All About Solar Power: Clean Renewable Energy
Should We Rely More on Solar Power?
Fears of the global economy and a world-wide recession have many people feeling paralyzed. Although gas prices have fallen in recent weeks (as of the date of this publication), many economists are predicting double-digit increases in the cost of heating this winter. The conflict in Iraq continues, and uncertainty about the future of U.S. relations with Iran is a growing concern.
Isn't it well past the time that we break our "addiction to oil" - no matter where it comes from - and pursue clean, renewable energy sources like solar power? Now, I know that some of you may think - hey, solar power is a myth. It can only work where the sun shines all day long (like Arizona), and once it sets, we'll all be in the dark. Simply put - You're wrong. Not only is solar power abundant in locations all over the globe, it can also be stored for use at "off-peak" times, or fed back into the electricity grid (credit may be allowed by utilities for drawing on "their" electricity during darkness).
And what about the environment? Solar power provides an alternative to coal-generated electricity, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Coal burning power plants are the number one source of mercury contamination in the country. Its time to stop the sickness. The economy is hurting as a result of fossil fuels, too. The U.S. currently imports close to 70% of its oil from the Middle East and Africa. Wonder why we are nearly $10 trillion in debt? Even locally, coal prices are up 45%, and natural gas up 160%. Can we really afford to continue to ignore options like solar power?
Consider that each hour, of every day, the sun supplies us with enough energy as the entire globe uses in a year! Yet, the United States only receives 6% of its energy from renewable resources. Solar power is an infinite resource, unlike goal, oil and gas. We don't need to worry about running out of sunlight in our lifetime.
Its time for some education about the fundamentals of solar power.
Solar Power Book
Solar Power Technology
What, exactly, is solar power? Stated very simply, energy from sunlight is converted to electricity when it contacts photovoltaic (PV) cells. Solar power can be generated bysolar roof shingles and solar panels. Excess energy can be stored in the cells, or occasionally in batteries, to continue providing electrical current after the sun goes down.
If you are a scientist, you can probably understand the explanation of the photovoltaic process set forth by NASA:
"Photovoltaics is the direct conversion of light into electricity at the atomic level. Some materials exhibit a property known as the photoelectric effect that causes them to absorb photons of light and release electrons. When these free electrons are captured, an electric current results that can be used as electricity."
For the rest of us, it is simple enough to understand that, when ultraviolet (UV) light strikes a solar cell, it activates a thin semiconductor wafer in the cell, which forms an electric field (positive on one side, negative on the other). An electrical current results from the action of sunlight energy knocking electrons away from the atoms in the semiconductor.
Well, maybe it is pretty technical after all.
Let's turn to some common excuses used by people who are resistant to employ solar power.
1. I don't live in a sunny location! No worries. Energy is still captured by solar cells, even on cloudy or rainy days, because it is ultraviolet light - not necessarily direct sunshine - that produces the necessary PV reaction. Admittedly, the efficiency of the cells is lower on inclement days. But, if you need assurance that you will not have to purchase a home in the desert Southwest to use solar energy, note that Germany is a leading country (second only to Japan) with respect to solar power installations. It certainly isn't the Bahamas.
2. Isn't it too expensive? Not really. While coal-generated electricity is cheaper than solar power in the short run, there are a number of factors which should be considered in determining the bottom line. First, the more people that use solar panels, the less they cost. One estimate is that each time the volume of solar cells doubles, the cost goes down 20%. Plus, solar power installations will increase your home's resale value, according to the Appraisal Institute. It has reported that sellers can expect an additional $20.73 in purchase price for every $1 decrease in annual electric bills.
Second, although there is an upfront cost for installation, the energy thereafter is free. More importantly, it is not controlled by supply and policies of a foreign country. Want even more good news? The price for PV cells is estimated to fall 30% over the next four years.
Finally, long-term benefits of solar energy cannot be discounted. Reduction of our individual carbon footprints is required to slow the progress of global warming. What price can you put on a polar bear? How about your oceanfront property?
Solar Panels Explained
Diagram of Solar Power Water Heater
Solar Power Products
These days, you can find solar cells in a number of places and used to power everything from laptop computers to hands-free lawn mowers. Solar power landscape lights have been available for years (we had some for our home in cloudy/rainy Seattle). On a larger scale, solar panel arrays or solar power shingles can be installed on residential and commercial structures to reduce electrical bills to practically zero.
Solar power water heaters are very efficient and environmentally friendly. One estimate is that the total amount of CO2 produced by ordinary residential water heaters in North America is equal to that put out by all cars and light trucks in the same area. Thus, if half of the homes installed solar water heaters, the environment would experience the same impact as if we doubled the fuel-efficiency of all vehicles! U.S. tax credits allow up to 30% of the cost of installation of a solar water heater, which generally sells for $1500-$3500. One can expect to recoup the investment in 4-8 years, with essentially free hot water for the remaining 20-plus years of the life of the water heater.
For those that want to "test the waters" with solar energy, you can buy backpacks with solar cells to recharge your cell phone or other battery-powered devices. Or, install solar-operated gates for your property - especially useful for rural locations. Even municipalities are getting on board with solar powered traffic signals and flashing lights. You can find solar power products more and more frequently. Just look around - you may be surprised at the places in which you can find solar panels powering gadgets and devices.
Why Else Should we Go Solar?
- Job creation: the clean energy sector could reach 40 million U.S. jobs by the year 2030
- Solar manufacturing technicians are currently in demand
- Tax credits and other incentives
- Energy independence and greater national security
- Continued innovative development of new, related industries
- Reduce your carbon footprint by getting away from coal-powered electricity
Solar Power Basics
Solar power is the future of green, clean, renewable energy. With the controversial passage of the $700 billion bailout in the U.S. Congress, there are some silver linings, including a 30% tax credit for solar panels! There is no time like the present to convert to solar power to light up your life and lighten your wallet.
Solar panel technology is advancing at breakneck speed. Efficiency is being increased, prices are coming down, and the required maintenance of solar panels is much lower than it used to be. By installing solar panels on your home, you not only reduce your electric bill, but also your carbon footprint. Moreover, the value of your house goes up by 10%! In this economy, that makes a lot of sense.
So.... are you ready to go solar? I am!