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Renewable Energy Rundown: Solar Energy

This is the first part in a new SaveOnEnergy series discussing the ins and outs of different forms of renewable energy. This series first appeared on SaveOnEnergy.com.

Solar energy has grown in popularity across the country, from massive solar farms to single panels powering residential homes. This is especially true in Texas – which is fifth in the nation for solar-generated power.

So, how does solar power work? Read on to learn the basics of solar energy.

What is solar energy?

The simplest definition is this – solar power is capturing the sun’s energy and converting that energy into electricity.

We all know the sun gives off a lot of light, but it also releases energy called photons. Fun fact: experts estimate the sun gives off enough of these photons in one hour to power the entire world for a year! Currently, we don’t capture nearly enough of the sun’s energy to actually satisfy global needs.

However, solar technology has improved a lot in recent years. In fact, a 2017 report from the International Environmental Agency (IEA) showed solar to be the world’s fastest-growing energy source.

How is solar energy gathered?

The most popular way to collect solar energy is through photovoltaic solar panels. These panels consist of many solar cells, which are made from silicon and essentially work as semiconductors. Solar panels function similarly to batteries – they have a positive layer and a negative layer that create an electric field. By attaching a conductor to the positive and negative sides of the solar panels, you can create an electrical circuit.

When the electrons from the sun’s energy flow through this circuit, it creates electricity!

Can this energy power my home?

This is where solar energy gets a little complicated. The energy collected by solar panels generates direct current (DC) energy. However, DC electricity can’t power most home appliances. Instead, it needs to run through a solar inverter, which turns this power into alternating current (AC) energy. AC energy is used by most home appliances.

These steps combined create a process called the photovoltaic effect. This is essentially just the science of converting energy from the sun into electricity for your home.

How do home solar panels work with the grid?

If you’re interested in learning more about installing solar panels for your home, you’ll need to know how this impacts the electric grid in your area. Any home that is connected to the grid will have a utility meter installed. This meter monitors how much energy you use to power your home, including the power generated from solar panels.

What does this mean? Basically, if your home produces more solar energy than you consume (called a surplus), you can send that energy back to the grid in exchange for credit. This can be especially useful on cloudy days when the solar panels are not producing as much power because you can use those credits to draw extra power from the grid to meet your home’s demand.

What are the benefits of solar energy?

Solar energy’s main benefit is that it is a form of clean energy. This means it does not release pollutants such as greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, negatively impact the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

Additionally, solar panels usually have minimal impacts on the environment where they’re placed. For example, installing a solar panel on your home’s roof should not affect the wildlife or ecosystem in your area.

And for homeowners, one of the most appealing benefits of solar power is that it can lead to paying less for the energy your home consumes.

That being said, solar power does have its limitations. Perhaps the most obvious is that the sun needs to shine in order to collect solar energy. So, on cloudy days, solar panels probably won’t be able to absorb enough of the sun’s energy to power a home.

Solar panels also come with a substantial upfront cost. The national average spent on solar panels to power residential homes clocks in around $18,000-$20,000. While bill credits and tax incentives could bring this cost down, it remains a high price for many who may be interested in solar.

Is solar energy for me?

If you’re asking yourself whether solar is for you, the good news is there are many ways you can incorporate solar power into your home.

For those who don’t mind a larger upfront cost and have the right environment, buying and installing solar panels is a great option. However, this may not be possible for renters, those who live in shady areas, or people who cannot afford to buy their own solar panels.

According to Energy.gov, nearly 49 percent of households in the U.S. are unable to install their own solar panels. As a result, community and shared solar projects are growing in popularity across the country. These are offsite solar plants that generate energy that is shared between multiple households. Through community solar projects, many households are able to take advantage of the environmental and financial benefits of solar energy without the hefty upfront costs of buying individual solar panels.

Another option is to sign up for an energy plan that uses green energy. While this may not come exclusively from solar, green energy plans can power your home with a much lower environmental footprint. In the Texas deregulated energy market, many electricity providers offer renewable energy plans to choose from.

Article Source:

Cosper, C. (2020, June 10). Renewable energy rundown: Solar energy: SaveOnEnergy®. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.saveonenergy.com/learning-center/post/renewable-energy-rundown-solar/

The following are the other entries in the series:

Renewable Energy Rundown: Wind Energy

Renewable Energy Rundown: Hydropower

Renewable Energy Rundown: Geothermal Energy

Renewable Energy Rundown: Biomass

Posted by Caitlin Cosper

Caitlin Cosper is a writer for SaveOnEnergy.com. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master's in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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3 Comments To "Renewable Energy Rundown: Solar Energy"

Chriss On 09.14.2020
How about green energy after Covid? According to consultancy Wood Mackenzie together with https://fluix.io/industry-renewable-energy, the number of new solar installations worldwide will fall by 17%, and the production of wind turbines by up to 20%. Fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal will remain the leading sources of energy in most countries, and nuclear power will strengthen its presence in the United States. Is it good or bad? Reply to this comment
Matthew Mehmet Crawford On 09.18.2020
Hello Chriss, Consultancy agencies would provide estimates using a certain methodology that would account for various parameters based on their communications with the solar and wind energy focused companies, number of units installed within a certain time frame or speculated number of units that will be installed in the future, etc. in order to come up with future projections. As the name suggests, these are only estimates for future projections and considering the future is not set in stone, things may or may not work out the way they are estimating. Inc. magazine has recently revealed the list of America's fastest growing companies and Fuel Cell Store made it into the ranks of Intuit, Zappos, Under Armour, Microsoft, Patagonia, and many others as an honoree of the Inc. 5000. As a fuel cell and electrolyzer component supplying company, Fuel Cell Store had a growth rate > 88% in the last three years. Despite the Covid-19 epidemic, we are still observing good sales.
Matthew Mehmet Crawford On 09.18.2020
In a general sense, we see the public is becoming more and more aware of the green energy and taking more initiatives to make these an integral part of their lives. Will fossil fuel, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy still be the leading sources in many countries? The simple answer would be yes. Please remember that even the scientists, engineers, law maker or decision makers, or business entities working on the green technologies are still driving gasoline powered cars to get to work or using electricity at their home that is either coming from a coal powered plant or nuclear powered plant. Expecting a 100% transformation within a short period of time will never be feasible approach neither from a scientific or from an engineering aspect. It is important that the awareness towards clean energy technologies is steadily increasing among the public, law makers, and decision makers and hopefully, we will see a gradual transition towards cleaner approaches than what we have now.

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