The Benefits of Solar Energy
Solar energy is quickly growing as an alternative method for generating electricity. One of the massive reasons why many people and businesses are switching to solar power is to lower the emissions of greenhouse gasses. While the environmental benefits of solar energy are perhaps the most obvious advantage, the benefits of installing solar panels, and changing over to solar electricity are plenty. It includes human and animal health, cost-saving factors, and is a long-term solution for what could potentially become an energy crisis.
The Basics of How Solar Energy Works
There are two ways to produce electricity with the use of solar power. While solar photovoltaic technology is more practical for homes and businesses, solar thermal energy has the potential to produce large quantities of electricity.
Solar Photovoltaic technology is used to turn sunlight (or rather the radiation from the sun) into direct current electricity. These systems are usually in the form of solar panels with semiconductors. When the sunlight reaches the semiconductors, it frees electrons and generates an electric current. Solar panels can be connected to each other and placed on a frame called a module. These modules in turn can be linked to form a solar array. The size of a solar array can be made larger or smaller depending on the amount of electricity needed simply by adding more, or removing some, solar panels.
In solar thermal systems, the heat energy of the sun is either used for heating and to produce electricity. These installations combine the heat with water to generate steam which in turn spins turbines and generates electricity. Solar thermal installations often become utility-solar producers but more on this later.
Advantages of Solar Energy
Solar Energy as a Renewable Source
Solar energy is a renewable resource. That means it is a natural resource that does not run out or that can be replaced within a person’s lifetime. As long as the sun keeps shining, we can generate energy from it. This offers an alternative to non-renewable energy options like coal and natural gas. The main benefit of a renewable energy source is that it will not, or is very unlikely to, run out. It is estimated that the solar energy that reaches the earth is 10, 000 times more than the global demand for fossil fuels. We could power the entire world for a year if we were able to harness one hour of all the solar energy reaching the earth. It is not difficult to see why solar energy can become a valuable resource.
Other renewable sources of energy include hydro and wind power. These systems often require large open spaces that are not always available – especially around urban areas where the demand for electricity is high. Solar energy is growing in popularity because it is the most accessible of the three – really, all you need is some sun.
For most people, the immediate thing that comes to mind is that using solar energy is better for the environment and allows you to lower your carbon footprint. It is seen as a clean energy because, unlike fossil fuels, it does not release pollution into the air. Solar energy does not produce CO2 emissions and other gasses that are emitted when fossil fuels are used to generate energy. When fossil fuels are processed in order to generate energy, they release harmful gasses like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulphur oxide into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases lead to climate change and, subsequently, the rise of global temperatures.
To put the economic impact of solar systems into perspective here is a comparison: over 20 years, the average residential solar system gives off about 100, 000 lbs of carbon dioxide. That is the same amount that a car generates over 1000, 000 miles.
In addition, solar energy systems run silent and do not contribute to the problem of noise pollution that many urban areas are facing.
Using solar power decreases the amount of air pollution. It reduces the amounts of nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxide, and other small particles found in the air when fossil fuels are burned – can anyone say ‘smog’? It all ends up being suspended in the air that we breathe. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has found that installing solar power can lead to lower cases of chronic bronchitis and respiratory and cardiovascular problems. It could thus also decrease the number of sick days taken off of work as a result of these illnesses. All because we are breathing cleaner air. You can read more about the health benefits of solar energy here.
Get It From the Source
Most solar energy production occurs close to home – if not at or on your home. Thus, there is no energy loss from transporting it over long distances. It also has the added benefit of negating the need to transfer fuel to production plants, lowering the carbon footprint even more. Solar energy is also a practical solution for remote areas where traditional power supply is unrealistic and installing cables to transport the electricity is not a viable option.
You Save in the Long Run
If the initial investment for installing solar generation sources in your home or business might seem high, the long-term saving makes up for it. Once you have installed the solar panels the energy is free. Users can save up to 20% of their energy costs by switching over to solar energy. Technological advancement and an increase in demand for solar energy products are combining to bring the price of these products down, making them more and more affordable.
In some places, there are options to lease solar panels. With these ‘pay-as-you-go’ options the provider owns the solar system. They install the system, monitor it, and conduct any maintenance or repairs that might be needed. In exchange, you pay the provider for electricity at a lower cost than you would pay the utility company. While this is an attractive option if you do not have the money for the initial investment, your savings are less in the long run than if you pay for the system upon installation.
Another option would be to join or start a community solar installation. In these cases, more than one property shares the energy generated by a collection of solar panels often referred to as a solar garden. This way the initial outlay of cash can be shared while those in the community can all benefit from the electricity generation and save on their electricity bills.
More About the Money
While the initial investment might seem substantial, solar systems can reduce your energy bills in the long run. With the depletion of non-renewable sources of energy, we are likely to see increases in energy cost and these increases can be contained to some degree by installing solar energy systems.
In addition to this, many countries provide tax credits, incentives, and rebates to users who install solar energy systems. In some places, surplus energy can be sold to utility companies and added to the grid. Many countries are introducing a net metering system. It is a way to credit you for the extra energy that you produce and feed back into the grid. These credits can then be used towards paying energy costs that you might accumulate when using electricity during times when your solar panels cannot produce power, like on cloudy days or during the night.
Community solar projects, like individuals, can also sell surplus energy back into the grid and make use of the net metering system. Once a system starts producing large amounts of electricity (somewhere between 1 and 25 Megawatts depending on who you ask) it could become a utility-scale solar project. These utility-scale solar projects sell electricity to utility companies from where it is fed into the grid.
As the global movement towards more sustainable energy practices grows, so will the demand for solar energy. This, coupled with the advancement in solar technology, will eventually lead to lower prices.
Flexible Installation Options
Solar energy generation products can be installed just about anywhere the sun shines – but do ensure that it is in a place where the sun shines and you get the angle just right! This enables users to maximize the use of the space they have. By installing rooftop solar panels you can enjoy the benefits of solar energy without compromising on space.
Most installations can accommodate additions, making it easy to increase the size of the installation by adding one or more solar cells to the system. This way the energy output of the system also increases.
Rural areas where there is little or no possibility of connecting to the electricity grid could benefit from larger installations that would provide them energy independence. This could also be an option in other areas if grid electricity prices rise, in which case disconnecting from the grid might be a more viable option.
Increased Home Value
Already having a solar energy system installed in your home could make it more attractive to buyers. In some cases, having a solar energy system could mean that your house sells faster for between 3 and 4% more money.
Solar water heaters and solar space heaters can heat your home without the need of installing solar panels. While solar space heaters can turn the sun’s energy into thermal energy by using an air or liquid medium, solar water heaters can use water as a way of thermal transfer. Both of these could see large savings on home heating bills.
Most solar panel manufacturers give a 20 to 25-year warranty or performance guarantee with their products while the standard for the solar industry is a guarantee of 80% performance after 25 years. It is likely that most solar panels will be able to generate electricity for 30 to 40 years.
It extends further than just your home or business.
Taking responsibility for your personal carbon emissions is relatively easy. Installing a solar system can already make a big difference to your carbon footprint. If we broaden the scope, we start to realize that solar power can be harnessed in industries that produce the products that we use each and every day.
Solar thermal energy can be used to process materials like lithium (for batteries) and copper (for electrical wires). It can be used to brew beer and even in the production of certain pharmaceutical medication.
By purchasing from responsible companies you can lower your own environmental impact even further.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Some of the cons of solar energy, and especially installing solar panels, include high initial investments and technological barriers. The research and development around solar products increases as the demand for them rises. This means massive progress is happening in terms of technology and making the products more affordable.
Solar PV relies on sunlight in order to generate electricity. This makes it less practical in areas that see less sunlight on average each year. In some cases, the season, the time of day, and the geographic location could influence the efficacy of solar panels.
Solar thermal systems require large areas in order to generate enough energy. These systems also require a water source as it makes use of steam turbines in order to produce electricity.
While there are some drawbacks to using solar energy, the benefits of solar panels are clear. Besides being good for the environment, you can save on electricity costs, not only by producing your own electricity but by getting credit for surplus electricity that you generate. Solar energy is not only better for the environment, it is a renewable source that is unlikely to run out any time soon. It is also better for humans as it generates electricity without creating air pollution that could affect our health.