Solar energy is a sustainable and inexhaustible source of energy from which we still do not take advantage of its full potential. It allows the planet’s resources to be used efficiently, taking into account environmental conservation. This form of clean energy is an alternative to the use of non-renewable technologies, including fossil fuels or nuclear power.
What applications does solar energy have?
We usually pigeonhole the uses of electrical energy generated by solar panels for domestic applications and photovoltaic self-consumption, but during these years various studies have been carried out in other areas such as transport, agriculture, public lighting or even in the textile sector, to take advantage of the energy from the sun as a way of saving energy.
Let’s see then what applications solar energy has , beyond those that we all know.
Use of solar panels in homes
More and more people choose to buy solar panels to install in their homes, taking advantage of the inexhaustible energy of the sun, which will minimize dependence on electricity consumption through the network, save energy at home on the electricity bill and contribute to The environmental protection.
The number of modules installed will depend on the amount of energy used and the surface of the roof . It will also affect the orientation and inclination of the solar panels with the aim of generating as much energy from the sun as possible the better orientation and inclination.
The use of solar panels for homes encompasses a wide variety of options. Normally we link its use to activities related to lighting or household appliances, but we also have other applications related to heating or hot water. That is, the installation of solar panels would bring us great benefits due to the advantages of solar energy .
We can find among the most common uses of solar panels for the home:
- The appliances…
- Heating and hot water (DHW).
- Air conditioning
- Underfloor heating
- Swimming pool
- Outdoor lighting, like in a greenhouse
Heating and hot water (DHW):
For this application, the solar radiation collected by the solar thermal panels would heat the water for general use in the home, and for low temperature heating.
Thanks to the high number of hours of sunshine that we have in Spain, opting for an installation of solar panels to heat water is a very profitable option that will minimize dependence on gas and help maintain a cleaner environment.
And how do solar panels work to produce hot water? They use solar radiation to heat the air or a fluid and then transmit the heat to the water contained in an accumulator or tank. In this way we can make more effective use of energy and substantial savings on electricity and gas bills.
The problem with these installations is that they occupy the space available on the roof of the house and can only be used for that purpose. However, photovoltaic panels can also be used to heat water (by means of resistance in a tank) and have many more applications, which is why they are used more than thermal panels every day.
Heating is another of the many ways that solar energy can help us improve the efficiency of our home .
The installation of solar panels for heating would allow up to 70 percent associated energy savings.
All installations used to heat the house must be equipped with a plate heat exchanger, an essential device in air conditioning systems that transfers heat between fluids, increasing or decreasing the temperature of any of the spaces.
These are some of the most common applications of solar panels for heating:
- heat pump
- Radiating floor
- convection heating
Maintenance costs are very low. It is important, however, to carry out annual inspections of the accumulation tank and to keep the insulating rubbers in good condition so that optimal profitability is always possible. Also keep the surface of the solar panels clean so that it does not affect the efficiency of the installation.
Underfloor heating with solar panels:
The technological advances developed in solar energy have allowed its uses to multiply significantly in various sectors. This is the case of radiant floors that manage to displace the traditional role of radiators.
As the most effective and efficient heating system, underfloor heating is consolidating to the detriment of radiators.
To understand the improvements that radiant floors with solar panels can create, we will put the operation of conventional radiators into perspective, discussing the weak points of this method.
The typical radiator that we all know heats only the layer of air that is in contact with the floor, so that the hot air rises upwards and remains at the top without circulating sufficiently around the room.
In particular, if we want our house to be hot enough to achieve optimal comfort, the delivery temperature to the radiators is usually around 70ºC.
By comparison, underfloor heating works the other way around, meaning the heat is transmitted from the floor and distributed evenly throughout the house. In this case, to reach the desired temperature, it is enough for the water that circulates through the underfloor heating circuit to be at about 40ºC.
All this leads to significant energy savings, making the underfloor heating system more common than traditional radiators.
The combination of aerothermal energy with solar panels allows the temperature of the house to be controlled using renewable natural resources.
Aerothermal energy comes from the air to obtain hot water and reach the optimum temperature according to the season of the year, which allows lowering the temperature in the summer and the perfect temperature to achieve maximum comfort in the winter.
Aerothermal works through an integral feature, the aerothermal heat pump. Its purpose is to extract energy from the air and transport it to the circuit of the house, achieving high energy efficiency of the device from an approach focused on the environment and sustainability.
In addition, if we compare it with other air conditioning systems, it is capable of achieving savings of 60 percent . These data allow it to gain positions and position itself as one more alternative to renewable energy.
Use of solar panels for swimming pools:
Maintaining a heated pool is a reasonably high cost of electricity that can be offset by the sun’s energy. The installation of solar panels for swimming pools would make it possible to take advantage of the sun’s rays to heat the water and enjoy bathing practically all year round , which makes it a much more environmentally friendly and beneficial option for the planet.
In addition, let’s not forget, the greater energy savings that we will achieve since those same panels can be used for other applications in the home.
Public lighting using solar panels:
Spanish municipalities are beginning to incorporate solar energy into public lighting , which will make it possible to illuminate roads, urban areas, homes, outdoor activities or even zebra crossings.
Lighting is created through the use of devices known as solar streetlights or luminaires.
These “solar street lights” consist of three elements:
- LED lamp
- Solar panel
- Solar battery
The battery is charged during the day, and that stored energy is used as electricity for the LED lamp that works at night. This will achieve significant energy savings.
For example, the municipality of Estepona has managed to save 160,000 euros a year in electricity by installing solar panels in public lighting and a substantial 20% reduction in electricity consumption.
Irrigation with solar panels:
Solar irrigation is here to stay, and it will make a world change in the agricultural sector. The operation of the system is exactly the same as that of conventional irrigation, with the only difference being that the energy source that powers the solar pump comes from the panels.
The construction of solar irrigation systems with solar panels has made it possible to take advantage of an unlimited source such as photovoltaic solar energy , reducing energy costs and water scarcity.
Solar energy in transportation
The use of solar energy in transport is still in the process of development, but its use can already be found in electric cars and caravans or even in public transport, such as solar buses and trains.
solar electric car panels
One of the biggest problems we are currently facing in the automotive sector is energy. The dependence on the need to refuel the electric car in the recharging facilities themselves and the uncertain origin of the source, has led many manufacturers to develop new designs using solar energy, promoting the transition to greater sustainability in order to bring to the market in the medium term cars with solar panels .
And how to overcome battery dependency? The solution lies in electric vehicles and solar panels. Generally, these panels are mounted on the roof of the electric car, and the energy is stored in the battery or transferred directly to the motor.
The installation is not only limited to the roof thanks to the 0.03mm thick solar cells produced by car brands, but also allows them to be mounted on other surfaces of the car, such as the hood or other areas of the body, preserving the aesthetics and resistance to possible impacts.
Despite the huge potential that solar photovoltaic panels offer to charge electric cars, due to the persistent lack of sunlight, they will be inefficient on some roads and vehicles would still have to rely on electric charging systems. For this there are also stations where you can charge electric cars , which are powered by solar panels.
Some manufacturers currently sell solar panel kits for the home that include plugs that we can use to charge electric cars, thus promoting the use of solar energy and self- consumption .
Panels for caravans:
Solar panels are also suitable for larger vehicles, where their use is more frequent. Solar panels are a very good investment for road lovers, who want to travel in a caravan and want to be self-sufficient, to achieve autonomy and energy independence, producing free electricity wherever they go.
Currently, solar panels are already mounted on almost all motorhomes purchased in Spain, a factor that has gained importance in recent years. However, many users do not know the number of panels necessary to support long trips, in which practically all consumption is carried out in the car, such as the battery charge itself or the charging elements of the smartphone, the light or appliances.
Normally the most common solar panels for caravans are 12V, but the installation of one or another type of energy will depend essentially on the use.
Airplanes with solar panels:
The aviation sector has also taken the battle against climate change very seriously. New technologies have made it possible to improve batteries and charging systems, so solar-generated electricity in aircraft is a possibility that we will see in the near future, whether for commercial or private flights.
People are increasingly aware of how we contribute to a more prosperous world through our actions, where concern for the environment plays a very important role, and we must not forget that an airplane emits up to 391 grams of CO2, that is, 50 times more emissions per kilometer and passenger than a train .
Approximately 4% of greenhouse gases, according to the European Commission, come from flights that have increased on the European continent. For this reason, aircraft manufacturers are creating new technologies that are committed to the renewable energies of the future , emphasizing the use of solar energy.
European companies such as Airbus have produced prototype airplanes with solar panels all over their bodies, which work only with solar energy and manage to stay in the air for about 26 days. This aircraft is specifically planned for unmanned travel, but the research of formulas for commercial flights powered by photovoltaic solar panels is in full swing.
Electric bicycles with solar panels:
The number of electric bicycles has increased every day, especially in large cities, in recent years and could exceed 300 million in 2023, that is, 50 percent more than in 2019.
The electric bicycle and solar energy are two concepts that fit perfectly. Solar energy plays a very important role in this aspect because it can solve the problem of charging and take advantage of sunlight to power the vehicle’s battery, installing solar panels on the surface of the electric bicycle.
There are models developed by companies in the sector that include LED screens, which allow us to know the status of the battery and other data related to the journey. Some electric bicycles are equipped with a pedal support (helps the user to make less effort when pedaling), and can exceed 25 km/h.
There are also companies in the Netherlands, the second European country in the use of bicycles, have developed a package that allows fast charging of electric bicycles with solar energy. In addition, solar cells are mounted on the bicycle tires in order to charge the battery while we are in motion.
Solar panels for boats:
People who have a sailing or motor boat available can also mount solar panels to their vessels, harnessing the power of solar energy. This is a highly recommended option, and in fact it is very widespread, because it will allow greater autonomy, reducing the need to stop in ports less frequently and increasing the time spent at sea.
As in any other means of transport, it is important to know the consumption that the boat will have, and thus know the number of solar panels that will be necessary depending on the energy needs of each particular case.
The necessary elements for the installation of solar panels on boats are:
- solar modules
- a charge controller
- Join several batteries
Solar panels can be mounted on the highest part of the boat cabin, but there is an alternative that is becoming more and more common and used by boat owners: flexible solar panels .
Solar panels for mobile phones and other portable devices
What would be the first annoyance that would come to mind when you think of smartphones? Surely you are thinking about the battery, and this factor decreases its duration year after year, allowing you to use the mobile for 1 day or a maximum of 2 without charging it.
In Spain, the use of mobile phones has an average of 2 hours and 16 minutes a day, which has increased in confinement by 2 hours and 18 minutes, reaching a daily use of 4 and a half hours. The battery drains in record time, due to the number of apps and features we use on our smartphones. They are not designed to withstand our use of them.
But there are new innovative and environmentally friendly models that are still under development and will be a perfect solution in the near future, including solar panels on the back of the smartphone, with the aim of solving the battery problem and thus enjoy of greater autonomy.
Solar energy can not only reach mobile phones, but also other gadgets such as laptops, computers, smart watches and even music speakers.