In What Areas Solar Energy Is Used?

In what areas solar energy is used?

Solar energy has emerged as an increasingly important renewable energy source over the past few decades. As concerns about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels grow, more attention has turned to sustainable energy alternatives like solar. The amount of solar energy capacity installed globally has grown exponentially in recent years, from under 10 gigawatts in 2007 to over 600 gigawatts in 2019 (Solar Industry Research Data | SEIA). Solar is now the fastest growing energy source in the world, and is expected to play a major role in the global transition away from coal, oil, and natural gas.

Residential Homes

Solar panels installed on rooftops are increasingly being used to generate electricity for residential homes in the United States. As of 2022, there were an estimated 3.6 million homes with rooftop solar panels in the U.S., up from just over 300,000 homes in 2012 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1422506/homes-with-solar-united-states/). This number is projected to continue growing to over 8 million homes by 2032 as solar energy becomes more affordable and accessible to homeowners (https://www.statista.com/topics/11670/us-residential-solar-photovoltaics/).

Installing rooftop solar allows homeowners to generate their own electricity, reducing reliance on the grid. The solar energy can directly power homes during daylight hours, while any excess electricity produced can be fed back into the grid. This enables families to offset their electricity bills and lower their carbon footprint. With solar panel costs dropping and energy prices rising, rooftop solar is an increasingly financially viable option for eco-conscious homeowners looking to go green.

Commercial Buildings

Solar panels are increasingly being installed on commercial buildings such as factories, warehouses, offices, retail stores, and more. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2018 1.6% of U.S. commercial buildings had small-scale solar generation (Source). Solar panels can be installed on commercial building rooftops, parking structures, or integrated directly into the building’s facade. Rooftop solar provides a clean, renewable source of electricity that can offset a portion or all of the building’s energy needs.

The benefits for commercial solar include lower and more predictable electricity bills, enhanced sustainability, and minimal maintenance. Solar also helps avoid costly demand charges from utilities that many commercial customers face. According to Energystar, about 20% of buildings with onsite solar generate more than half their total electricity needs from the panels (Source). While upfront costs can be high, federal and local incentives along with accelerated depreciation can improve the financial returns.

Utilities

Large-scale solar farms that generate electricity to feed into the electric grid are one of the most common uses of solar energy. The Electric Information Administration reports that in 2021, utility-scale solar power accounted for 3.3% of total U.S. electricity generation, up from just 0.5% in 2015 (source). Solar farms use photovoltaic panels to directly convert sunlight into electricity. Some also utilize solar thermal power plants, where sunlight is concentrated to heat a fluid that produces steam to generate electricity.

According to the International Energy Agency, global power generation from solar PV increased 270 TWh in 2022 to reach 1,036 TWh, accounting for 4.5% of global electricity supply (source). Many utilities are rapidly adopting solar energy as prices have fallen dramatically in the past decade. Large-scale solar power plants can now provide renewable electricity at highly competitive costs compared to fossil fuel power plants.

Agriculture

Solar energy has many applications in agriculture and farming. According to https://www.dynamicslr.com/solar-energy-applications-in-agriculture/, solar power can help reduce the high energy costs associated with agricultural practices, especially in greenhouses. Some key uses of solar energy in agriculture include:

Solar-powered water pumps – Solar panels can provide electricity to power water pumps for irrigation and watering livestock without being connected to the grid. This makes solar-powered pumps ideal for remote agricultural operations.

Crop dryers – Solar crop dryers use solar heat to dry fruits, vegetables, grains, and other crops for storage. They provide a clean, renewable way to preserve foods without relying on fossil fuels.

Refrigeration – Solar-powered refrigerators and cold storage can keep crops and animal products cool and fresh. Solar refrigeration is extremely useful for farms in remote locations without electricity access.

Transportation

Solar energy is being used increasingly for transportation, primarily through solar-powered electric vehicles like buses, trains, boats, and cars. Solar panels can directly charge the batteries of electric vehicles, reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. Some key facts on solar transportation:

Many public transport agencies are switching to electric buses powered by solar panels. For example, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has pledged to fully electrify its bus fleet by 2040 using solar power. This will eliminate over 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Solar roadways and parking lots with solar panel coverings are also gaining popularity. The energy generated from these surfaces goes into powering lighting, signage, electric vehicle charging stations and other equipment. The Netherlands has over 100 solar roads covering bike paths, sidewalks and parking lots.

Advances in solar technology are making electric vehicles more efficient and affordable. Solar cells integrated into car paint and glass can trickle charge batteries when parked in the sun. Startups are developing long-range solar cars, boats, trams and tuk-tuks. Widespread adoption of solar transportation could dramatically reduce air pollution.

Spacecraft & Satellites

Out in space, far away from traditional power grids, solar panels provide an essential source of energy for space operations. Many satellites, spacecraft, space stations, and rovers rely heavily on photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity and power their instrumentation and communication systems.

Some of these space-based uses of solar power include:

  • The International Space Station (ISS), which gets over 90% of its power from large rotating solar arrays (https://energy5.com/solar-energy-the-next-frontier-in-space-exploration)
  • Mars rovers like Curiosity and Perseverance, which are equipped with solar panels (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ0b8UTTMgc)
  • Communications and weather satellites orbiting Earth
  • Solar-electric propulsion systems on deep space probes

Solar provides an unlimited and reliable energy source in the vacuum of space. Improvements in solar cell efficiency and energy storage continue to expand solar capabilities for future space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Desalination

Solar energy is increasingly being used to power desalination plants that remove salt from seawater to produce fresh, potable water. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar desalination capacity is expected to reach 70 million cubic meters per day by 2030 [1]. Solar energy provides a clean, renewable way to power the energy-intensive desalination process.

Solar desalination systems can operate off-grid in remote areas without access to electricity grids. Solar photovoltaic panels or concentrated solar thermal plants can provide the electricity needed to operate desalination equipment such as reverse osmosis membranes. Coupling solar and desalination provides freshwater without producing carbon emissions.

Large-scale solar desalination plants have been built in areas like the Middle East and Australia that face freshwater shortages. For example, the Al Khafji plant in Saudi Arabia can produce 60,000 cubic meters of water per day using reverse osmosis powered by a solar field [2]. Solar desalination creates a sustainable freshwater supply and offsets conventional fossil fuel use.

Consumer Products

Solar energy is being used to power a growing number of small consumer devices and appliances. Some examples include solar-powered chargers for phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as solar-powered lighting, fans, radios, and televisions (Lizin, 2016). These small solar-powered devices use solar photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electricity that charges an internal battery. The battery can then be used to power the device when needed, even at night or on cloudy days. Solar-powered consumer gadgets provide an emission-free and renewable energy source for basic electricity needs off the grid.

In particular, solar lighting products like solar lanterns and solar home lighting systems are becoming increasingly popular in regions without reliable access to electricity. It’s estimated that over 100 million people worldwide use solar lighting daily. Solar-powered lighting provides bright, safe illumination while avoiding the health hazards and costs associated with kerosene lighting (Lizin, n.d.). With continued advancements in solar cell efficiency and battery storage capacity, the range of small solar-powered consumer devices will likely continue to expand.

Conclusion

Solar energy has emerged as a promising technology with widespread applications in residential homes, commercial buildings, utilities, agriculture, transportation and more. Research shows the future of solar remains bright with greater efficiency improvements, cheaper solar panels and improved energy storage capabilities. Though solar currently accounts for just 3% of U.S. electricity generation, it is expected to reach 20% by 2050. With climate change concerns continuing to rise, governments, organizations and individuals around the world are investing more in renewable resources like solar. New solar technologies such as concentrated solar power will also open up different applications of solar power. Overall, solar is poised to play a major role in powering our future in ways that are clean, sustainable and limitless.

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