What are The Top 5 Uses of Solar Energy
Solar power is in the news today but what are the top 5 uses of solar energy? The power of the sun is amazing. It takes millions of years for the atoms at the sun's core to make their way to the surface and create a reaction we know as nuclear fusion.
It takes only slight more than eight minutes for the energy resulting from that fusion to reach the surface of the earth. The sun's rays travel 93 million miles at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. That is the definition for what we call the speed of light.
If you could harness all of the energy from the sun that strikes the surface of the U.S. each day you could provide for the nation's energy needs for 1.5 years. Clearly, we can't capture all of that energy.
We wouldn't want to do that as much of it is responsible for the evaporation of bodies of water such as lakes and oceans that leads to rainfall and snow that are so important to our survival. A portion of the sunlight is absorbed by trees and plants that would wither and die without energy from the sun.
We can harness some of the sunlight that strikes the earth. We do that with solar collectors that capture and store the energy of sunlight.
Scientists are working hard to find new ways to harness the sun's energy and to use it to power our homes and cars in ways that will protect our environment and insure we have energy far into the future. Though the science of solar energy is still a work in progress there are ways in which we use this energy today.
Passive Solar Homes
In a passive solar home there is no need for generators or machines. The sun's energy is captured by the home itself. This requires careful positioning of the home and of the windows which face a southern exposure.
Sunlight entering homes in the U.S. comes from a southern alignment so these homes are designed with big windows facing south while the northern walls have few or no windows but have good insulation to prevent heat from escaping.
Walls and floors are often built with materials known to collect and store solar energy. Stone and cement are often used as both readily take in solar energy and release that as heat into the room. The sunlight absorbed by rock and concrete will keep dispersing heat throughout the night and to keep the home warm till the sun is shining the next day.
Active Solar Home
The second of the top 5 uses of solar energy is perhaps the active solar home. While a passive solar design simply takes advantage of the sun's rays, and active solar home collects solar energy and transforms it into energy used to run appliances and systems of the home.
This is accomplished by heating water which is then pumped through pipes built into the home's design. It is the movement and pumping of water that gives the definition of "active". The heated water can flow beneath floors to provide uniform warmth throughout the home. Active solar energy is most often used in colder climates where passive solar would not be enough to provide comfort.
The active solar system can greatly reduce your home's reliance on fossil fuels but is usually combined with a backup power system that runs as needed and provides additional electricity to properly operate appliances.
A solar car is usually referred to as an electric car. It is power either completely or partially with solar energy. A true solar vehicle is not practical today as the photovoltaic panels that would be required to fully power a car do not fully fit on the vehicle. Cars that run on solar energy alone are usually built for test or research purposes and you will not see them on the roads.
When solar power is used for cars sold today it is as an auxiliary power source used to run features of the vehicle. Electric cars are sold and a few of those have solar components.
There are drawbacks as cars can have a lifespan of many years while solar panels require expensive replacement long before the car itself becomes too old to stay on the road.
The uses of solar energy in cars sounds like a great idea and solar energy is used on a few new car designs as a way to extend the battery life and the range of a hybrid or electric car.
Explaining to consumers how the process works is difficult and sales have been slow in spite of environmentalists who promote this transportation and government agencies providing subsidies.
When you list the 5 top uses of solar energy, a water heater must be on that list. Solar domestic hot water systems are a low cost way to generate the hot water every family needs in their home.
A solar water heater has a storage tanks and solar collectors. They may be active systems that include pumps and controls or passive systems that simply heat water. There are three types of solar collectors used.
Flat plate collector - Insulated boxes that have a dark glazed plate under a cover of glass or plastic. For heating swimming pools, a flat plate collector uses unglazed plates of metal without an enclosing box or cover.
Integral collector system - One or more black tanks or tubes inside an insulated box. Water passes through the solar collected and is preheated. The water then moves into a conventional home water heater. This is a significant cost saver for mild climates but not practical in areas where pipes may freeze.
Evacuated-Tube collectors - Rows of transparent glass tubes have an outer tube and an absorber tube attached to a "fin". Used frequently for commercial applications.
Active solar water heating systems may use direct circulation where pumps move heated water into the home. The direct circulation is cost effective in mild climates.
Indirect circulation systems must be in areas where freezing temperatures occur. In an indirect system pumps circulate a non-freezing fluid and use a heat exchanges to heat the water as it comes into the home.
One of the top 5 uses of solar energy is perhaps the most simple. Solar garden lighting is sold throughout the country. These inexpensive path lights require no cords or plugs.
A small collected plate on top of the light absorbs the sun's rays throughout the day. At night that stored energy is enough to keep a low watt light bulb visible for hours.
These lighting products have been joined by solar fountains and even solar bird baths that circulate water using solar energy. Costs are amazing low because the products do not need the electric circuitry used for standard lighting and do not need circulating pumps.