When people think of solar energy, they envision solar-powered electricity and the large solar panels mounted on roofs. This definitely is one option to consider for using solar energy in your daily life. However, solar energy has expanded so much that you now have many more options for use on a day-to-day basis.
Generate Electricity for Your Home
The most obvious use of solar energy is to generate electricity for your home. You can choose a full solar electrical system and completely remove yourself from the grid (local power company), or you can choose a partial system using the grid as a back-up or nighttime power. In a back-up system, the grid provides power only if there is no sunshine and the batteries that store electricity for such times are dead. Nighttime power uses power from the grid when the sun goes down.
Generate Heat for Hot Water
Solar systems can heat the water in your home to fill your hot-water tank. These tanks must be well-insulated to maintain the hot water temperature once the sun goes down. These systems also typically require a hot-water tank to have a back-up heating system, but the U.S. Department of Energy estimates your cost savings of water-heating bills to be 50 percent to 80 percent. Some fairly inexpensive systems also heat the water in swimming pools.
More cities are turning to solar-powered road signs to let you know how fast you're going or to convey messages of accidents ahead. Companies are using solar power to provide electronic advertisement screens. Everywhere you turn, little solar panels are popping up to power all kinds of electronic displays.
Almost every electronic device that contains GPS or receives information via satellite, such as pagers and cellphones, use some of the oldest solar technology around. Satellites that link us to most mass forms of media directly or indirectly use the sun's rays to power them. Space.com reports that research seeks to determine the feasibility of creating satellite solar "dams" to provide electricity on Earth.