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How is solar energy used? The 5 most common examples of solar power

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With so many different gadgets and technologies that could leverage solar power in the modern era, many are wondering “how is solar energy used?” Whether it’s powering renewable transportation or charging a wireless speaker, the list of examples of solar energy is endless, leaving many homeowners wondering how far they can really go when they decide to “go solar.”

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What is solar energy used for?

Solar energy uses captured sunlight to create photovoltaic power (PV) or concentrated solar power (CSP) for solar heating. This energy conversion allows solar to be used to power auto motives, lights, pools, heaters and gadgets.

There’s no doubt that the solar-powered products available on the market are increasingly complex. Here’s EnergySage’s top five list for examples of solar energy: solar transportation, solar tech, solar lighting, solar heating and our favorite – rooftop solar.

Solar-powered transportation: a new use of photovoltaic energy

solar powered train as a use of solar energy

An innovative practice to effectively make use of the sunshine is with transportation powered by photovoltaic (PV) energy. Railroads, subways, buses, planes, cars and even roads can all be powered by solar, and solar transit is becoming a popular offering in the renewable energy sector. Recently, the solar powered-aircraft Solar Impulse 2 made its way around the world, soaring across the Pacific and making big splashes in iconic photographs. Meanwhile, solar buses are helping China reduce its carbon footprint while simultaneously maintaining efficient mass transit in densely populated cities like Beijing. Finally, solar cars are starting to play a role in racing competitions around the world, especially in Australia where the SolarSpirit model has gained major recognition. With these advances and more, there’s no question that solar power is the transforming transportation sector around the world.

Wearable solar tech: a personal way to use solar power

Powering consumer electronics has become a common solar power use in today’s world – solar-powered chargers like Anker’s Powerport can charge anything from a cell phone to a tablet or e-reader. There are even solar-powered flashlights that can be charged by being exposed to sunlight. For those curious about the top products in solar tech, check out this top 10 list of uses for solar devices:

  • Cell phones
  • Wearables
  • Music speakers
  • Solar air conditioning
  • Tablets
  • Thermostats
  • Solar dryers
  • Solar visor radios
  • Freezers/mini-fridges
  • Rechargeable flashlights

As the world moves away from fossil fuels and seeks renewable sources for everyday electronics, there’s no doubt that solar will continue to be adopted by the masses for any product that can be exposed to sunlight. The ultimate goal: use solar products to reinvent the way we think about power usage, and reverse the expectation for how devices should be charged. And as the conversion efficiency of solar continues to improve, this trend will expand into new markets and new products.

For example, wearable solar could soon make Apple Watches and Fitbits much more appealing to consumers – unlike their standard counterparts, solar-powered smartwatches don’t need to be plugged in to recharge every night. The real question is, will these large technology companies be able to integrate wearable solar technology into their products before an emerging brand beats them to it?

Solar lighting: a popular example of solar energy

street light powered with solar energy


One of the easiest ways to improve home efficiency is to add outdoor solar lighting to your property. Unlike traditional exterior lights, solar lighting requires no complicated setup as the lights are wireless and harness sunlight during the day to circumvent the need for grid-supplied electricity at night. Though solar lights are not yet as common as solar panels, they are quickly joining the likes of LED lightbulbs and smart home thermostats as a cheap product that can reduce electric bills and improve the efficiency of your home.

Additionally, the aesthetic of modern solar lighting can significantly improve the outdoor decor of a property. Elaborate lighting arrays can improve the exterior design of a property, are often as cheap as $20 per light, and are available at major home retailers such as Home Depot. The availability and low cost of these lighting products are one reason why it’s so common to see solar-powered street lights – keep your eye out for those like the one pictured above.

Solar heating: using PV for thermal energy

Many homeowners are unaware that solar water heaters and solar space heaters are an effective way to heat one’s home without making the larger investment of installing solar panels. Solar space heaters harness sunlight and convert it into thermal energy with the use of liquid or air as a medium, while solar water heaters use water as a method for thermal transfer. These solar heating systems can either be passive or active – while passive systems utilize natural circulation, active systems use pumps to circulate water and generate heat. Homeowners who install a thermal solar array on their roof can expect 5 to 10 percent returns with a system that costs a fraction of a full solar panel installation.

solar pool heater as a solar energy use

A major benefit of solar thermal technology is the ability to heat your pool at a more cost-effective rate than conventional alternatives such as oil and gas pumps. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “solar pool heating is the most cost-effective use of solar energy in many climates.” Wondering how solar heated pools work? At its simplest, the technology 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. This technology can also be used to cool the water at night (typically necessary only in hotter climates). Solar heating systems range between $3,000 and $4,000 and can provide a payback period as short as one and a half years.

Rooftop solar: a homeowner’s best friend

rooftop solar panel system

With so many amazing gadgets and devices available under the sun in 2018, it’s easy to overlook the most important use of solar energy: rooftop solar. While solar energy can be used to fly an aircraft and charge a battery, it can also be used to save homeowners thousands of dollars every year by cutting their energy use, carbon footprint and utility bills.

As you consider the various ways to go solar, make sure to first estimate your potential solar savings and see what a solar investment could do for your household finances. Utilizing smaller products and home improvements to improve the efficiency of one’s home is a great practice, but at the end of the day, the ultimate opportunity to improve one’s carbon footprint and electric bill is with a home solar panel installation. If you’re starting to think about going solar, join the EnergySage Solar Marketplace for free in order to start comparing multiple installation offers from the top pre-screened solar companies in your area.

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27 thoughts on “How is solar energy used? The 5 most common examples of solar power

  1. s

    Solar panels can be made from recycled material. Yes, there will be some pollution that is created when manufacturing these but when you compare to other products I will gladly take the solar panels/shingles.

    Reply
  2. leiana

    why do people say solar is pollution free when you need fossil fuels to make a solar panel and when fossil fuels are burned they turn to carbon dioxide which is harmful to us because it affects our air quality and has long lasting effects on ours and others lives e.g global warming

    Reply
  3. Adam

    Thanks for sharing pots. I’m a newbie here, know very little about solar and PV, etc. . .
    And i need an advice. So, i put 36 solar panels on the east-facing sloped roof a year ago.
    The documentation says it is a 10,620 kW system, and the big box in the garage is a “Fronius IG Plus”.
    I think that all the generated power goes to the local power company, and we then get our power from them.
    At about 12 noon and 110F in the shade, the Fronius box says it is generating about 7100 watts. It often gets above 8200 watts.
    With the AC running Always, our electric bill is a constant $27 monthly, just to belong to the “co-op” that manages the power.
    Trying to plan ahead for when the SHTF. . . I think it would be a good idea to put a bunch of batteries in the garage,
    and tap into the current panels system.
    Water heater is gas-powered. I’m SURE that some other people have done this already. . . Yes?
    From the posts that I have already read here, I think I want to create a “hybrid” system?
    Where can I go to study what I would need to do to accomplish this?
    Some links, please? Your thoughts? This IS a doable thing, yes?
    Would greatly appreciate some advice from you experts. Thanks.

    Reply

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