Did you know that solar panel uses go beyond traditional installations on home rooftops? From solar ovens to solar swimming pool heaters, there is a solar energy solution for all of your energy needs. Solar panels can be made as small as those found on calculators or as large as the roof on your home, which is one of the reasons they are so versatile. Here are the top five ways solar panels are making an impact in reducing our reliance on our local electrical grid—while saving us money at the same time!
First, a brief word on solar inverters. Before solar panels generate electricity for homes and appliances, the energy must first be converted into AC electricity—the type of electricity the United States uses in its electrical system. The solar panels listed below, no matter how large or small, all require an inverter of some sort to convert the solar energy into usable electricity.
Solar Roof Installations
These are the traditional home solar panel installations most people imagine when they hear the term solar panels. They are mounted on your roof using either a fixed or tracking mounting system. The fixed mounting system requires the least amount of maintenance because it has no moving parts. The tracking system, however, allows your solar panels to follow the path of the sun, improving energy output significantly.
Solar Hot Water Heater
Solar hot water heaters are the second most common types of solar panels used by homeowners. They’re installed similarly to solar panels—on roofs—and convert solar energy via the solar inverter. Solar hot water heaters do more than just make your showers hot; they can be used to heat swimming pools as well. This can be done in one of two ways. The first uses a passive solar technique, placing a solar blanket on top of the swimming pool, which attracts the sun’s rays and conducts the solar heat into the pool. The second way is the active solar heating technique, which is to install the solar hot water heater and use that to heat your pool.
From little sidewalk lamps along a walkway to solar paneled street lights, solar outdoor lighting is one of the easiest ways to take advantage of solar power. Solar outdoor lighting utilizes small to mid-sized solar panels to charge and store energy for the lights. Then, when the sun goes down the lights come on using the energy collected by the solar panels. You can find simple solar powered pathway lighting at your local hardware store— where each light has its own mini-solar panel— or you can work with a solar contractor to come up with a more unique solution to your outdoor lighting needs.
Solar ovens help keep your kitchen cool and your energy bill down by cooking using heat from the sun, instead of your electric oven. Solar ovens— also called solar cookers— use the sun’s energy by turning direct sunlight into heat to cook your food. There’s no need to heat up your kitchen, especially during the summer, when the sun can take care of cooking your meal. Solar cookers are sturdy boxes lined with a reflective material to attract the sun’s rays, and a lid to retain the heat, ensuring that the food is heated evenly. The lid is typically made out of glass to better focus the sun’s rays on your meal.
Solar Charging Stations
Solar charging stations are becoming more common, and not just among those wanting to go off-grid. Approximately the size of a tablet, solar charging stations are portable solar panels that connect to your small devices— cell phones, GPS trackers, tablets, or even laptops— and charge them using energy collected from the sun. Solar charging stations are great options for campers, backpackers, and anyone on the go. To charge the solar charging stations, simply make sure the charging station receives ample direct sunlight. If you’re driving, this could mean placing it on the dashboard or a seat that’s in the sun. Many solar charging devices come equipped to hook on to backpacks so they collect solar energy while you’re walking.
Solar panel technology has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, which means that technology is being applied to more aspects of our lives everyday. Consider this, if you’re wondering how solar panels can provide enough energy for your home, just remember that the International Space Station utilizes solar panels while in orbit. You may not have dreams of living off-grid, but keep these top five uses for solar panels in mind the next time you consider the possibility of solar power in your life.