Solar energy refers to the energy that is harnessed from the heat and light produced by the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Developments in technology have enabled us to capture and store this energy for various residential and commercial applications.
While the use of solar energy within the home environment is well documented, many people are not fully aware of the numerous applications in the commercial and industrial sectors. Below are some of the ways to use solar energy in everyday life (outside the home).
Crop & Grain Drying
Solar energy can be utilized to supply and supplement numerous energy requirements in farms. For centuries people have used the sun’s energy to dry grains and crops. In fact, it is one of the earliest and most widely employed applications of the sun’s energy.
One of the main benefits of this application is that it is a very cost effective and simple technique. Crops and grains can be spread out after harvesting and allowed to dry naturally. However, more advanced and sophisticated solar dryers have been produced as an alternative to the older method.
Natural drying is associated with a number of issues. These include contamination by dirt or dust blown by the wind, damage by birds and rodents as well as exposure to adverse elements such as rain.
Solar grain dryers protect the produce from the elements, dry the grains and crops more uniformly and faster and also reduce losses. The solar dryer consists of three main components; a shed or enclosure, screened drying rack or trays and a solar collector.
Its operation is quite simple. The solar collector absorbs solar energy. As the air inside the solar collector is heated, it moves up through the grains being dried by the combined efforts of a fan and natural convection.
The only disadvantages of this application are that solar dryers are quite expensive and the drying rate is relatively uncontrollable.
Space & Water Heating in Agribusiness
Livestock and dairy ventures usually have considerable water and air heating needs. For instance, modern poultry and pig farms require carefully regulated air quality and temperature control in order for the animals to realize optimum health.
This is mainly because they are raised in enclosed buildings. The indoor air of these facilities has to be constantly replaced. This serves to eliminate dirt, excess moisture, and toxic gas odors. Achieving this requires a large amount of regular energy.
Specially designed solar space/air heaters are installed on farm buildings and heat incoming air. Depending on the weather and the region, these heaters can supplement ventilation levels during the summer months.
Additionally, solar energy is used to heat water for cleaning pens and farm equipment. Generally, water heating takes up almost 40 % of the energy expenditure in a typical dairy facility.
There are four basic types of solar water heating systems employed on livestock farms. They include drain down, drain back, anti-freeze closed-loop and bread box batch systems.
In areas lacking power lines or experiencing power shortages, photovoltaic (PV) water pumping systems are a convenient option. These systems convert electromagnetic energy directly to electricity.
Photovoltaic solar power systems operate water pumps best during the summer months, where water shortages may be prevalent. They are ideal for applications such as large scale grazing operations, pond aeration or irrigation systems where water needs to be transported to remote locations.
The good thing about these solar pumping systems is that they require minimal maintenance if they are properly installed. The cost and size of the Photovoltaic water pumping system will depend on several factors.
These include quality and amount of the solar energy in a region, the water demand, the pumping depth and the installation.
Solar power is electricity harnessed directly from solar energy. In commercial and industrial terms it is the most important application of solar energy. Many commercial and industrial buildings today have turned to solar energy.
This serves to supplement hydroelectric and nuclear power supply and make considerable energy savings. As more and more businesses embrace the green movement, solar energy is bound to become the primary energy focus in future years.
Industries that utilize solar power on a daily basis include air transport, motor, manufacturing, processing, service, technology and light engineering industries.
There are many other applications of solar energy outside the home including but not limited to commercial pool and spa heating, greenhouse heating, remote electricity supply, water purification, solar generators for homes and street lighting. As fossil fuels become depleted at increasing rates, solar energy is the go to option for renewable energy.