If you are looking to decrease your energy bills, consider solar energy. Renewable and sustainable, solar power continues to grow in popularity across the country. But what is solar power? How and why is it such a crucial form of energy? How do solar panels capture the energy of the sun? Atlasta Solar Center explains just what solar power is.
What Exactly Is Solar Energy?
Our sun, a star located 93 million miles away, constantly emits energy. This energy is the result of the process of nuclear fusion. This is when atoms fuse together. In other words, our sun is a giant thermonuclear reaction, producing solar radiation or electromagnetic radiation. In the form of light, this energy consists of particles of energy called photons. The amount of solar radiation that hits the earth varies from location to location. The closer to the equator, the more solar radiation received.
Solar power is also defined as the use of the sun’s energy either as:
· thermal energy (heat)
· electrical energy
Solar power is the cleanest and by far the most abundant energy source available. Unlike fossil fuels, which emit harmful carbon emissions into the environment, solar panels capture the sun’s energy without creating any harmful byproducts.
There are three ways to harness the power of the sun: solar heating and cooling, concentrated solar power, and photovoltaics. Whereas the first two utilize thermal energy or heat, photovoltaics produces electricity. Known as the photovoltaic effect, this is how most solar systems produce energy from the sun.
The photovoltaic effect directly converts sunlight into electricity. How this happens is sunlight shines onto a semi-conductive material, causing electrons to “dance” and create electrical charges, or an electrical current.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic or PV panels, consist of several important components to help achieve the photovoltaic process.
Solar cells are the dark gray or black squares on a solar panel. These cells are made of a dark gray crystal called silicon, a semiconductor or material that conducts electricity. However, an energy source, such as sunlight, is required for this process.
Solar cells also contain boron and phosphorus. Boron provides a positive change, while phosphorus provides a negative charge. As PV panels absorb the photons or sun’s energy, the photons begin to “dance,” displacing electrons. The result? An electrical current.
Collecting and Converting the Current
While solar cells do the job of producing electricity, this energy must be properly collected and converted into usable energy. The resulting electricity flows to the edges of the panel and into conductive metal wiring. This wiring leads to the inverter, which converts the electricity from direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) power.
How Solar Power Is Measured
It’s crucial to understand how solar power is measured, as this will determine how much energy you consume and how much you need. Electricity is measured in units called watts. A kilowatt contains one thousand watts. One kilowatt used in an hour is called kilowatt hours (kWh). Take a look at your utility bills and you’ll see your energy usage is measured in kilowatts per hour.
Benefits Of Solar Energy
There are several key advantages to using a solar system:
Renewable Source Of Energy
Solar energy is a renewable source of energy. At least, for as the long as sun continues to burn off its hydrogen. Fortunately, our sun will continue to create solar energy for billions of years more.
Can Be Collected And Stored
Solar energy can be collected and stored for future use in a solar battery. These batteries come in three types: lithium-ion, lead-acid, and saltwater batteries.
Solar panels collect solar energy quietly. Close up, they emit a barely noticeable hum.
Low Maintenance Costs
Solar systems are relatively easy to maintain and clean. The inclination, or tilt, of solar panels helps keep off most dust and debris.
Can Increase Home Value
More individuals are becoming interested in using renewable energy, so a solar system can increase the value of your home. Also factor in how solar energy can save you money on electricity costs, and it’s easy to see how solar panels can increase your property’s appeal.
Energy You Own, Not Rent
Solar power is energy you own, unlike utility electric, where you pay to “rent” or use their electricity.
Disadvantages Of Solar Energy
Here are several drawbacks of solar energy:
Initial Upfront Cost
A solar system’s upfront cost can make many people apprehensive about installing solar panels for their home. However, there are several financing options available. For example, some (but not all) states offer tax incentives for solar installations. These incentives can significantly reduce costs. Common state solar tax incentives include:
- Property tax exemptions
- Utility rate discounts
- Tax credits
Amount of Sunlight Varies By Location
Not everyone lives in a sunny climate. The further from the equator you are, the less peak sunlight hours you receive. While solar panels can still absorb sunlight on cloudy days, they will produce energy at a lower efficiency than panels in a sunnier location.
Solar Panels Need Sunlight
It’s obvious that solar panels need sunlight in order to work. In other words, PV panels won’t produce electricity at nighttime. As solar energy is not available 24/7, you will need an alternative source of energy, or enough solar batteries to store the energy you need.
Solar Batteries Wear Out
With proper care, solar panels can last up to 25 years, making them worth the investment. Solar batteries, however, usually have a lifespan of 5 to 15 years, depending on the battery type.
A solar system for your home can be a worthwhile investment. Clean, renewable, and quiet, solar energy can make your home stand out in the market. If you’re still undecided, it’s worth pointing out that the cost of solar energy only continues to decrease while solar panel efficiency only continues to increase. As always, Atlasta Solar Center is here for all your solar needs and questions. If you want to learn more about the right solar solution(s) for your home or business, contact us at 970.248.0057.