What is Solar Energy?

“Solar” is the Latin word for “sun” and Solar energy is, simply, the energy that comes from the sun. Solar energy works by capturing the sun’s energy and can be used directly to heat, light home or converted into electricity for homes and businesses and industry. The energy from the sun not only benefits individual owners but also benefits the environment as well. In fact, people are increasingly investing in solar energy to save on out-of-pocket costs and solar energy is most sought today in developing countries, the fastest growing segment of the photovoltaics market.

Since solar energy is provided by the sun, it is harnessed using solar energy technologies like solar panels.

There are a few different type of solar panel such as monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline panels, thin film solar panels, hybrid solar panel. All these different types of solar panel, are called  Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels (Photovoltaic literally means “light” and “electric”). They produce electric that you can use in real time to power machines and light your home. You can also earn money from these solar panels by selling any surplus back to the national grid.

There is another kind of solar panel with different purpose is solar thermal panels. These panels do not produce electricity, they take energy from the sun and use it to heat water, which can be used within the home as heating, or in showers, washing machines or dishwashers.

So if you’re hoping to earn money from the solar panels, you want to sign up for solar PV panels rather than the thermal variety.

Solar PV panels are made up of lots of solar “cells”. These cells are made from materials which exhibit the “photovoltaic effect”. The photovoltaic (PV) effect is the process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage). When sunshine hits the PV cell, the light’s photons excite the electrons in the cell, the electrons start to move the bottom layer, and once electrons move together in the same direction, generating electricity. And this is harnessed by two metal contacts are placed on either side of the silicone layers to create a circuit.

The electricity created by solar panels is direct current, whereas the electricity we use on a day-to-day basis is alternating current, the solar energy has to run through an inverter before it can be used.

Solar panels work even when it is cloudy and the more hours of sunlight you get, the longer they work each day. In the summer, you will get more solar panel output even it is is not a particularly hot one.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Advantages of solar energy

There are many advantages of the photovoltaic solar energy that make it “one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the world”. Photovoltaic Solar power even has advantages over hydropower, wind power and solar thermal power. The latter three require turbines with moving parts that are noisy and require maintenance. Read on for 9 advantages of solar energy.

Solar energy is renewable

Solar energy is tremendously abundant and is the most abundant natural energy resource on the plant. Energy from the sun provides a consistent and steady source of solar power throughout the year and can be used to harness power even in remote locations. It will never run out as long as the sun exists. In fact, more solar energy is generated in one hour than the entire Earth uses in as a year. There is no cap on the amount of solar energy that can be generated. And the most important thing is the amount of solar energy we use today won’t affect the availability of it tomorrow.

Solar Energy can save you money

Solar energy is a free resource. While there are some costs involved in having solar panels installed on a home, sunlight itself is free. Non-renewable resources like fossil fuels can skyrocket in price based on availability, not solar energy. So, if you are tired of high utility bills every month, solar-powered electricity can offer you a cost-saving alternative.

Depending on the size of the system you choose to install, its efficiency and the how your home faces the sun, you can save an average of 40% on your electric bill or even eliminate it all together. With rising electric costs, 40% can translate to over $17,000 in savings over the next 30 years (Let’s say the average monthly electrical bill is $120).

But what happens when it’s overcast and rainy? If you are wondering, no worries, when clouds block out the sun, your solar panels will still produce clean electricity but just not quite as well. On a cloudy day, typical solar panels can produce 10-25% of their rated capacity. The exact amount will vary depending on the type of solar panel and the density of the clouds.

Easy Installation

Unlike wind power systems, which requires them to be tied with drilling machines, solar panels are easy to install. They don’t require any cords or power sources can be installed on the rooftops which mean no new space is needed. Since they can be installed in a distributed fashion, no large-scale installations are needed.

Solar Panels Need Very Little Maintenance

The cost of installing solar power systems can be high. But once you get them installed in your home, there are very recurring costs and these systems can be expanded as energy needs grow. In other words, you can basically forget that they are there and you can enjoy the benefits for many years. This is because solar panels require almost no maintenance and can last for decades. Plus, newly designed solar panels have sleek trims and slimmer profiles that blend much more seamlessly with traditional roofs.

It’s eco-friendly

Solar energy is green and safe for the environment. It will not produce polluting emissions that affect the safety of air, water, and soil like greenhouse gases or toxic waste while generating power. In fact, solar power reduces heavy metal emissions and greenhouse gases by at least 89% when compared with traditional power plants and even the manufacturing of solar cells creates 90% fewer pollutants than conventional fossil fuels.

Global climate change is a growing concern and carbon dioxide has been proven to cause global warming, which is wreaking havoc on our Earth – causing shorelines to erode, glaciers to melt and animals to be endangered. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends switching to renewable energy sources – Since these systems help to reduce a carbon footprint. By installing solar energy systems, you also help to conserve non-sustainable energy sources and protect the environment for the next generation. Protecting the environment also means protecting our health. Cleaner air water = healthier, longer-living people.

Solar power systems can enhance the value of your home

If you are looking to sell your home in the future, you should know that installation of solar technologies can significantly increase the value of the property. Especially, in areas where buyers are likely to look for home installed with solar panels, such as in cities that are known for being environmentally conscious. Studies performed by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory have shown that adding a solar system increases a home’s resale value by an average of $5.50 / watt, and depending on location, can be as high as $6.40 per watt. That said, a 3.1kW system can add $17,000 to a home’s value. Since that’s an amount that would cover the average installation cost for solar energy in most homes, which means you will be able to recoup your money when you sell the property. That’s a pretty wise investment in your property.

You can get money back

Besides saving up a lot on your monthly bill, you might get a chunk of money back by installing solar panels. In 2016, homeowners were allowed to claim 30% of the installation cost as a tax credit when they purchased a solar system. The most state also offers tax rebates to homeowners who use solar energy in a bid to encourage the use of solar energy. According to National Geographic, Taking these tax incentives into account, it’s possible to recover all of your installation costs within 5 to 10 years. Additionally, if your systems generate more energy than you use, utility companies allow you to sell back the energy to them.

Solar panels can be used in remote locations

Solar energy is suitable for remote areas which have no access to energy grids. It works great in remote locations where running power lines would be costly or difficult.  Solar energy can also drastically improve the quality of life for millions of people who live in the dark. According to the One, around 16% of the world’s population, about 1.2 billion people, have no access to electricity. Christine Lins, REN21’s executive secretary, said that poorer countries were increasingly turning to renewable energy partly because it was now so “cost-effective”.

Solar power can also be effective in cooler climates. The world’s current solar leader is Germany and many people in Alaska also use solar energy, even if much of the state can be dark for months at a time.

Solar energy helps to increase energy awareness and conservation

You might are not aware that once you generate electric yourself, you will become much more aware of energy usage, and you normally look to conserve energy more. By knowing the electricity production, you can better relate to a kilowatt-hour, and you are likely to want to use only the amount of electric that you generate. By doing that, you not only conserve energy more but also teach your kids and others to conserve energy.

SUMMARY OF THE BENEFITS OF SOLAR ENERGY

  • Renewable and Inexhaustible
  • Non-polluting
  • Reduces use of fossil fuels
  • Reduces energy imports
  • Avoids global warming
  • Contributes to sustainable development
  • It is modular and very versatile, adaptable to different situations
  • Can be applied alike for large-scale electricity generation and on a small scale in areas isolated from the network
  • Increase energy awareness and conservation

There are a variety of technologies that have been developed to take advantage of solar energy.

Solar Energy Technologies:

  • Photovoltaic Systems: Producing electricity directly from sunlight.
  • Solar Hot Water: Heating water with solar energy.
  • Solar Electricity: Using the sun’s heat to produce electricity.
  • Passive Solar Heating and Daylighting: Using solar energy to heat and light buildings.
  • Solar Process Space Heating and Cooling: Industrial and commercial uses of the sun’s heat.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Low Efficiency

Modern solar panels convert 15 to 22 percent of collected solar energy to electrical energy, which is not a particularly large range. The lower end of the range is typically cheaper to manufacture than the higher end. It generally has to do with the cost and complexity of the solar cell and module construction process and the purity and quality of the photovoltaic materials.

However, once you are above a minimum threshold, efficiency is generally not the most important parameter in solar energy. The most important thing is the cost per kWh produced. Often, the lower efficiency panels are most cost-effective on a $ per kWh basic and preferred in lots of applications, where cost, not space is the primary constraint.

Sunlight Dependence

Unlike other renewable energy sources, solar panels cannot be operated during the night. So you have to depend on the local utility grid to draw power during the night or you can buy solar batteries to store excess power which you can later use in the night.

Although solar energy can still be collected during cloudy and rainy days, the efficiency of the solar panels drops. Solar systems rely on the steady absorption of sunlight to effectively gather solar energy – particularly, subatomic particles called photons – which can be easily deterred. So you can notice an effect on the solar systems on cloudy and rainy days. Also, storms or hurricanes can also reduce the solar panels’ ability to draw power during those days.

When the solar panels are dormant, you can use a battery storage bank to provide power but adding a battery storage bank can add tremendous cost to the solar system (think $10k+) and does not make sense unless it’s crucial. Also, a battery storage bank needs to have the capacity to meet the expected load. The larger the load, the more batteries are needed. If the next days are cloudy, the solar panels will not be able to fully recharge the energy reserve. For these reasons, solar power alone is often considered a supplementary source of power, off-setting electricity consumption from the grid.

High Initial Capital Cost

As mentioned above, installing solar panels on your roof will save you money in the long run, but the upfront costs can be punitive. Depending on the company you choose to buy solar panels from, it can cost a pretty penny. Rebates and tax credits can help reduce the cost, but unless you are putting some money aside for this, it can be an unbearable cost. The number of solar panels needed to capture energy for an entire home typically costs tens of thousands of dollars, resulting in a time-lag of many years for savings on energy bills to match initial investments. But it is not about how much payback period is, anything that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is worth trying.

Conclusion

There is a reason why solar energy has become a trending topic when talking about renewable energy sources. While it has been popularly criticized for being inefficient and very expensive, harnessing the free solar energy still seems promising and solar energy has now proved to be very beneficial – not only for the environment but also financially speaking. Additionally, due to the higher demand, the technology has been improved considerably to make solar cells more efficient and cheaper to make, solar power will become an important energy source for residential homes in the future.