10.7 million. That’s how many homes could be powered by the amount of solar PV capacity installed in the first quarter of 2018 alone, according to the latest report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. This comes on the heels of a stellar previous year, when experts hailed 2017 as a “new era” for solar, noting it was the world’s fastest-growing source of new energy.
But without context, these are just numbers. 2.5 gigawatts of power added in the first three months of the year doesn’t mean much if you’re not sure how it’s being used. So let’s take a deeper look at four of the most common uses for solar energy in the world today.
Thanks to a precipitous drop in the price of installing residential solar – as much as 70% since 2010 – rooftop solar systems are now the norm, not the exception. Some estimates from the US Department of Energy put the number of homes with rooftop solar installations at nearly 4 million by 2020.
There are several factors that determine what kind of array a home needs, including:
- Monthly electricity consumption
- Square footage
- Permitting and tax implications
- Future expected use
Solar Hot Water
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to slash your utility bill is to install a solar water heater system. At a fraction of the cost of a full solar panel installation, this is a great place to start if you’re making your first foray into solar energy. They can even be installed in climates typically ill-suited for solar.
The system is simple and can be easily integrated with most homes. A solar collector, often installed on the roof, heats a medium (water, another liquid, or air), which is then pumped into coils that heat a well-insulated water storage tank. From here, it’s just like any system, and the water (which can heat up to between 150 and 200 degrees), can be used for washing clothes and dishes, showers, pool heating, and in some cases, central home heating systems.
These systems have cut the water-heating portion of utility bills by up to 66 percent.
Personal Solar Technology
Imagine a light, flexible, water-resistant solar cell that could be affixed to your clothing and could power your phone, watch, or tablet. That’s not the future of solar – it’s already here.
This opens up untold numbers of new possibilities for personal solar use. Even without the ground-breaking technology of wearable solar, compact, foldable solar panels are available that are easily attached to backpacks, cars, and tents. These let you charge your small electronics directly, or you can store the energy in a convenient battery for charging electronics later.
Solar Powered Transportation
Whether it’s the completely solar-powered train in Australia, the now-famous solar-powered plane that flew in the United Arab Emirates, or the many concept solar cars that have been built in the US, there’s plenty of proof that solar is the future of transportation.
The implications of these breakthroughs can’t be ignored. Let’s look at planes, for example. On average, commercial airplanes produce about 53 pounds of carbon dioxide for every traveled mile. That means on a one-way flight from New York to Los Angeles, an airplane emits nearly 150,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s one flight amid the thousands around the world every day. As the technology progresses, solar energy will be at the forefront of carbon-cutting initiatives in the transportation sector.
Solar is far more than sprawling arrays deep in the desert. It’s on top of our homes and businesses, it’s powering our public transportation, and it’s ushering the world into a cleaner, more affordable future. How will solar shape your daily life?