- Renewable & Alternative Energy
Basics of Solar Panels: Using Sunlight to Generate Free Electricity
How do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?
Powering your life with energy from the sun is clean, efficient and less expensive over time than coal-powered electricity. Today, you can find solar panels in many places - on homes, businesses, and even traffic signals. Perhaps you have noticed solar panels in your own community. Tilted toward the afternoon sun, solar panels are designed and engineered to capture the most ultraviolet light to convert to electricity. Don't you think its time to go solar?
Where I live, I see solar panels frequently. Since I started getting more interested in solar energy, saving money and reducing my carbon footprint, I seem to see panels everywhere (like the phenomenon when you buy a new car and you notice the same make and model much more frequently). Here in Bend, Oregon, I have seen solar panels on gates, traffic signals, schools, homes and even the top of a few small businesses.
In a previous hub on Solar Power, I explained the basic photovoltaic technology used in creating solar panels. Even if you are not ready to totally convert your home or business to solar power, you can employ solar panels to help reduce your electric bill and/or provide convenient power where "plugging in" may not be practical.
Don't think you can afford to install solar panels on your home or business? Think again! The federal government and many states provide energy tax credits to encourage alternative energy usage. Wind, solar and other renewable energy tax credits have been extended in the United States. For the most up-to-date information, check out energystar.gov.
Q&A About Solar Panels
Q: Isn't it very expensive to install solar panels?
A: Not necessarily! Research shows that you can install a home-based solar panel system for as little as $8,500. Many states offer incentives to install and use solar panels, as well. And don't forget the tax credits either!
Q: How long will it take to make back my investment in energy savings?
A: That depends. Among many factors include the size of the solar panel system, tax rebates and other incentives. Generally, estimates range between 10-15 years. That may improve, however, with added efficiency and grid-payback systems implemented by energy companies. If you're in it for more than just money (i.e. slowing global warming and reducing your carbon footprint), your investment payback is immediate!
Q: Doesn't the process of making solar panels result in pollution?
A: Of course there is some environmental impact as a result of producing solar panels, as there is with any other type of manufactured good. However, the environmental costs of production are far outweighed by the environmental benefits provided by reduced fossil fuel consumption. Even the smallest solar panel system can cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50 trees! Just remember that 100% of the electricity produced by solar panels is emission free!
Q: Solar power has been around for as long as mankind - why has it taken so long for interest in solar panels?
A: While its true that people have been using the power of the sun for centuries, modern solar panels have only been around for about 50 years. The progression of the technology to create efficient panels is continuing to the present date. Less than 3 percent of our nation's electricity is currently generated by solar power. However, solar power energy generation is growing at a rate of 20-30 percent each year. With added tax incentives, concerns about global warming and a strong desire to become energy independent, more and more people are becoming interested - and willing to invest - in solar panels.
Q: What about excess energy created by PV cells on solar panels?
A: Excess energy must be stored in batteries (if you are "off-grid"), or is released to the power grid. Some power companies credit customers based on the amount of energy put into the grid. This helps defray costs of the wattage that is used overnight or during less efficient solar energy periods.
Bypass your HOA to install Solar Panels
The Million Solar Roofs Initiative
President Barack Obama pledged heavy support for alternative energy programs and has set some lofty goals to be accomplished in the next four years. Years before the historic election, however, the Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSRI) was established in 1997. The primary goal of the program, administered by the Department of Energy, was to achieve the installation of 1,000,000 new solar panel systems in the country by the year 2010. What would this accomplish? With installation of a million solar panel systems, we would be able to save the equivalent of the emissions produced by more than 800,000 cars each year!
The conclusions of the success of the Million Solar Roofs Initiative were issued in 2006:
"When the program concluded, the federal government's investment of $16 million had leveraged roughly $7.1 million in cash. It also leveraged in-kind resources and incentive programs throughout the country. This synergy has contributed to the following outcomes:
- Installation of the equivalent of more than 377,000 solar water heating, photovoltaics (PV), and solar pool heating systems
- Installation of 200 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected PV capacity and 200 MW of solar water heating capacity
- Dramatic growth in PV technology acceptance, from 8% of solar installations in 1997 to 41% in 2005
- Economic and environmental benefits that resulted from grid-connected PV installed between 1997 and 2005 including :
- Health benefit savings of $90 million
- Decreased CO2 emissions of 3.3 million tons
- Cumulative GNP increase of $1.6 to $2.6 billion, depending on installed cost (range of $8-10 per watt)
After the Million Solar Roofs Initiative concluded, the program shifted to the Solar America Initiative. The aim of that program is to "achieve cost-competitiveness for solar technologies across all market sectors by 2015." It is hoped that by the year 2015, PV technologies will provide the equivalent of electricity to power 1.25 million homes, avoid 7 million metric tons each year of greenhouse gas emissions and also provide new jobs for more than 10,000 people!
Cheap Solar Power - for you!
Solar Panels and Other Products
Go Solar: Save Money
Use of solar panels to harness energy from the sun is a smart investment for your home.
However, even if you are not sure you are ready for the home improvement project, you can start out by getting solar powered gadgets, like backpacks fitted with solar panels, solar cell phone chargers and other similar small consumer goods.
Once you see the reliability offered by the use of solar power, as opposed to grid-based electricity, you will probably become a convert!