the most ideal to run them.