You may well have heard about the importance of humanity harvesting solar energy as a viable energy resource. In this ever-increasing realm of technology, we are only now beginning to realize the vast potential of solar energy; how it could provide, clean, sustainable energy as an alternative to polluting fossil fuels or nuclear energy.
In this article, we’ll examine all you need to know about this most valuable of fuel sources so let’s begin by examining what solar energy is exactly.
What is solar energy?
At the most basic level, it is the process by which we can transform the heat and light that we receive from the sun, into electrical energy that can then be used for a host of different purposes.
Solar energy is important as it is a renewable energy resource as it has the potential to meet the growing world energy needs far into the future. It is important because not only does it have the potential to meet the future energy needs of the planet easily, but it can do so cleanly unlike fossil fuels.
On a global scale, this means that developing this technology would help reduce the costs of fighting global warming, reduce pollution, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and allow us to plan for the future knowing we have a safe, clean energy source that more than meets the needs of our current, and future society.
On a personal level, a solar energy system will help you drastically reduce your carbon footprint, will help you drastically lower your energy bills (and potentially may even make you money) and will allow you to reduce your reliance on increasingly expensive and dirty fossil fuels.
How does it work?
The key to how solar energy works is the technology that harvests it and this split into two distinct forms of technology; active and passive.
Active solar technology harnesses the energy from the sun and stores it electrically, such as in photovoltaic tiles and sheets. Active technology can in most cases, be installed at any point in a building’s lifetime.
Passive technology, such as the way a building is oriented to the sun or designing a building to naturally circulate air are generally implemented at the design stage.
What is particularly impressive is how versatile a technology this energy is. It can be used as a means of transportation, to heat water, to heat, cool or ventilate a building, to treat water, process heat, cooking and of course, in the production of electricity.
It is this final benefit that is of particular interest to most individuals, especially with the rising costs of domestic energy. As a result, many people are now looking at how solar energy could be used to help them save money on their domestic fuel bills.
How can solar energy save you money?
You can save you money by installing your own solar powered system in your home. Usually this is in the form of a number of photovoltaic tiles which are placed on the roof of your home in the prime position to catch as much heat and light from the sun as possible.
The number of tiles you can have is dependent on several factors, two key ones being, the size and orientation of your roof and the number of photovoltaic units you want installing to generate the amount of electricity you wish to generate.
Once installed, the units harvest energy from the sun, sending it to a unit called a Charge Controller. Here the electricity the units generate is sent to various other parts of the system which converts the current so that it can be used in the home (see right side for diagram).
Therefore, your home will use this electrical source first before drawing on electricity from the grid. This means you draw considerably less electricity from the grid and as a result, your electricity bill will be markedly lower.
However that is not the only way these units save you money; if you build up a surplus of electricity during the day, rather than waste it, if your unit is connected to the grid (as most modern installations are), you can actually sell your excess electricity back to the national grid.
This means that even if you are away on holiday for two weeks and your home is empty, all the excess electricity your system produces at this, or any other, time can be sold to the national grid.
How much does installing these systems cost?
Generally speaking, depending on the size and complexity of the installation and which company you choose to install your system, a typical solar energy system costs between $6,000 and $9,000 if you were to pay up front for the installation.
However, it is estimated that for most homes a solar energy system will cut electricity bills in half. With the ever-rising price of electricity, if your annual electricity bill is around $800, you would save $400 per year. Meaning over 10 years, you would make a saving of at least $4,000.
Then you would also be able to add on any profit you make from selling your excess electricity back to the grid.
Installation of solar panels is also a desirable for potential buyers of your home and having a system installed can add value to your property.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy?
The only disadvantage to solar energy is the initial costs involved in installing the system, but there are many advantages to installing these systems.
- They reduce the cost of current and future energy bills
- Reduce your carbon footprint
- Add value to your home
- Can generate you a small profit from the sale of electricity back to the grid
- They offer you long term, clean and sustainable energy for your home.
There is no doubting that solar energy is the future; it’s just a matter of when you choose to be part of it.