5 Surprising Applications of Solar Energy [in 2020]

Applications of Solar Energy

Solar energy is quite popular these days & most people still think that it can only be used to generate electricity. However, it is not completely true.

There are numerous applications of solar energy. It can be used for heating water, cooking food, & in many other ways. 

In this guide, I am here with a list of 5 surprising applications of solar energy that you may not have heard before.

So, without any further delay, let’s dive right in!

What is Solar Energy?

In simple words, the energy that we receive is in the form of heat & light radiations that we get from the sun is known as solar energy.

The radiation from the sun reaches the earth in the form of photon packets’.

These solar radiations can be converted into usable forms of energy (like electricity, heat & fossil-fuels) with the help of various methods. 

The applications of solar energy that I will be covering in this post is composed of such methods.

Applications of Solar Energy

Solar energy can be used for various purposes where either heat or electrical energy is required. However, in this post, I have only covered 5 major applications.

1. Electricity Production

The production of electricity is one of the major applications of solar energy. 

PV (Photovoltaic) panels are commonly used across the world for the conversion of solar energy into electricity. Here’s how a solar power system work:

#1: When a photon comes in the form of sunlight & strikes the surface of the photovoltaics, it either passes, reflects, or is absorbed by the panels. 

#2: The solar cells use the absorbed photon & convert it into electricity & the process is known as the photovoltaic effect.

#3: The electricity thus produced in the form of direct current is then converted into AC (Alternating current) with the help of an inverter.

We need to do so because the electrical appliances that we use at our home are AC compatible. 

This is how the conversion of solar energy into electricity takes place.

2. Water Heating

Solar water heaters work on somewhat similar concepts as the PV panels. Instead of making electricity, it uses sunlight for heating water.

Solar Water Heater

A solar water heater is composed of a solar collector, tank & pump. Here’s the complete working process of a solar water heater:

#1: The collector absorbs the sunlight & converts it into heat.

#2: The heat is then transferred to the tank (where cold water is initially present) with the help of the pump.

The complete setup is connected with two types of tubes, one for carrying hot water & another for cold water.

In this way, a solar water heater is used to heat cold water.

3. Saline Water Distillation

The technique that is used to remove salt from the saline water & make it pure is known as solar desalination.

In this process, a solar still is used where saline water or brine is stored. The below image can clearly depict how solar still works.

Solar Desalination
Image Source: Intechopen.com

A glass sheet is placed in an inclined position on the top of the solar still. The freshwater & brine tanks are attached to the still as shown in the above figure.

  • When sunlight enters the still, the brine water gets evaporated due to the heat energy of the sun.
  • In the process of evaporation, water molecules get evaporated while the brine is extracted at the bottom of the still.
  • The water vapor thus produced strikes the wall of the still (glass layer at the top) & gets condensed. The condensation of vapor produces freshwater which is collected by the freshwater tank as shown in the above figure.

This is how the process of desalination is carried out.

4. Cooking Food

Another amazing application of solar energy is a solar cooker. These cookers use solar energy to cook food or drinks.

As shown in the below image, a solar cooker is composed of a concave reflector & a cooker containing food at its foci.

Solar Cooker

An important property of the concave mirror is that parallel rays coming from infinity converge at its foci. Therefore, the cooker is placed at the focus.

The solar radiation coming from the sun strikes at the mirror & points at its focus where the food is present in the cooker.

The convergence of a large number of radiations at its focus produces an enormous amount of heat which in turn cooks the food. 

Application of Solar Energy: Solar Cooker
Image Source: FunScience

In the case of solar cookers, the higher the intensity of heat, the lesser will be the time taken by it in the cooking of food.

5. Heating Air/Buildings

During the winter season or in colder regions, solar energy is used to heat the air or space inside the buildings.

There are two types of solar space heating systems: Active system & Passive System.

In the passive system, the building is so made that it can itself collect & store solar energy in the form of heat.

Large south-facing windows are used in the building for maximum absorption of heat during the day. 

This heat not only provides warmth to the building but also gets stored in the walls, floor & other design elements that can be further used at night.

Active systems on the other hand consist of collectors (for collecting heat) & pumps for the distribution of heat. 

The heat is first collected with the help of a collector & then pumps are used to transfer the heat. 

One of the best things about active systems is that it comes with an energy storage system that provides heat at night or during bad weather conditions.

This is a brief discussion on space heating systems. However, in our upcoming posts, we will cover it in great detail.

Final Words

Solar energy is widely used across the world due to its modular nature & various applications in real life.

I have tried my best to cover top-five applications. Some more applications include:

6. Solar Water Pumps,
7. Drying agricultural products using solar energy,
8. High-temperature furnaces & 
9. Thermal power production.

This is how solar power is used in real life. Did you know of any other application of solar energy?

Leave a comment – & let everyone know!

Harish Joshi

Harish is an environment enthusiast & a passionate blogger from Uttarakhand, India. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Computer Applications from G.B. Pant. University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar. Along with Solar Funda, he also manages Fullonstudy (an educational blog for college students).

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