More Than Solar Panels: 4 Ways To Use Solar Energy

Globally, solar power demand is expected to double every couple of years until 2022. Why? Renewable energies like solar panels  enable individuals to produce their own energy, decreasing their utility costs and saving them money in the long term. As prices continue to fall and technologies continue to advance, solar demand will only increase over the next several decades. There are now 4 major ways to use solar energy, each with its own list of pros and cons. Understanding these various ways enables individuals, businesses and organizations to choose the type of solar energy that best suits their needs.
  1. Solar panels.
Solar panels, or photovoltaic modules, are the most commonly used technology to harvest the power of the sun. They work by utilizing the sun’s rays to energize electrons on their surface. These electrons are then transferred to a semiconductor where they can be extracted into an electrical circuit. When this process occurs, the optical energy of the sun is turned into electricity, which can be used to power the world. The simplicity of installing a solar panel system is the driving force behind their popularity. Once installed, they will produce a constant stream of energy as long as the solar panels are receiving direct sunlight. Even on cloudy days they will produce electricity, albeit a smaller amount. Storage cells and various batteries exist so businesses and residences with solar panels can store energy on sunnier days for use on cloudier days.
  1. Biofuels.
Biofuels are another common way people are using the power of the sun to create energy. Plants use the process of photosynthesis to turn the sun’s energy into tangible byproducts, i.e. oxygen, glucose, and plant matter. These byproducts can be used to power items people need. The most commonly known form of biofuel is ethanol, a byproduct of corn that is used to power cars.
  1. Artificial photosynthesis.
The downside of biofuels and natural photosynthesis is that they have a low energy conversion rate. Although the plants are using a huge amount of energy from the sun, their byproducts represent a much smaller amount of energy. Artificial photosynthesis looks to address this issue by converting sunlight into chemical fuels that have a much higher energy conversion rate.
  1. Solar thermal.
Solar thermal is quickly becoming one of the most common ways people harness the power of the sun to generate electricity. Solar thermal is achieved by creating an array of mirrors that are angled to direct the sun’s rays to one point. This directed sunlight is then used to heat water, which boils and spins a turbine to generate a great amount of electricity. This is essentially the same process as coal electricity production, but the coal is being replaced by clean solar energy. Solar thermal is commonly used to produce electricity for large-scale utilities.

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