The Ultimate Guide to Solar Energy

Wondering what the hype surrounding solar energy is all about? Well, the fact that it’s an infinitely renewable source of energy is enough to make it a trending topic. Simply put; this is one resource that’ll NEVER run out for as long as the sun shines.

But to shed some light on the topic, let’s answer this; what exactly is solar energy?

Solar energy is basically energy that’s derived from the sun’s radiation. As you may be aware, the sun is undoubtedly one of the most powerful energy sources. And to harness this energy source you have to install solar panels.

Did You Know?

Before we delve deeper into the subject, we’ll outline a few solar energy facts that you’re likely to find fascinating:

  • Solar is now known as one of the cheapest and most abundant sources of energy worldwide.
  • In the US alone, over 1 000 000 solar systems have been installed. This goes to show how it’s fast gaining popularity in various households.
  • The United States of America is ranked four in the world with regards to countries that utilize solar power the most.

Now the next step is to explain how exactly this solar system works so that you get a better understanding of the concept.

Solar Energy: How it Works

As mentioned before, solar energy works through the use of solar panels. These panels consist of the following components:

  • A layer of silicon cells
  • A metal frame
  • A glass casing
  • Wiring that enables current to flow from the silicon cells

Silicon is basically a non-metal which features conductive properties. These properties are designed to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity.

Uses of Solar Energy

Now that you have an idea of how it works, we’ll quickly discuss the various solar energy examples and where they best excel.

Solar Energy for Home Use

We all know how inconvenient load shedding and utility breakdowns can be. By simply installing solar energy systems, you’ll have electricity regardless of power outages to keep your appliances up and running.

Solar Energy for Business Use

LINK-SOLAR-projects
LINK-SOLAR-projects

Given the rise in utility prices, installing solar power systems will definitely save your business a lot of money. A fact business leaders will find useful is that by simply using a solar energy system, an average commercial property owner can reduce energy costs by 75%.

Solar Energy for Kids

Businesses and homeowners aren’t the only ones who benefit from solar energy. Your kids will too if you teach them about solar energy and how it can make their life easier. You can purchase solar toys like a solar rainbow maker or car assembly for your child to help them understand the concept better.

Let’s quickly list the solar energy pros and cons below.

Solar Energy Advantages 

So what then are the benefits of utilizing this type of energy? Granted, in the past solar energy has been widely criticised. Experts found it to be very expensive to harness. Also, it wasn’t entirely as efficient as they’d hoped it would be in providing energy.

But we’re happy to say that there has since been a total shift regarding how people view solar energy. They now realize how extremely beneficial it is. And the benefits aren’t only environmental, but also financial too. We’ll list some of the major advantages below.

Renewable Source of Energy

You’ll agree; any source of energy that won’t run out is truly invaluable. And that’s something you can‘t say about other energy sources. As a result this is one of the most notable advantages associated with this resource. Also, solar energy can be:

  • Harnessed in almost any area in the world making it widely available
  • It’s available almost on a daily basis as long as there’s sunlight
  • Available to us indefinitely

Saves on Electricity Bills

By utilizing solar power, it essentially means you don’t have to run up your electricity bill. This is because some of your energy needs will be met by the electricity that your solar system would have generated. End result: you’ll notice a significant drop in your energy bill.

But we’ll quickly point out that the amount you save on your electricity bill will largely be determined by the following two important factors:

  • The size of your solar system. Naturally a larger solar system means more solar electricity will be generated so you don’t have to use much electricity.
  • Your electricity usage will also determine the amount you save on your energy bill. Because you have a solar system on your premises, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run a hot shower for hours on end. You still have to use your electricity responsibly. Either that or you’ll still wind up with a huge energy bill on your hands which defeats the whole purpose.

Note that not only will you be saving electricity, but there’s a huge possibility that you’ll receive payments for any surplus energy that you export back to the grid. This only happens in cases where you generate more electricity than you actually use. But here’s the catch; your solar system panel must be connected to the grid so plan for that while you’re planning your installation.

Wide Range of Applications

It’s not surprising how most people associate the use of solar energy only with how it benefits them in their personal capacity. When you think of solar energy, you immediately think about keeping your lights on or powering your microwave regardless of a power outage.

But we’re here to shed some light and make you see the bigger picture, because solar energy is more useful than that. Solar energy can be used for a wide range of purposes including;

  • Producing electricity in areas that have no access to the energy grid
  • Distilling of water in regions that have limited clean water supplies
  • Powering satellites in space
  • Integrating into the materials to be used for buildings
  • Create transparent solar energy windows

Low Maintenance

Solar energy systems are generally low maintenance—both financially and physically. You don’t need to do much to keep them up and running. What’s important is to ensure that you keep them relatively clean. And if you can do a thorough cleaning a few times a year, that’ll be more than enough.

It might be worthwhile to engage the services of professional solar panel maintenance companies that specialize in cleaning solar energy systems. Only then are you guaranteed a thorough job—plus most of these companies offer warranties too, so you know your asset will be in good hands and you’re covered if anything should go wrong.

Maintaining the system is made even easier since there aren’t any moving parts involved. This effectively means that there’ll be no wear and tear which prolongs the lifespan of the system. The only part that needs to be changed is the inverter. And this normally happens every five to10 years.

Aside from the inverter, the cables require maintenance as they’re responsible for ensuring that your system operates optimally. But those are easy to replace as well.

Technological Advancements

Technology constantly evolves—in the solar power industry this is also true. This essentially means there’ll be constant improvements and upgrades resulting in new technology in solar power generation. As a result you can expect the efficiency and effectiveness of the solar energy systems to increase drastically in the near future.

Job Creation

Needless to say, a number of solar energy jobs have been created because of this concept. You can assume a wide number of positions ranging from project engineer to site manager.

One of the largest solar technical training facilities you can join if you want to pursue a career in this industry is Solar Energy International. Ever since 2000, tens of thousands of students have received training with regards to solar system installation.

Wealth Creation

Not only has the introduction of solar energy systems created jobs, but wealth too for many individuals. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a new solar energy project is launched every 100 seconds making this a lucrative industry for wealth creation.

The top three performing solar energy companies with market caps of at least $2 billion include:

  • TerraForm Power
  • Ormat Technologies Inc
  • First Solar Inc

Note that this performance is based on the performance of their solar energy stocks on the market.

Solar Energy Disadvantages

The purpose of this article is to give you unbiased information that you’ll find useful. So it’s only fair that we also outline a few drawbacks associated with solar energy.

Expensive

To install a solar energy system doesn’t come cheap. But if it’s any consolation, know that you’re likely to save a considerable amount of money in the near future as you start using it. That quickly makes up for the once off investment. When purchasing a solar system you’ll incur costs for:

  • Solar panels
  • Inverter
  • Wiring
  • Batteries
  • Installation

Storing Solar Energy is Expensive

solar panel for yacht

Unfortunately not only is the initial cost of installationhigh, but so is solar energy storage. Know this; solar energy has to be used immediately as soon as it’s harnessed. If not, then it must be stored in large batteries.

You have the option of charging these batteries during the day so that the energy can be used at night. And while this option is convenient, it’s rather costly.

But not to worry, because it’s a cost you can easily avoid by only using solar energy during the day. Besides, chances are that your energy demands during the day are high enough to meet the solar energy collected so there’ll be no need for storage.

You can see that you can customize your solar energy setup according to your preferences and available budget.

It Takes Up a Lot of Space

Earlier on we mentioned how you’ll need a larger solar energy system if you want to get the most out of this energy source. But it goes without saying that this means having more solar panels on your premises to collect as much energy as possible.

This naturally translates to more space being taken up by these units. And given the large nature of the satellite solar panels design, a lot of space is required. And to be quite frank, most roofs are simply not big enough to fit a large number of panels. The alternative is to opt for fewer panels to overcome this hurdle or sacrificing other spaces on your premises.

Pollution

Solar energy is unfortunately associated with pollution. But we’ll quickly point out that, it doesn’t compare to pollution caused by other energy sources.

Pollution is likely to arise from the following scenarios:

  • During transportation of the solar energy system
  • During installation
  • Toxic materials are used in the manufacturing of solar photovoltaics that indirectly affects the environment

In the long run the process is more environmentally friendly than many others though.

Factors that Affect Solar Energy

Below we’ll look at a few factors that affect the solar energy potential to reach its maximum.

Weather Conditions

As mentioned earlier, solar energy can be harnessed as long as there’s sunlight. So what happens on a rainy day?

You can still collect solar energy on a cloudy or rainy day, but it’ll be minimal compared to a bright & sunny day. The efficiency of the solar energy system will drop significantly.

Apart from rain, cloud cover will also affect the solar energy that can be absorbed. This is because clouds block incoming sunlight rays which consequently reduces the light available for solar cells to absorb.

Time Variations

Apart from the weather conditions, it’s important to note that solar energy can’t be harnessed at night. This is because during night time, there’s very little solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface. This means there’s not much radiation for the solar panels to absorb. But if you really need your water solar energy heating systems to work at night, then you can consider thermodynamic panels.

Land Availability

mount solar panels
mount solar panels

The amount of land—or lack thereof—will also affect the solar energy potential. It goes without saying that solar panels can only be set up where there’s unused spaces. Not only must the surface be available, but it must be suitable for the installation of solar panels. The two most common spaces that solar panels are installed include

  • Roofs: Roofs have been found to be the most suitable places to install solar panels because solar energy can be collected directly from this elevated platform.
  • Open spaces: An open area that’s not being utilized is also a good place to erect solar panels.

Geography

Geographical location to a large extent affects the level of solar energy that can reach a particular area. Areas that are close to the equator will receive larger amounts of solar radiation compared to areas that are farther away.

Solar Panel Types

We’ll outline the different solar panel types below:

  • Premium high efficiency solar panels: These panels tend to generate more electricity per square foot than standard panels. And they’re the ones to pick if you have a limited roof space. But you’ll have to pay more for them because they’re rather pricy
  • Standard Rigid solar panels: This type generally performs well under most conditions and are known for their  good power ratings and efficiencies.
  • Economy solar panels: These panels don’t perform as well as standard panels but they get the job done. They are generally the cheapest of all the types but their durability isn’t guaranteed. Performance of these units tends to deteriorate over time.
  • Amorphous solar panel: almost none sell,only the stock cells after Uni-solar
  • CIGS solar panels:  one of three mainstream thin-film PV technologies

Is Solar Energy Better than Other Energy Sources?

We’ll answer this question by making the following comparisons.

Solar Energy vs Wind Energy

In the U.S, wind energy is more popular than solar energy particularly where utilities or large scale operations are concerned. The reason for this is that wind turbines aren’t dependent on sunlight like their solar panel counterparts.

This effectively means that with wind energy, the turbines have the ability to generate energy 24 hours a day. The same can’t be said about solar energy which solely depends on the sun’s radiation to function optimally.

But for wind turbines to function effectively, they need to be located high up—away from obstacles. Case in point; a wind turbine in a residential home has to be at least 80ft tall.

But with solar panels you can install them on almost any roof. Also, you can install solar panels on the ground and they can still generate enough energy to meet most of your electricity needs.

Solar Energy vs Fossil Fuels

When it comes to comparing solar energy and fossil fuel, there are a number of factors you must consider like how they impact the environment. Generally solar energy performs better than fossil fuels. So which is better; solar energy vs coal? When it comes to application, coal and natural gas are more reliable.

To get the best comparison you must compare the cost between the two. Because the cost is affected by external factors like government subsidies, making a comparison between the two isn’t the easiest of tasks. But all factors included, solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuels.

FAQ of Solar Energy

What’s included in a solar kit?

A typical residential solar kit will comprise of the following units:

  • Solar panels
  • Inverters
  • Charge controllers
  • Solar storage batteries

How much does a solar kit cost?

The cost of installing solar energy systems in certain states is pegged at $3 and below per watt. But since the average solar panel system size is 6kW, it means that an average solar kit will cost approximately $12 800 after tax.

How many solar panels are required to power a residential home?

Most people are interested in knowing how many solar panels they need in relation to their home size. But what’s more important is the amount of electricity that you’ll use.

You and your neighbour might both have 5000ft² homes, but if you’re a family of five and your neighbor stays alone, the dynamics are different. Naturally you’re going to utilize more energy than your neighbor.

Final Words

We certainly hope after this article you’re more enlightened regarding solar energy and why it’s becoming increasingly popular. Not only does utilizing this renewable energy resource positively impact businesses and homeowners, but the environment at large.

No need to burn fossil fuels. Embrace the solar energy revolution and play your part in conserving the environment. Besides, it’ll save you a lot of money in the process too.

If you have any questions regarding solar energy, you can drop them in the comments section and Link Solar will get back to you.

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Reprinted with permission from Kristin Gozzi: kristin@solar-panels.live