As surprising as it may seem in some way the sun and other stars are responsible for all the energy we have and use – fossils fuels we are so fond of are basically decayed plants, nuclear energy uses uranium atoms that appeared as a result of a star explosion, etc.
When we speak about solar energy and we wonder ‘ what is solar energy used for ? ‘we mostly refer to using the sun’s radiation for particular ends, as all other kinds of renewable energies, except for geothermal, in this way or another derive their energy from the sun.
Solar power is one of the most well-known renewable energy sources – among geothermal, hydropower, wave power, wind power, biomass and biofuel power.
Solar energy can be used for day lighting, cooking, heating water or other fluids, distillation, disinfection, making saline water potable and high temperature process heating.
There are a variety of ways people can benefit from solar energy – and the first time it was widely used was in the 1890-s in the United States if America where solar water heaters were invented.
The system represented a panel installed on the roofs of the house that provided the household with some energy, but as large deposits of oil and gas were discovered in the west of the US, and they appeared to be low-cost and available, solar water heaters fell into oblivion to be rediscovered many years later.
With the humankind using fossil fuels at the unforeseen speed solar water heaters were bound to make a comeback, especially in the countries with a lot of sun available all the year round.
Solar technologies used nowadays can be divided into active and passive depending on the way they capture and convert sunlight. Active solar techniques are PV panels and solar thermal collectors.
Solar thermal collectors are panels that can, for example, heat your swimming pool – all because of the water pipes under the surface – when the panel becomes hot, so do the pipes, and warmed water can then be used to take a shower or swim – whatever it is used for, its production costs nothing. Passive solar techniques may include orienting a building to the sun, choosing materials with certain thermal mass and designing spaces inside the house that provide for optimal air circulation.
Solar energy in building is used by orientating the house relative to the sun, making it more compact, including patterns of selective shading and choosing building materials with certain thermal mass (heat capacity of a material). Every house should also be tailored to a certain climate it’s going to be located in.
In agriculture solar energy is used to increase the productivity of plants. There are such methods of ensuring growth as timed planting cycles, row orientation for the plants to get as much sun as possible etc.
The commonly known greenhouse in fact also uses sun energy that is converted into heat to provide for the year-round growth of certain plants.
In some cases hybrid solar lighting can be used – as supplemental to conventional lighting; it features a system of focusing mirrors and optical fibers to track the sun and transmit the light inside the building.
Solar thermal technologies are popular for heating water, space, and generating heat. Solar hot water systems (mostly evacuated tube collectors and glazed flat plate collectors) are used to heat domestic hot water.
Solar cooling, heating and ventilation are used to offset some portion of the energy coming from fossil fuels.
Solar distillation is also used to make saline water potable – the first recorded case of the sun energy used for this purpose happened at the end of the 16th century. Additionally, there are solar cookers that use sunlight for cooking, drying and even pasteurization.
Another passive technology is day lighting – by offsetting non-solar energy use it effectively replaces artificial lighting and reduces the need for air conditioning.
The use of natural lighting has been proved to have positive impact on both physical and mental condition of people, therefore, it’s a way of both saving on electricity bills and staying positive and healthy. How is solar energy used?, it goes way beyond just the use of solar panels, it changes everyday as we make new discoveries.