The sun has been giving us the gift of heat and light for billions of years. Our ancestors benefited from the sun's rays and warmth as they traverse through land and bridged through various epochs.
The air that we breathe is a direct result of the sun through the process of Photosynthesis. The same process that provided us with fossil fuels, which we use to power cars, planes, and trains.
As our ancestors started to explore, they started taking full advantage of what the sun had to offer. It all began with the discovery of how to make fire through the sun which brought us out of the stone age and into the bronze age.
Today, we have used solar energy to dry our clothes, grow food, and heat our homes. Not to mention the various health benefits that sunlight has been giving us for our health and well-being. But, we’re also starting to explore more ways on how the sun can also help us to be more eco-friendly without having to sacrifice the quality of life we’re used to living.
This is accomplished by capturing and storing the sun’s energy to produce concentrated solar power (CSP) or photovoltaic power (PV). This means that solar energy can be used to heat and power up things.
To give a more concrete example, let’s take a look at six applications of solar energy and their current state below:
Solar lighting is one of the cheapest ways to utilize the power of the sun. You can just go to Amazon and see various light products that use solar energy. They are used alongside LED bulbs and smart home thermostats to have an energy-efficient place.
These light products are bought to spruce up one’s curb and provide more security. They are quite easy to install, as well, since there’s no need to spend time on any electrical wiring to make them work.
Aside from residential usage, solar energy is also used to power street lights, benches, and road signs because of their accessibility, affordability, and eco-friendly.
2. Heating a.k.a Solar Thermal
Business owners and homeowners have been using heaters powered by the sun to heat their properties.
According to the Department of Energy (DOE), homeowners can have an inexpensive way of heating their central plumbing, jacuzzis, and pools through solar energy compared to alternatives such as electric and gasoline pumps.
A typical solar thermal system can cost between $3,000 to $4,000 with a return on investment (ROI) of at least 1.5 years. Meanwhile, the ROI for solar heaters is between 5 to 10 years of installation.
3. Electricity a.k.a Solar Power
Harnessing the power of the sun to create electricity was first discovered in 1954 by Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin, and Calvin Fuller. Since then, we have come a long way.
Today, many have used it to make buildings more energy efficient while being eco-friendly. Even more so for residential applications. As of 2021, there are about 2,500 solar farms that can provide electricity to thousands of homes in the country. At least 255,000 homes are being powered by the sun.
According to a conducted study by the Pew Research Center in January 2022 (before the 30% federal tax credit became law seven months later), about 8% of U.S. homeowners have installed solar panels which is a 2% increase from a survey conducted in 2019. Meanwhile, 39% have thought about installing one during the past year.
On average, the installation of a residential solar panel system can range between $16,870 to $23,170 after applying for the federal solar tax credit. Quite an expensive amount but can vary depending on the type used. Another cheaper option is to opt for portable solar generators that can also be powered by wind turbines such as Nature’s Generators. This type of generator can be easily moved around, since it’s not heavy, through its cart. It can also be used whether one is indoor or outdoor.
The future of solar power is bright as the DOE estimates that 40% of the country’s electricity can be sourced through solar energy by 2035 and 45% by 2050.
It can get quite heated indoors during the summer. Solar ventilation can help with that. It helps by extracting heat without any running cost.
This works by installing a solar ventilator on the roof, which can help reduce the build-up of heat (which penetrates a living space). As a result, it lowers the temperature inside for increased comfort and decreases the cooling cost (since the air conditioning system won’t have to work as hard to cool the place).
5. Solar Powered Wearable Tech
Watches using solar energy are nothing new. But have you heard about e-textile which can power a phone or a smartwatch?
Last year, in October 2022, researchers from Nottingham Trent University shared their inventions with the world. The research is headed by Dr. Theodore Hughes-Riley, an associate professor of Electronic Textiles at Nottingham School of Art and Design.
What they shared is revolutionary. A textile that’s embedded with 1,200 miniature photovoltaic cells or solar cells.
Can you just imagine wearing a shirt or jacket that allows you to charge your phone just by sticking it to it? Say goodbye to carrying bulky power banks.
If you’re wondering if it’s safe to wash the textile without damaging the miniature solar cells. The answer is a big “YES”
Planes, buses, and trains can also be run by the sun. While most vehicles still rely on fossil fuel, businesses and governments are slowly looking at greener sources of energy to run a car or a bus. Electric cars are slowly being used in the public transport sector.
As for solar-powered vehicles, China introduced the first solar hybrid buses in 2012. This means that it is powered by the sun alongside another source of energy which helps in prolonging the battery life by 35%.
Since then, Australia, India, the United Kingdom, and Europe have also rolled out their own 100% solar-powered buses.
In 2016, the world was introduced to Solar Impulse 2. It circumnavigated the world without using fuel. Instead, it flew by having 17,000 solar panels attached to it. Currently, it is being re-designed to work as a “pseudo satellite,” with less environmental implications, more flexibility, and cheaper.
While we are a long way to go for a solar-powered commercial plane ride, research and development are being poured into making this a possibility.
As for here in the country, the first microgrid to power electrical buses through the power of the sun was launched around the D.C. area in September 2022. This project has added 10 electric buses to its existing fleet of 370 gas-powered buses. But, they expect to expand their fleet of electrical buses with a hundred more buses by the end of 2023.
The future of solar energy is bright as work continues to develop, create, and invent new ways to use the sun’s gift to uplift humankind.
* We want to give credit where credit is due. Professional writer, Cris Ilao, contributed research and content to this blog titled: The Top 6 Applications of Solar Energy Thank you, Cris, for your contributions!