When you think of solar power, you most likely think of solar panels on a rooftop. But there are a variety of ways we can use solar energy in our daily lives, whether in our homes, our outdoor lighting, or to heat our homes and pools.
Solar power usage is an older form of clean energy, and it continues to grow in popularity and usage today, thanks to advances in technology. We’ll explore a few of the uses of solar power in everyday life and the benefits of harnessing the power of the sun for electricity and heat.
What is solar energy?
Solar power converts the sun’s natural heat and light into energy—either electricity that can be used to power homes and businesses, or heat energy. A solar power system that includes photovoltaic (PV) panels can convert solar energy into electricity. There are even large solar farms used to generate massive amounts of solar power at one time.
Benefits of solar energy
The main advantage of switching to solar power is its status as a clean and renewable energy source. That means that solar power can be produced infinitely, and we never have to worry about running out of this form of energy.
Unlike fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, solar energy doesn’t create harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. Even the solar panels you see on homes and businesses have a significantly lower carbon footprint than many other forms of power. These panels can last for up to 25 years without losing their efficiency.
These are just a few of the advantages of solar energy, which is why today we use it to power homes, businesses, and even satellites.
What is solar energy used for?
Solar energy does more than generate clean electricity; it can also power a wide variety of devices, from appliances to wearable tech to lighting. You may have encountered solar powered devices throughout your daily life without even realizing it. Researchers continue to explore how to use solar energy, resulting in new products and technologies.
1. Electricity generation
What can solar energy be used for? Perhaps the most recognized use of solar power is its ability to generate electricity through solar panels. While only a fraction of the electricity generated in the U.S. today is from solar energy, that number is slowly growing. There are efforts at both the federal and state level to increase solar energy generation and reduce our national reliance on fossil fuels.
Solar power provides clean energy to you and to your community. Homeowners who use solar power can take advantage of solar energy plans that allow them to send excess power they produce back to the grid in return for a discount on their monthly electricity bills.
2. Heating & cooling
The power of the sun can work to heat your home, both inside and outside. Attic fans powered by solar energy can reduce strain on your AC unit and help keep your home cool during hot summer days. Solar-powered pumps and solar house heating systems can help keep your home at a comfortable temperature, reducing your use of your HVAC system and saving you money on your monthly electric bills.
3. Water heating
If you’re asking, “How is solar energy used?” you may be surprised by its prevalence throughout the home. You can use solar energy to power your water heater, whether in an active or passive system. In an active solar water heater system, mechanical pumps circulate water between the rooftop solar panels and a storage tank, while a passive system heats water without mechanical pumps.
4. Pools & hot tubs
Solar heaters for pools and hot tubs move water into a collector where the sunlight naturally heats the water before it’s pumped back into the pool or tub. While these systems can cost several thousand dollars, they are an energy-efficient way to keep the water at a warm and comfortable temperature.
Another common method of solar power usage is landscape lighting. You may have small, solar-powered lights outside your home, lining your front walk or driveway. These inexpensive LED lights can be purchased at your local hardware store or online and provide light outside your home with no wires.
Some homeowners also use solar power for security lighting, such as lights with motion sensors that save and store energy. Even holiday lights are available in solar options, allowing you to decorate for the festive season without seeing a major uptick in your energy bills.
6. Ovens & coolers
Solar ovens and coolers are popular with campers and hikers. Also known as a solar cooker, a solar oven works by gathering and trapping the thermal energy from the sun. You can even DIY your own solar oven for use on your next camping trip.
Solar coolers help food stay cold longer without relying on ice. Each cooler is equipped with a portable power station that captures energy from solar panels and transfers that energy to the cooler to keep your food at the desired temperature.
A wide variety of electronic devices are available in solar-powered models. In fact, you’ve likely used a calculator that was powered by solar energy—they’ve been around since the 1960s! Today, there are also solar-powered portable Bluetooth speakers, flashlights, lanterns, wireless keyboards, and even phone chargers, all of which can make your life a little easier by keeping you from searching for an available electrical outlet when you’re on the go.
8. Solar wearables
These days, you can even wear solar-powered devices, such as watches and bike helmets. Solar backpacks allow you to charge your phone and other electronic devices without an outlet, while solar headphones can provide as much as 80 hours of battery life. More solar-powered wearables are on the way, and you can even expect solar textiles to hit the market at some point in the next decade.