When it comes to sources of energy, solar power is undoubtedly up there as one of the most effective and efficient solutions. The sun isn't going away anytime soon- hopefully- so it makes sense to harness its powers and use it as a natural, sustainable means of creating heat and electricity.
You might know about the basics of solar energy, but how exactly does it work? What about its benefits? Its disadvantages? Ultimately, should you make the big switch to solar energy for your own home or business, or are you better off sticking with what you've got? The article below covers everything you might need when making a decision.
What is solar energy?
Simply put, solar energy is radiant energy that is beamed down by the sun onto earth. This energy can be collected, in a way, and stored, to be used to generate power and heat water for homes and businesses.
Focusing specifically on solar panels, they work by enabling photons- that's particles of light, to the non-scientific of us- to knock into atoms, freeing electrons and creating electricity. The photovoltaic cells inside solar panels are semi-conductive, and each has a positive or negative charge, forming an electric field. When a photon knocks an electron free, the electric field turns the electron into usable power.
Solar panels can be stand-alone, meaning they are responsible for creating their own energy for the building they're located on and require a rechargeable battery to store energy. They can also be connected to the utility power grid. The solar panel system will only generate power when this grid is available.
If you're using the sun's power for heating purposes, the process is more simple- the sun heats up water stored in tanks on top of buildings. The photons from the sun strike the atoms inside the water, causing them to collide more frequently with one another, creating heat.
It is worth noting that these hot water tanks tend only to be used in countries that see a lot of sunlight so that enough hot water can be generated for use. In some parts of the world, they simply would not be efficient enough to be worth installing.
Pros of solar energy:
Unarguably the biggest advantage of solar energy is its sustainability. Solar panels collect renewable energy- energy that won't run out anytime soon and can be used again and again- from the sun. The sun can be accessed from anywhere around the world, and is technically free, if you ignore the costs of the solar panels themselves.
Taking in energy from a renewable source means that you're doing your bit to help the environment. Unlike nuclear energy, a popular energy source that relies on the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity, solar energy does not contribute to releasing harmful greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere.
Solar panels can also be installed on an individual basis for separate houses and businesses, meaning large areas of land do not have to be used for their storage. Many solar panels are installed on roofs, offering the most effective access to the sun, so no habitats are harmed as a result of this.
Can increase the value of a property
It's easy to see why solar panels can increase the value of a property: because they'll be helping to cut down electricity and heating bill costs in the long run. If you're planning on upping and selling at any point in the near or distant future, it may be reassuring to know that the efficiency of your home will help it to stand out in the property market.
Lower energy bills
Once the initial costs of purchasing solar panels are out of the way, the costs of maintaining them in the long term are fairly low. This means that you are effectively drawing energy from the sun for free, and this will enable your energy bills to drop overall as a result.
The total amount of energy you can save depends entirely on the size of your solar panels, and your energy needs, but you should certainly see a decrease in your energy bills no matter what. Some people may even earn money back: if your solar panels are connected to the grid, and found to generate more energy than they use, you will be rewarded for the surplus energy transferred to the grid.
Solar energy can be used in a number of different ways, and you can decide for yourself how you choose to benefit from the sun's rays. Most commonly, solar energy is used to generate electricity through the use of solar panels. It can also be used for making hot water and heating buildings and does so by heating large water tanks installed on building roofs.
Reduction in cost
Solar panels are still fairly high-cost, but they have dropped fairly rapidly over the years since their invention. This is because new technological advancements have enabled the panels to be fabricated and installed much more quickly and easily, lowering the price of materials and labor needed.
The recent increased demand in solar panels sees it likely that over the next few years, prices will continue to drop as the use of solar energy becomes more the norm. Newer-designed solar panels are also slimmer and more compact than older ones, helping them to blend more seamlessly into their environment.
Cons of solar energy:
While it's incorrect to say that solar panels simply stop working on a cloudy day when the sun is not present, the solar energy gathered on that particular day is substantially lower as a result. This means that the efficiency levels of solar panels in energy production considerably drop.
Most average household owners should not notice too much of a problem on gloomier days, but it is dependent on how much energy is required from one set of solar panels. Larger families, for example, may experience a noticeable effect on the efficiency of their energy source.
Large surface area required
One of the biggest issues with solar energy is that a relatively large surface area is required to collect a practical amount of energy for use. This is because a larger surface area allows more electricity to be converted from light energy from the sun, and at a quicker rate.
For a standard-sized building looking for a sustainable energy solution, this isn't a problem. But for a large area, quite a lot of land is needed to gather enough energy to effectively be used for power. This can make the installation of solar panels even more costly.
It's no secret that the cost of installing solar panels is often so high that many people are unable to consider them for that reason alone. Solar panels are expensive, not only because of their manufacturing, but also because of other elements such as to permit fees, sales tax, and the cost of labor.
The average price of solar panels in the US tends to range from around $10,000 to $15,000 point, depending on the seller and the location. Maintenance costs may follow this initial cost: solar panels must be regularly cleaned, for example, in order to maintain their effectiveness.
While not everyone will be bothered by the appearance of solar panels, it's fair to say that they don't make for the most attractive feature of your home or business.
The size, color, and general bulkiness of solar panels may not be the most visually appealing sight to bear, and for some people, this is enough to deter them from making the switch to solar energy. There is certainly no blending of them into their surroundings, and this is something to bear in mind when considering your purchase.
Solar panels are not yet entirely effective in their role. We certainly have an abundance of solar energy, but harnessing it is proving fairly difficult. In many cases, solar panels will not be able to produce the amount of energy required to fulfill a homeowner's entire energy needs. This means they will often have to rely on another source of energy alongside their solar panels.
Technological and scientific advancements are consistently being made to hopefully improve this in the future, but for now, the technology isn't quite there to improve the electrical input of solar power systems.
From all of the information we've gathered above, it is clear to see exactly why solar energy is so positive- but also, why it may be worth thinking twice before jumping to make the switch to the sun. While solar energy is a fantastically reliable, renewable energy source, on the whole, it is expensive to set up, not completely effective, and dependent, to some extent, on the weather.
More research and developments are certainly needed to help us achieve the fullest from solar energy, but the future of this energy source does look promising. It seems very likely that one day not so far away, solar energy, and other sustainable energy sources, will completely replace the non-renewable energy sources of today.