39 USES OF SOLAR ENERGY
DECEMBER 8, 2022
Our sun is the source of all life on Earth, making solar energy useful to us in many different ways.
The sun creates two main types of energy — light and heat — that we can harness for numerous activities. These range from prompting photosynthesis in plants to creating electricity with photovoltaic (PV) cells to heating water and food.
So, what are some uses of solar energy? Let’s explore 39 common uses of sunlight in our daily lives.
A rooftop solar installation can provide enough energy to power your home’s electricity and HVAC needs.
1. SOLAR ELECTRICITY
This solar energy application has gained a lot of momentum in recent years.
As solar panel costs decline and more people become aware of solar energy’s financial and environmental benefits, solar electricity is becoming increasingly accessible. While it’s still a tiny percentage of the electricity generated in the U.S. (2.8% as of 2021), solar electricity is growing rapidly.
Technicians usually install a distributed solar PV system on the rooftops of homes or businesses. These solar power systems generate electricity to offset the property owner’s usage and send any excess production to the electric grid.
2. SOLAR BATTERIES AND GENERATORS
A solar battery can connect to your solar power system. This setup lets you use solar after sundown and provides backup power during emergencies. Some homeowners may choose to go completely off-grid with a solar power and battery system or a solar power and generator system.
3. SOLAR VENTILATION
Solar ventilation solutions such as solar attic fans can reduce the burden on your HVAC by helping cool your home during the summer. This may be a good option if you can’t install a solar PV system that offsets your home’s entire electricity use. One innovative product is the Solatube solar attic fan.
Solar ventilation technologies also apply to commercial and industrial applications. These technologies can preheat a building’s air in cold climates, which reduces energy costs.
4.& 5. SOLAR WATER HEATING
Homeowners can also use solar energy to power their water heaters. Two types of solar water heating systems exist:
- Active solar water heater systems
- Passive solar water heater systems
4. ACTIVE SOLAR WATER HEATER SYSTEMS
Active solar water heaters use mechanical circulating pumps to move fluids between your rooftop solar panels and storage tank. In turn, these heaters have two different types:
- In direct circulation systems, a pump moves regular water into your house through solar collectors. Because the water can freeze, direct circulation systems work best in climates that rarely see freezing temperatures.
- Indirect circulation systems circulate nonfreezing liquids through solar collectors to a heat exchanger. From there, the energy transfers to water that circulates into your house. Climates with freezing temperatures can rely on indirect circulation systems.
5. PASSIVE SOLAR WATER HEATER SYSTEMS
Unlike active solar water heater systems, passive systems lack mechanical pumps. Instead, they have simple physics to thank because heat naturally rises. Unsurprisingly, this makes them much cheaper (albeit less efficient) than their active counterparts.
Passive solar water heaters also have two basic types:
- Integral collector storage systems have a solar collector integrated directly into their water tanks, which allows the sun to heat the tank. These systems work well in homes with significant hot water needs and in climates where freezes are rare.
- In thermosiphon systems, the solar collector sits lower than the storage tank, which allows the heated water to rise into the tank. Installing thermosiphon systems is slightly more complicated because they’re usually located on the roof.
6. & 7. SOLAR HOUSE HEATING
Typical uses of solar space heating systems include powering radiant floors or pairing with a hot water or hot air system to heat homes.
6. HOT WATER SOLAR SYSTEMS
Hot water solar systems use solar collectors to heat water (or another fluid, such as antifreeze). Circulating pumps move the water through the collector and into either a storage tank for later use or a heat exchanger to provide immediate warmth.
Liquid-based solar systems are complex, large-scale systems, so industries more commonly use them for commercial applications. However, they’re a home heating option.
7. HOT AIR SOLAR SYSTEMS
Hot air solar systems work by circulating air that the sun has heated — such as by striking a wall or roof — throughout your home.
Technicians typically design homes that rely on these systems with siding or roofing materials that have excellent heat absorption properties. The systems also often use a circulating fan to distribute the heated air, which is where solar power comes in.
8. SOLAR-POWERED PUMPS
Some of the heating systems above rely on a pump to circulate water. Because your home’s electricity powers these pumps, they of course consume energy. And that’s energy you hoped to save by installing a solar-powered system in the first place.
To avoid this problem and save even more energy, you can install a solar-powered pump instead. Installing a battery or generator means you can run your circulating pumps 24/7, regardless of sunlight.
9. SOLAR HEATING FOR YOUR SWIMMING POOL
Another solar energy application, especially in the southern and southwestern U.S., is heating swimming pools. The systems circulate water to a collector, where sunlight heats it. The system then pumps the heated water back into the pool.
With costs between $2,500 and $4,000 and a payback period of one to seven years, the U.S. Department of Energy says that “solar pool heating is the most cost-effective use of solar energy in many climates.”
10. SOLAR HEATING FOR YOUR HOT TUB
Like with swimming pools, solar hot tubs work by using solar collectors.
You may be surprised to hear that solar energy can provide enough power to heat a hot tub. However, solar vacuum tubes have become so efficient that they can actually overheat your tub in the summer! To avoid this, homeowners in warmer climates often opt for flat plate panels — they get the job done without generating too much heat.
Of course, you may still need an auxiliary heater after sundown, so we recommend having your existing heater and solar heater work in tandem.
Image via Timo Newton-Syms on Flickr
Solar can power just about any type of lighting you can imagine.
11. SOLAR LANDSCAPE LIGHTING
When you think of solar lighting, landscape lighting is probably the first thing to come to mind.
Solar landscape lighting technologies are inexpensive and readily available. You can find basic to high-end designs everywhere from your local hardware store to online shopping websites like Amazon.
These fixtures didn’t always provide the most light, but LED technology and enhanced batteries have changed that. Individual lighting fixtures now provide sufficient lighting with no wiring connections. Each lighting fixture has its own solar cell and rechargeable battery, which often generates enough energy to power your lights all night.
12. SOLAR SECURITY LIGHTING
Solar lighting fixtures have become so reliable that they’re a great candidate for home security lighting as well.
Like with landscape lighting, the batteries connected to solar security lights typically generate enough energy to last them through the night. This is especially true with motion-sensor options, which save stored energy for when you really need it.
You can even find options with up to 3500 lumens. That’s enough light to illuminate your outdoor space and give your family peace of mind. Plus, water-resistant features mean you’ll never have to worry about product failure due to weather.
13. SOLAR HOLIDAY LIGHTS
That’s right — you can take advantage of solar during the holidays with solar-powered Christmas lights. After all, everyone’s budgets feel strained this time of year — don’t let electricity costs to power Christmas lights add to that!
Good Housekeeping reviewed the seven best solar Christmas lights for 2022, with options ranging from simple white string lights to uniquely shaped options.
14. INDOOR SOLAR LIGHTING
If you thought lighting had to be located outdoors for solar to power it, guess again.
As with outdoor solar lights, these indoor fixtures have individual solar cells and rechargeable batteries. The difference is that you can often position the solar cells wherever they’ll get maximum sun exposure. And that means they’re not necessarily located in the same place as the lighting fixture itself.
Options range from desk lamps to pendant lighting. One especially innovative use of indoor solar lighting, featured on Mashable, is the Solatube skylight. It adds natural light while reducing energy use.
Solar oven | Image via Wikipedia
Appliances with low energy requirements may be able to rely on solar alone for power. Many larger appliances, such as refrigerators and washers and dryers, come in energy-efficient models that make them ideal for solar-powered homes.
15. SOLAR OVENS
Solar ovens, aka solar cookers, are a great way to cook when the power goes out, while camping or when you simply want to save on electricity costs. They work by gathering and trapping the sun’s thermal energy.
For example, think about your car with its windows rolled up on a hot sunny day. The windows let in and trap the sun’s thermal energy — and the air inside gets hot as a result. It’s no wonder we often say our cars feel like an oven on really hot days!
Various types of solar ovens exist, and you can make most of them yourself with a handful of simple materials. However, if DIY isn’t for you, you can also purchase one.
16. SOLAR COOLER
If you’re still toting an ice-packed cooler when you head to the park or campground, it’s time to bring you up to speed.
Solar-powered coolers are now the go-to product. They ensure your food stays cool for longer and eliminate the issue of melted ice (and soggy sandwiches). Portable power stations receive energy from solar panels and then transfer that energy to the cooler when it’s in use.
Here are your six best options for solar-powered coolers in 2022, five of which function as both refrigerators and freezers.
17. SOLAR PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKER
Solar-powered Bluetooth speakers work just like the wireless speakers you’re used to. The difference is that you can charge them without electricity because they have built-in solar panels.
This makes solar speakers perfect for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors or on the go, such as while camping or traveling.
18. SOLAR CALCULATORS
Did you know that solar-powered calculators have been around since the 1960s? That’s right — you’ve probably used one before!
Solar calculators have tiny solar cells mounted onto them, usually at the top of the device. Because calculators require so little energy to work, the solar cells mean you’ll likely never have to charge the battery.
19. SOLAR FLASHLIGHTS AND LANTERNS
When the power goes out or the sun goes down and you’re out of batteries, you’ll be glad you opted for a solar-powered flashlight or lantern. Some of the best options last up to 30 hours when fully charged, making them lifesavers in an emergency.
20. WIRELESS SOLAR KEYBOARD
Wireless keyboards offer a much better typing experience because you can place your keyboard wherever it’s most comfortable. Plus, you don’t have to deal with cords.
But when you’re in the middle of an important project and the batteries die, you’ll wish you’d gone for a solar-powered keyboard. Here are 10 excellent solar keyboards to explore.
21. SOLAR BATTERY CHARGERS
In our connected world, phones and tablets are always with us (and, let’s face it, often running low on battery). Portable solar PV chargers keep our personal electronic devices charged — no matter where we are.
The technology to integrate solar cells into our phones already exists, and it’s been in watches since the 1970s. Researchers in Japan have even developed lightweight, water-resistant solar cells that we could someday sew into clothing to power devices.
Image via Pixabay
Solar landscape lighting already goes a long way toward beautifying your outdoor space, but you can do even more with solar energy.
22. SOLAR GARDEN DECORATIONS
23. SOLAR BIRD FEEDERS
For such a straightforward product, solar-powered bird feeders come in a staggering range of options.
On the simpler (and more affordable) end, you have bird feeders that are essentially solar-powered outdoor lights with integrated feeders. Their solar cells charge their batteries during the day, and at night they light up to provide ambience.
On the higher end are products like the Bird Buddy. The Bird Buddy is a smart bird feeder with an integrated camera that can notify you of your bird visitors via a smartphone app. It even captures and organizes photos for you to review and share, making it a bird lover’s dream.
And of course, its detachable solar panel roof powers all these features.
24. SOLAR WATER FOUNTAIN
What’s even more Zen than the calming sound of water trickling from your garden’s water fountain? That’d be knowing the fountain isn’t adding to your electricity bill because the sun’s energy powers it.
And don’t worry — solar-powered fountains come in a broad array of styles and sizes, so you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your garden.
25. SOLAR-POWERED IRRIGATION CONTROLLERS
We know what you’re thinking. Irrigation timers don’t sound particularly aesthetically pleasing, but they do help keep your yard lush, so we think they count.
The beauty of solar-powered sprinkler controllers is that you can automate your irrigation without wiring — a standard garden hose and water source are all you need.
Here are some of the best options out there to get you started.
Image via Jonathin Lin on Flickr
Manufacturers can also integrate solar into some of the products you wear and use every day. As a result, you have power on the go.
26. SOLAR WATCHES
Charging batteries is always a chore, but that’s especially true with watches. Who has spare watch batteries lying around?
Enter solar-powered watches. Both environmentally friendly and long-lasting, solar watches are becoming increasingly popular. And with more and more watch brands going solar, you have a plethora of styles to indulge in, ranging from casual to dressy to sporty.
27. SOLAR BACKPACKS
The idea behind solar backpacks is simple: We often need to charge our electronics — and lack access to charge them — when we’re out and about. So why not integrate a charger directly into an item we all use while we’re hard at it?
With small built-in solar panels that store energy in a battery pack, solar backpacks can charge your devices from anywhere. Whether you’re an avid hiker, camper, photographer or world traveler, they’re sure to come in handy.
28. SOLAR BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES, EARBUDS AND HEADSET
Solar-powered Bluetooth headphones are, surprisingly, relatively new to the market. Urbanista launched a pair in 2021, and Adidas followed suit in 2022. Both options are self-charging thanks to built-in solar cells and offer 80 hours of battery life.
A company called Blue Tiger also recently released the “world’s first solar powered communications headset.” To boot, Urbanista plans to launch solar-powered wireless earbuds before the end of 2022. So your solar-powered listening options abound.
29. SOLAR BIKE HELMET
Solar power has made great strides in the outdoor industry, so it’s unsurprising that you can buy solar-powered bike helmets. But just what their batteries power might surprise you.
- It powers built-in “bone conduction speakers” that send sound (or vibrations) through the bones near your ears, rather than inside your ears. And that means you can listen to music safely without being unable to hear other sounds.
- It powers the technology necessary to automatically fit the helmet to your head — you don’t have to adjust anything manually.
30. SOLAR TEXTILES
Solar textiles may not be on the market yet, but they’re in the works. And they certainly represent an innovative new use of solar.
Scientists are working to weave solar cells into fabrics such as clothing, car seats, curtains and tents. In October of 2022, researchers at Nottingham Trent University proved these textiles can charge devices such as mobile phones and smartwatches. They believe electronic textiles “have the potential to change people’s relationship with technology,” and we agree.
Image via Unsplash
From residential use to public and commercial uses, solar power is transforming the transportation sphere.
31. HOME SOLAR EV CHARGING
Electric vehicles (EVs) are growing in popularity, with sales making up 5.6% of the total auto market at the end of 2022 — up from 2.7% at the end of 2021. And with EVs’ growing popularity, people need an eco-friendly way to charge them.
That’s where home solar EV charging comes in. Installing solar panels to charge your EV means you can avoid sourcing energy from the grid — and thus save big on your electricity bill.
Check out our blog on how many solar panels you need to power your EV to learn more.
32. SOLAR CARPORTS
You can power your EV with an existing rooftop solar installation, but some homeowners are constructing solar carports specifically to power their electric vehicles (EVs). As an added benefit, these structures protect your EV (and your investment) from the weather.
33. SOLAR-POWERED MOBILE HOMES AND TINY HOMES
Tiny homes are great candidates for solar power because they have lower energy needs. They have less space for — well — stuff that requires electricity.
Similarly, some mobile homes are compatible with solar systems. However, if your mobile home is located in a community that uses its own septic system or runs off the grid, you’ll want to check with the owners association before moving forward.
34. PUBLIC SOLAR EV CHARGING
We already touched on residential solar EV charging, but there are also solar-powered public charging stations for EVs. These stations are ideal for quick charging when you’re on the move. You’ll often find them paired with parking lots so drivers can charge their vehicles while parked.
35. SOLAR PANEL PARKING LOTS
As their name suggests, solar panel parking lots are essentially solar panel-covered parking lots. While parking lots can use ground-mounted systems, they typically use parking lot structures to free up ground space for vehicles.
Parking lots covered with solar panels are growing in popularity thanks to the many benefits they provide. These perks include charging parked vehicles and even providing energy for surrounding buildings.
36. SOLAR BUS STOP SHELTERS
You can also find solar energy in public transportation via solar bus shelters.
Solar bus shelters have solar panels installed either on the shelter’s roof or nearby. They generate power for advertising and lighting, and passengers can charge small devices. Options like that from EnGoPlanet even have a built-in bench and phone charging station.
With those kinds of benefits, waiting for the bus doesn’t sound so bad.
37. SOLAR BENCHES
Solar benches take the same concept as solar bus shelters and apply it to benches used in parks, airports and just about anywhere people sit. Also like solar bus stops, solar benches provide a spot for people to relax and charge their phones, as well as illumination after sundown.
38. SOLAR STREET LIGHTS
Solar street lights play an important role in public transportation, particularly in areas without reliable access to the grid. These lights give such areas an alternative energy source. And that not only increases safety and peace of mind but also reduces the city’s electricity bills.
Of course, you can also purchase a solar street light for your own driveway or street.
39. SOLAR ENERGY FOR INDUSTRIES
Image via Unsplash
Solar energy has practically limitless potential in industrial applications, especially in industries with high equipment requirements and electricity needs. Powering these needs with solar can play a significant role in reducing costs and improving bottom lines.
A SOLAR-POWERED FUTURE
Renewable energy is already becoming a familiar part of our lives. Innovation will continue to drive new solar energy technologies that improve our daily lives and power a cleaner world.
How many more uses of solar energy does the future hold? We’re excited to find out!
Featured image via Unsplash