Computers, smartphones, refrigerators, even the latest cars. They all have one thing in common — they need electricity to run. Atomic, hydroelectric and coal fired are some of the ways we fuel the power plants that generate electricity on a massive scale to fulfill our needs. However, even though it is roughly 93,000,000 miles away, the energy of the sun helps us power up more and more everyday, while the technology to harness that power keeps improving in creating more ways to use it.
Solar Energy Uses
Solar energy is used in a surprisingly wide variety of ways, from the super-macro power panels to desktop items we use every day.
Electric Power Plants—The Solana Generating Station outside Gila Bend, AZ is a massive array of solar panels. Spanning some 2,400 acres of desert land, the plant has the capability to satisfy the power needs of almost one-quarter of a million homes.
Farming—Whether growing crops or raising livestock, every farm needs a way to move water. This necessitates the use of water pumps, which needs a power source, so many companies have turned to the development of affordable and efficient solar pumps for their needs.
Personal Power— “Going off-grid” has gained traction in the American vocabulary over the past few years, in part, because of the development of solar energy products. Some examples include:
- Roof panels to power a cabin or remotely located house
- Portable generators with integrated solar panels. Charge one of these up and it will provide hours of power for small appliances or lights during a blackout.
- Power banks for smartphones and tablets. Several companies have integrated solar panels into backpacks so the devices can be charging while a person is out hiking.
We’ve all used a calculator with photosensitive cells on them. They’ve been around since at least the mid-70s and work well even with only indoor lighting.
Today, scientists are continually working to make smaller and lighter cells that can efficiently transform solar energy into usable electricity. Imagine a film that can be placed over an existing window or even an entire new pane of glass that would allow a large portion of the outside of a house to provide electricity for its occupants. A typical double hung window has interior dimensions of 20” x 48,” giving each window roughly six- to seven-square feet of surface area. Multiply this by every window in the house and that gives quite a bit of area to collect the rays. People are working on refining just those technologies today.
Sitting out in the forest reading an emergency first aid book on the tablet that was solar charged during the hike into the forest is a technology that already exists for us. Imagine when we can drive into the city and see the sun shining off all the glass, knowing that all those skyscrapers are being powered by our star. That day may be right around the corner.
Ashley Andrews is a San Diego-based freelance writer who blogs on a wide range of green living, business, health and technology topics.