Examples of Solar Energy: Uses and Applications

Examples of Solar Energy: Uses and Applications

Last updated on February 25, 2024

Solar energy is the radiation from the Sun that can be used for various purposes, such as heating, cooling, lighting, or generating electricity.

Solar energy is one example of  clean energy that, in recent years, has been extensively promoted to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Solar energy is abundant, inexhaustible, and available almost everywhere on Earth.


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    The uses of solar energy can be divided into two main categories: photovoltaic solar energy and thermal solar energy. Photovoltaic energy is used exclusively to generate electricity by converting sunlight directly into electric current.

    Thermal solar energy is used to harness heat from the sun for different applications, such as heating water, air, or other fluids, or creating steam to power turbines.

    This article will explore some examples of solar energy applications in different fields and sectors, such as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and environmental.

    Residential Solar Energy

    Residential Solar Energy

    One of the most common and widespread uses of solar energy is to power homes and buildings. Residential solar energy can be either off-grid or grid-connected.

    Off-grid solar energy systems are installed in isolated or remote areas, where there is no access to the public electricity grid. These systems usually consist of solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, and inverters, and can provide electricity for lighting, appliances, and other needs.

    Grid-connected solar energy systems work in parallel with  the public electricity grid, and can either supplement or completely replace the electricity supplied by the utility company.

    These systems can also have the option to sell excess electricity back to the grid, reducing the electricity bill and securing an additional  income for the owner.

    Some examples of residential solar energy are:

    • Solar panels on the roof or in the backyard of a house, provide electricity for the household.
    • Solar water heaters use solar collectors to heat water for domestic use, such as showers, laundry, or dishwashing.
    • Solar air heaters that use solar collectors to heat air for space heating or ventilation.
    • Solar cookers which employ solar concentrators to cook food or boil water, without the need for firewood, gas, or electricity.
    • Solar lights use solar cells to charge batteries that power LED lamps, lanterns, or flashlights.

    Commercial Solar Energy

    Commercial Solar Energy

    Another common and growing use of solar energy is to provide electrical power to businesses and commercial facilities, such as offices, shops, hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and more.

    Commercial solar energy can also be either off-grid or grid-connected, depending on the location and the demand of the facility.

    Commercial solar energy can provide electricity, heating, cooling, or lighting for various purposes, such as operating equipment, appliances, computers, or security systems, or enhancing the comfort and convenience of the customers and employees.

    Some examples of commercial solar energy are:

    • Solar rooftops: Many commercial buildings have large rooftops that can be used to install PV panels or solar collectors. Solar rooftops can generate electricity or heat for the building, and can  feed excess power back to the grid. For example, the Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California, has a 17-megawatt (MW) PV system on its roof, which provides 75% of the building’s electricity needs
    • Solar farms, large-scale installations of solar panels or solar thermal collectors, that generate electricity for the grid or for specific customers, such as industries or utilities.
    • Solar rooftops, medium-scale installations of solar panels on the roofs of commercial buildings that generate electricity for the building or to be sold back on the grid.
    • Solar carports: Solar carports are structures that provide shade and protection for parked cars, while at the same time generating electricity from PV panels. Solar carports can be installed in parking lots or garages of commercial buildings, and can power the building or charge electric vehicles. For example, the MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, Nevada, has a 25-MW solar carport system, which covers 33 acres of parking space and provides 25% of the electricity needs of 13 resorts and casinos.
    • Solar water heating systems, using solar collectors to heat water for commercial use, such as washing, cleaning, or sanitizing.
    • Solar air conditioning systems, using solar thermal energy to power absorption chillers or desiccant coolers, that provide cooling for buildings or refrigeration for food storage.
    • Solar lighting systems, using solar cells to charge batteries that power LED lamps, signs, or streetlights.

    Industrial Solar Energy

    Industrial Solar Energy

    Industrial solar energy is the use of solar energy to power industrial processes, such as manufacturing, mining, or chemical production.

    Industrial solar energy can help reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, lower the operational costs, and improve the environmental performance of the industries. Industrial solar energy can be either photovoltaic or thermal, depending on the type and the temperature of the process.

    Some examples of industrial solar energy are:

    • Solar photovoltaic power plants that use  solar panels to generate electricity for industrial use, such as powering machinery, equipment, or pumps.
    • Solar thermal power plants that employ  solar concentrators to create steam or hot air, which in turn drive turbines or engines to generate electricity or mechanical power for industrial use.
    • Solar process heat systems use solar collectors to heat water, air, or other fluids that provide heat for industrial processes, such as drying, curing, sterilizing, or distilling.
    • Solar cooling systems harness  solar thermal energy and use it to  power absorption chillers or desiccant coolers, that in turn provide cooling for industrial processes, such as food preservation, chemical reactions, or metal processing.
    • Solar desalination systems use  solar thermal energy to evaporate seawater or brackish water, and condense the vapor  back into usable freshwater, for industrial use or human consumption.

    Agricultural Solar Energy

    Agricultural Solar Energy

    Agricultural solar energy is the use of solar energy to power agricultural activities, such as irrigation, crop production, or animal husbandry.

    Agricultural solar energy can help increase the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of the agricultural sector, by providing reliable and clean and affordable energy, water, and food.

    Agricultural solar energy can also be either photovoltaic or thermal, depending on the application and the demand.

    Some examples of agricultural solar energy are:

    • Solar irrigation systems use solar pumps to draw water from wells, rivers, or lakes, and distribute it to the crops or the animals, using sprinklers, drip lines, or troughs.
    • Solar greenhouses take advantage of solar collectors to heat water or air, and circulate it inside the greenhouse, to create a favorable microclimate for the plants, and extend the growing season.
    • Solar dryers employ  solar collectors to heat air, and blow it through the crops, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, or herbs, to reduce the moisture content and prevent spoilage.
    • Solar refrigerators use solar cells to power compressors or solar thermal energy to power absorption chillers which in turn  provide cooling for the storage and transportation of agricultural products.
    • Solar fences use  solar cells to charge batteries that power electric fences that  protect the crops or the animals from predators or intruders.

    Environmental Solar Energy

    Environmental solar energy is the use of solar energy to power environmental applications, such as water treatment, waste management, or pollution control.

    Environmental solar energy can help protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and improve the quality of life of the people and the ecosystems. Environmental solar energy can also be either photovoltaic or thermal, depending on the technology and the objective.

    Some examples of environmental solar energy are:

    • Solar water purification systems employ  solar thermal energy to boil water or solar ultraviolet radiation to disinfect water, and remove pathogens, contaminants, or impurities, to make the water safe for  drinking or other purposes.
    • Solar waste treatment systems use  solar thermal energy to incinerate waste or solar biological processes to decompose waste, and reduce the volume, toxicity, or odor of the waste, for disposal or reuse.
    • Solar air purification systems take advantage of  solar photocatalytic processes to oxidize air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, or sulfur dioxide, and improve the air quality and the health of the people.
    • Solar hydrogen production systems use  solar photovoltaic or solar thermal processes to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and effectively produce hydrogen gas, which is a clean and renewable fuel that can be used  for transportation or energy storage.
    • Solar carbon capture systems, using solar thermal or solar chemical processes to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from the flue gasses of fossil fuel power plants, and store it underground or convert it into useful products, such as fuels, chemicals, or plastics.

    Solar energy is a versatile and valuable resource that can be used for various purposes, such as electricity, heating, cooling, lighting, or power.

    Solar energy is also a clean and renewable energy source that can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, to mitigate climate change, and enhance energy security and independence.

    Solar energy has many applications in different fields and sectors, such as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and environmental, and can provide multiple benefits for the community, the economy, and the environment.

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