Who doesn’t need the sun? We are going to be discussing the uses of solar energy and also its advantages and disadvantages.
All particles emit some magnitude of energy of which some can be detected while some, the equipment hasn’t been produced to detect them.
The sun, for instance, is a star in the milky way galaxy, and like any other star is a massive nuclear reactor. Deep in the Sun’s core, nuclear fusion reactions produce massive amounts of energy that radiate outward from the Sun’s surface and into space in the form of light and heat.
This enormous energy has been used over the ages for different purposes. Most of the purposes are to dry clothes and other stuff.
But solar energy which is simply the energy that is gotten from the sun has been an increasingly used terminology since the 19th century due to the need for renewable and clean energy (i.e energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases to adversely affect us in the long run).
Going into the 21st century, solar energy has become more attractive and a better option because they are renewable and have a non-polluting character compared to fossil fuels.
In recent times the use of solar energy has expanded due to more applications of the energy that comes from solar radiation. Of old, increased solar radiation was seen as a curse by the gods on our negligence to perform a ritual of sort of which some people dying and some falling seriously ill.
But, with advancements in technology and more interest in harnessing this energy, solar energy has generally not been seen as a curse but as a blessing. A blessing and a refuge to run to in the advent of having renewable energy to replace the use of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas which are non-renewable.
Solar energy in recent times has been of special use in residential areas, agriculture, space exploration, transportation, and many more. The energy from the sun cannot be exhausted so, why not harness it for our benefit?
What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is also known as solar radiation and it is energy produced by the sun in form of light. Light from the Sun comes as ultraviolet, visible, and infrared rays. Visible light is the spectrum of colours we are used to seeing but ultraviolet and infrared cannot be seen.
Solar energy, radiation from the Sun is the most abundant energy resource on earth and is capable of producing heat, causing chemical reactions, or generating electricity.
Solar energy is the primary catalyst for the circulation of winds forming weather systems and energy sources here on Earth. According to studies, the amount of solar energy or radiation that hits the earth’s surface in an hour theoretically fills the earth’s energy needs for an entire year.
The total amount of solar energy incidents on Earth is vastly more than the world’s current and anticipated energy requirements. If suitably harnessed, this highly diffused source has the potential to satisfy all future energy needs.
Solar energy from the sun can be converted to thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy sources available and it’s an important player in our global energy future as we strive toward achieving sustainability.
Solar power can be captured and used in several ways, primarily to generate electrical or thermal energy for homes, businesses, and utilities. Solar energy can be also used to boil water which, in turn, operates a steam turbine to generate similarly to that coal or nuclear power plants producing electricity on a much larger scale.
The most common form of solar energy is the harnessing of solar energy using solar panels or photovoltaic cells which are created from semiconductor materials. These cells are arranged edge to edge to capture sunlight transforming them into electric currents which are stored in batteries.
This occurs when the rays from the sun hit the semiconductor cells, it loses electrons from their atoms and these electrons flow through the cell and generate electricity. This is known as the photovoltaic effect. These panels are seen on top of houses and other buildings. Solar energy can also be used to provide light for a comfortable interior climate of buildings and also in water heating for domestic, commercial, and industrial use.
Types of Solar Energy
There are two types of solar energy and they are;
- Active solar energy
- Passive solar energy
1. Active Solar Energy
Active Solar Energy is the energy that is transmitted through solar panels. They are used for both heating systems in homes and for generating electricity. Active solar energy is collected using flat-plate PV panels which can be mounted to collect the sun’s energy.
Air or liquid is used to capture the sun’s heat (liquid is mostly used as it’s a better conductor of heat and energy through the air and has the benefit of not freezing). The fluid is then moved to an external device which acts as a storage container where it’s converted to energy.
Active solar energy can be collected through the use of solar collectors positioned on the roofs of buildings to heat fluids and pump them through a system of pipes to heat the whole building.
Pros of Active Solar Energy Systems
- One of the benefits of active solar energy is that they don’t need an external energy source. They make use of external devices (solar panels) which are of low maintenance and very dependable to collect energy from the sun.
- Compared to passive solar energy systems, special building construction is not needed. Active solar energy systems can be employed at almost any location and type of building.
- There is no carbon emission
- The heating of the PV panels keeps clear,n, especially in poor weather conditions.
- They generate no noise.
Cons of Active Solar Energy Systems
- Active solar energy system equipment is expensive and it’s also expensive to maintain.
- The fluids that store heat in the solar panel can release harmful gases into the air.
2. Passive Solar Energy
Passive Solar Energy is the energy that is transmitted through thermodynamics and heat transfer in collecting solar heat and turning it into power as applied in the greenhouse glasshouse) where heat is transferred from the sun and as it enters the greenhouse, the glass traps the heat energy and stores it for cooler periods.
This is the same mechanism in a warm pleasant car on a cold day. The passive solar energy system is best used for the heating and cooling of the system,s especially in small homes. Special windows which may have PV panels can be used to capture this solar heat. By this, both active and passive solar energy systems are combined for energy production.
Pros of Passive Solar Energy System
- Passive solar energy systems are not just cheap but no external equipment is needed reducing your energy expenditures to around 14%.
- They are is no release of toxins as compared to active solar energy systems.
Cons of Passive Solar Energy System
- The efficiency of passive solar energy systems depends majorly on the weather condition. If the weather is too hot then, your building might overheat.
- The efficiency also depends on the orientation of your building to the sun.
- There are special kinds of windows that are used for passive solar energy systems. Making a mistake in choice will ruin your effort.
Having known the types of solar energy, let’s look at its uses.
Uses of Solar Energy
The following are the uses of solar energy.
- Solar Electricity
- Solar Water Heating
- Solar Cooker
- Solar Devices
- Solar Lighting
- Solar Heating and Ventilation
- Solar Transportation
1. Solar Electricity
This is one of the uses of solar energy that have gained momentum in recent years. Though the price of solar panels is pretty high, the more solar electricity gets popular, the more the prices of solar panels get lower.
Solar electricity is created as the sun’s rays hit solar panels, the solar panels help transport electrons converting them into electricity which are being transmitted through wires and used for electricity production.
Solar panels and solar PV systems can be installed on the rooftops of homes or of other buildings. These solar power systems generate electricity to offset the building’s power usage and send the excess production to the electric grid.
Solar batteries are used to store solar energy so solar electricity can be used even when the sun goes down through the powering of the EV. This enables residents to completely go off-grid with solar power and battery system or a solar power and generator system.
2. Solar Water Heating
This is one of the uses of solar energy and here solar energy is used for the heating of water heating systems. Solar radiation is used to heat water which is used in homes.
Solar water heaters use rooftop cells to absorb the sun’s heat and transfer it to the water tank. The sun can be also used to heat water swimming pool use. Here water is transported to a collector where it’s heated by the sun and then sent back to the pool.
3. Solar Cooker
Solar cookers or ovens are one of the uses of solar energy increasingly popular as home appliances. Though a slow cooker, a solar oven uses angled reflectors to direct solar energy into a special chamber. The solar oven heats at a low temperature for some hours (8-10) depending on the food.
4. Solar Devices
Some other devices are increasingly adapted to using solar energy for them to work making them one of the uses of solar energy. Some of these appliances include refrigerators, washers/dryers, and HVAC systems these appliances use more energy than expected. We also have solar-powered phones and tablet chargers.
These solar-powered chargers are portable enabling users to take them wherever they want to. Some advanced countries like Japan have developed lightweight, water-resistant solar cells that could someday be integrated to power our electronic devices.
5. Solar Lighting
Solar energy can also be used for outdoor lighting making it one of the uses of solar energy. Solar lights are increasingly being used virtually everywhere from security lighting to home landscaping even for road signs and street lights. What makes it quite better is that these solar lights are inexpensive and readily available.
6. Solar Heating and Ventilation
Solar heating and ventilation are among the many uses of solar energy.
Solar heating is the use of solar radiation for the heating of homes, especially in the cold or winter periods by either powering radiant floors or pairing them with a Forced Hot Air (FHA) system. For this to happen, special attention should be given to the placement of windows on the walls and the selection of the materials for the building.
Solar ventilation entails the use of solar-powered attic fans to cool the home during the summer. These solar heaters and ventilators help reduce energy costs.
7. Solar Transportation.
Solar transportation is one of the uses of solar energy. Solar energy is the use of solar energy to power vehicles.
Solar-powered vehicles are the future vehicles and better innovations and technologies are needed for these vehicles to be on the road. What we have are major vehicles that are still in the testing mode and not on a wide-scale production. Though electric cars can be charged with solar panels.
Advantages of Solar Energy
Solar energy is more advantageous and preferred than conventional energy systems. Here are the advantages of solar energy.
1. It has unlimited Raw Materials.
This is the main reason for solar energy renewability. The amount of available solar energy is 10,000 times the amount needed by humans currently.
The funny thing is that the energy is replaced and only about 0.02% of the incoming sunlight would be sufficient to replace other fuel sources if harnessed.
2. Clean Energy
Solar energy has low emissions and so it’s one of the cleanest energy sources. The adverse effects on the environment are negligible when compared to conventional energy sources which are the burning of fossil fuels.
The environmental cost of solar Solar energy is an excellent replacement for fossil fuel energy as the burning of fossil fuels releases about 21.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly.
3. Provision of Electricity to Off-grid Dwellers
There are about 1.8 billion people who are off-the-grids owing to various reasons. Some might be as a result of politics, or environmental concerns but majorly no access to grid electricity and these are in many developing countries.
Solar energy would be suitable for these off-grid dwellers to gain access to electricity as they can have their solar panels installed to have received electricity directly from the sun.
4. Reduction in Electricity Production Expenses
Solar energy helps improve the quality of life of millions of people as expenses are cut. Millions of people live in the dark in developing countries resulting in low quality of life.
Solar energy is used can drastically improve their quality of life as it’s not just a better substitute for conventional energy production as it reduces significant social and environmental costs but would also bring development to those areas providing green jobs and also boosting industrial production.
5. No Noise Pollution
Solar energy production is noiseless and so, can’t cause noise pollution compared to wind turbine energy production.
6. More Economical for Long-time Electricity Production
Though solar energy installation bears a high cost, in the long run, solar energy is economical compared to conventional grid energy bills.
7. More Reliable
Solar energy is more reliable than conventional energy from utility companies. This is major because they can be limited by political or economic turmoil, terrorism, natural disasters, or brownouts due to overuse causing blackouts but, is not so with solar energy.
8. Helps Conserves Foreign Energy Expenditures
Solar energy help conserves foreign energy expenditures and this is because of the outrageous cost coming from the importation of oil and also the drilling of oil.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
1. High Cost of Installation
The use and installation of solar energy have a high initial cost, though this applies to all renewable energy. The initial cost of using solar energy can even cover years of energy bills.
The cost of Solar energy may have been reduced over time but the prices are still outrageous, as solar energy is used more and more with newer technologies, we will surely see these prices drop even further.
2. Solar energy is weather-dependent
Energy can only be generated when sunlight is hitting the face of the panel and being converted making them perform best on sunny days. That’s to say if there’s no sun there would be electricity.
Also, cloudy days do not produce as much energy, and no sun at night so there is a need for large battery banks to save the ones getting in the day. These limits countries that have low solar radiation and also the performance of solar panels.
3. Low Energy Conversion Rate
Solar panels have a low energy conversion rate compared to the power of similar-sized conventional power stations with the most advanced solar panels having to convert only 20-25%.
This shows how much more development is still needed in the solar energy production industry.
4. Needs a Lot of Space
Solar energy production consumes a lot of space. For large-scale production, a lot of space is needed for solar panel installation and so lands are laid bare endangering wildlife to place solar panels.
Larger utility-scale PV systems may require up to 3.5 to 10 acres per megawatt and CSP facilities require anywhere from 4 to 16.5 acres per megawatt.
Though this can be resolved by the massive installation of solar panels in deserted areas to meet large-scale production demand. Also, large roofs are needed for solar panels to be placed for domestic use.
5. Releases Electronic Waste
Though solar energy production doesn’t have a significant environmental impact, the process of production of solar panels can harm the environment causing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and plastic waste.
Also, solar energy production releases electronic waste as other electronics do making the disposing of this hazardous waste a problem.
6. Materials Not Readily Available
The materials used in the production of solar technologies are rare though this is a problem for PV technologies and not CSP technologies.
What are the Special Uses of Solar Energy at Home?
Some of the special uses of solar energy at home include;
- Solar-powered ventilation fans: solar energy can be used to power ventilators for home use.
- Solar heating for swimming pools: solar energy can be used for heating swimming pools at home to make them warm and pleasant for relaxation.
- Solar house heating: solar energy can also be used for the heating of the house in winter periods.
- Solar-powered pumps: solar energy can be used to power water pumps.
- Charging batteries with solar power: solar energy can also be used for the charging of phones and other gadgets.
- Solar energy for cooking: solar energy can be used to power ovens.
What are the Special Uses of Solar Energy in Agriculture?
Some of the special uses of solar energy in agriculture include;
- Solar energy can be used to heat water which is being used for agricultural purposes.
- Solar energy can also be used for the operation of a solar greenhouse which helps the growth of crops and improves yield.
- Solar energy can also be used for the drying of crops and grains.
- Solar energy can be used for the pumping of water.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo to educate the public on the environment and her concerns.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.