Geothermal energy

Geothermal 101: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Geothermal Energy

 

As the world of renewable energy expands, geothermal energy becomes more popular. Though lesser known than solar and wind energy, geothermal energy technologies increase the potential to lessen fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions in our world. As of 2019, seven states in the U.S. have geothermal facilities that account for 0.4% of energy generation. It is currently used in over 20 countries. The United States is the largest geothermal energy producer in the world, with the largest geothermal field being The Geysers in San Francisco, California.

 

So, what should you know?

 

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy is derived from the heat in the sub-surface of our earth, coming from hot water reservoirs and molten rock beneath the surface. It is considered a renewable energy source because it is continuously produced and can be utilized without depleting the resource. As a clean energy form, it can be used to heat and cool buildings and to generate electricity. However, to be used for electricity, it’s important to be close to tectonically active regions where the potential for geothermal energy is high. This is where geothermal power plants are located.

There are three types of geothermal power plants:

  1. Dry steam – this type of plant takes steam out of the ground and drives it directly into a turbine. It’s the oldest form of geothermal technology.
  2. Flash – this type of plant takes deep, high-pressure hot water beneath the surface and converts it into cooler, low-pressure water.
  3. Binary – this type of plant takes hot water that is passed through a secondary fluid with a much lower boiling point, allowing the secondary fluid to turn into vapor that then drives a turbine. According to National Geographic, this type of geothermal power plant will be the most popular in the future.

 

How does geothermal energy work?

To access this energy from the sub-surface for electricity generation, mile-long wells are dug into these underground reservoirs in order to access the hot water and steam. This then drives turbines that connect to electricity generators located in geothermal power plants. 

A geothermal heat pump system can be used to extract heat to heat homes in the winter, and then transfer that heat back into the ground during the summer. Some U.S. cities even have pipes of geothermal hot water beneath roads and sidewalks to melt snow.

 

How can it be used in your home?

You don’t actually have to live near geysers to take advantage of geothermal energy, that’s just where power plants are located. Even if you aren’t in an area with geothermal power plants, you can still utilize geothermal energy to heat and cool your home. 

Geothermal energy can provide your home with heating, cooling, and hot water through a geothermal HVAC system by taking advantage of the temperature of the ground. This system both collects energy to heat your home, and pulls it from your home to be released it into the ground, which cools your home. There are two types of HVAC systems available:

  1. Open loop system – this type of installed system takes water from a pond, lake, or water well and uses it to heat or cool your home through a heat pipe. This is less common than a closed loop system because it interacts with fluids outside of your home.
  2. Closed loop system – this type of installed system has pipes with a water solution buried underneath your home. The water or solution within the pipe changes temperature as the seasons change, so the system uses a heat pipe to warm the air in your home and vice versa. They are called “closed loop” systems because they only function for your home and don’t connect to a larger infrastructure. 

There are several benefits to installing a geothermal HVAC unit for your home. The on-going cost is lower than that of other HVAC systems that utilize non-renewable energy, it operates quieter than other systems, it has a longer lifespan, and it requires less maintenance than other systems. It feels like a regular AC and heating system, but the energy is clean.

 

How much does it cost?

Prices of the average geothermal system vary depending on the size of your home and the climate of your area. The estimated price of a system can range from $18,000 to $30,000 depending on the size of your home, but there are federal and state incentives that can help significantly reduce the price. As of 2021, you can claim a 26% federal tax credit on your income taxes after purchasing and installing a geothermal system. It’s also extremely cost efficient–you will see a 20-50% savings on your monthly utility bill with a geothermal system! 

 

How does geothermal energy affect the environment?

Flash geothermal power plants emit excess steam. However, binary geothermal plants have no emissions or liquid discharge; the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy believes binary geothermal plants will be the dominant technology in the future compared to the other types of geothermal power plants.

The salts and minerals within the geothermal fluids that binary geothermal plants discharge are recycled back into the reservoirs for reuse. Some plants also produce solid materials that require disposal, but the chemicals are often extracted and resold for use, making it more environmentally friendly.

When it comes to geothermal HVAC systems you can install for your home, there are no emissions or negative impacts to the earth, unlike the typical non-geothermal HVAC system. Typical non-geothermal HVAC systems that most people use today use a refrigerant that harms the ozone layer. You can avoid this by installing a geothermal HVAC system that does not negatively affect the environment!

 

What is the reality of geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy has been around for years, but the common misconceptions have led some people to avoid it. Geothermal energy systems operate at 400-600% efficiency as opposed to 96% efficiency for the highest performance fossil fuel furnaces (most are between 80% and 90% efficient). And though they may seem more expensive initially, the long-term savings make up for that initial investment. 

Most average consumers can utilize geothermal HVAC systems for heating and cooling needs, but when it comes to geothermal power plants, only those in the surrounding geographical area can utilize the electricity produced. Just like other power plants, geothermal power plants are usually connected to the grid–and more effort is underway to install transmission lines so that these power plants, and other renewable energy power plants, can be used on a larger scale. This makes it hard for homes worldwide to only function on geothermal energy, but the use of these systems to heat and cool your home would still significantly help you and the environment.

 

Sources:

Pros & Cons of Wind Energy

Pros & Cons of Wind Energy – What’s Best for You?

The use of wind energy has increased more than 25% per year, making it the largest source of renewable power in the United States. On average, the biggest wind turbines could generate enough energy to power about 600 homes according to National Geographic. Wind turbines can create electricity from the slightest breeze, providing energy as long as the sun shines and the moon rises at night. When the sun shines on the Earth’s surface, some of the rays are reflected back into the air. As the air warms, it expands becoming less dense as it rises and flows with cooler, denser air nearby. This movement of air is what we know as wind—and we can turn it into energy. Wind spins the blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which generates energy.

 

When you are considering switching to wind energy, what are the pros and cons you should look at?

 Pros

  • Wind power is cost-effective
  • Wind creates jobs
  • Wind power is renewable and clean
  • Wind farms are an efficient use of land

 Cons

  • Wind can have a higher upfront investment cost
  • Some people believe that wind turbines cause noise and visual pollution
  • Wind farms can impact local wildlife
  • Wind farm locations may be too remote and require additional transmission infrastructure.

 

Let’s look at the pros first.

 

1. Wind power is cost-effective

Land-based utility-scale wind is one of the lowest-priced energy sources currently available, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, A single wind turbine can power many homes. Wind farms are made up of utility scale-turbines that exceed 100 kilowatts in output, connecting to the nation’s transmission system and powering thousands of homes.

Wind farms are beneficial because unlike solar, the average person can’t install their own turbines. Instead, you can purchase wind power from an organization in your area that offers wind energy. After the production tax credit, wind energy costs an average of $26 per megawatt hour as of 2020 according to Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy. This is competitive with non-renewable energy with coal being $41/MWh and gas at $28/MWh.

Wind farms normally sell energy at a fixed price for a standard period of time—20 years, for example. This means that you wouldn’t have to worry about the price of wind shifting as the seasons change, like the price of natural gas does. Non-renewable energy has price uncertainty, but you will never experience that with wind power. Wind turbines are fueled by wind which is free to use. As wind power becomes more popular, it continues to get cheaper.

2. Wind creates jobs

The wind sector in the U.S. is one of the fastest growing job industries, currently employing over 100,000 workers. There are jobs available in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, support, and consulting. In 2017, the International Renewable Energy Agency reported the renewable energy industry surpassed over 10 million employed across the world—1.15 million being in the wind power industry, with the United States making up about 10,000 of those jobs. According to the Wind Vision Report, the U.S. wind sector has the potential to increase by more than 600,000 jobs by 2050.

3. Wind power is renewable and clean

Wind is provided by the rotation of the Earth and heat from the sun, meaning that, unlike non-renewable forms of energy we will never run out of it. Wind energy also doesn’t pollute the air, unlike the fossil fuels that release harmful particles in the air that have been shown to have negative effects on human health and the environment. As long as the sun continues to shine and the wind blows, we can utilize wind energy to power our lives.

4. Wind farms are an efficient use of land

Wind farms can take up a lot of space because they have to have a certain distance between them, but each turbine only takes a small amount of real estate. When properly distanced, the land between the turbines can continue to be used for other purposes. They can be space-efficient when installed on existing farms, or land in rural areas, and provide added benefit to farmers. The land owners receive payments for the use of their land, while still continuing to use the land as they normally would.

 

So, what are the cons of wind energy?

 

1. Wind can have a higher upfront investment cost

Despite wind power continuously dropping in prices as it gains popularity, it still has to compete with the lowest-cost sources of electricity currently being used. The operating cost of wind power has decreased 80% since 1980 and we can expect it to continue to drop. Despite this drop, wind as a renewable energy source must still compete economically with non-renewable energy sources.

Similar to solar energy, there are upfront investments to be made that will take 10-20 years to break even. Just like other sources of renewable energy, there are financial incentives involved to assist you in the cost of wind energy. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) is a tool that allows you to search and learn about incentives programs in your area. There are federal, state, local, and utility incentives available when making the transition to wind energy. It is with these incentives that wind energy can help offset the upfront investment cost and wind is even cost-competitive without tax incentives in many areas of the United States.

2. Some people believe wind turbines cause noise and visual pollution

Most wind turbine farms are in rural areas, where the population is low and spread out. Noise and visual aesthetics can be a problem for those that live in close proximity—some people think they’re too loud and ugly. However, this can be solved by continuing to place wind turbines in rural areas where few, if any, people will be affected, and areas where the landowners agree to have them and are compensated appropriately. The technology is also continuing to advance, decreasing the problems associated with noise pollution and the scientific consensus to date shows that what little noise wind turbines produce do not have an impact on human health. 


An important thing to remember is that although there may be noise and visual pollution, wind turbines do not pollute the air with gases and particles like current non-renewable energy forms. For example, coal-fired power plants emit the largest amount of mercury emissions in the U.S.—exposure to mercury in the air has shown to have negative neurological effects in embryos and small children. These emissions can also infiltrate the water cycle, creating acid rain that would harm many ecosystems. Some people believe that windmills are not the most visually appealing to see, but the effects of non-renewable energy are causing the environment to slowly deteriorate. Unlike other forms of non-renewable energy, wind energy is more beneficial to the environment than harmful.

3. Wind farms can impact local wildlife

There is a risk with birds flying into wind turbines and becoming severely injured or killed. Some studies believe that the effects of wind turbines on birds may be over exaggerated, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that turbines can kill anywhere from 140,000 to 500,000 birds a year. This number is estimated through hundreds of studies and radar tracking systems that can sense birds approaching, but not every wind farm has these systems. This radar racking technology also attempts to slow the blades so that birds can get through them. However, there are hundreds of millions of bird deaths each year due to a number of different factors, like cats and building collisions. That said, wind turbines should be cited carefully and may not be appropriate for areas with endangered avian species.

Despite the fact that this is a small number of bird deaths compared to other causes, it is avoidable. A study by Jason Deign shows that higher bird mortality can be avoided by building even larger turbines. Larger turbines not only decrease the avian mortality rate but also increase the wind turbine efficiency. Building larger wind turbines would create more clean energy while also having less of an impact on the wildlife. The NINA research team also conducted a study that found simply painting one blade of the wind turbine black reduced bird deaths by 70%.

4. Wind farm locations may be too remote for cities where electricity is needed without building new transmission infrastructure

Wind farms need strong capacity transmission lines to move their power to urban areas. Good wind farm locations are often in rural areas where the wind is high, but also where there aren’t many people living nearby. Because of this, the only way for energy to reach cities would be through new transmission lines, requiring an extra investment when building the wind farm. However, the Department of Energy reported that the addition of new limited electricity transmission lines could significantly reduce wind energy costs by 35% by the year 2050, while supplying a third of the United States’ electricity.

Unfortunately, unlike with solar energy, you can’t put wind turbines on top of your home. It’s hard for the turbines to perform well when built on structures—with obstructing buildings around, the wind would be too turbulent to spin the blades of the wind turbine. Rather, wind turbines need air that flows laminar (consistent and streamline), so it’s best to keep wind turbines in rural areas without buildings nearby to get in the way. The average capacity from wind turbines mounted on rooftops was found to be less than 1% from a study done in the U.K., while the capacity for wind turbines in commercial wind farms in rural areas ranges from 10%-30%.

 

Key takeaways

While these pros and cons determine your view on wind energy, the fact is that the current energy industry needs more clean, renewable energy sources. We will eventually run out of all non-renewable sources of energy, but we will never run out of wind supply. The pros include cost effectiveness, job creation, efficient use of land, and free clean energy that will never run out.

While the cons include upfront (not operating) cost, perceived noise and visual pollution, wildlife impact, and location issues, all of these cons have solutions, and are nothing in comparison to the advantages of wind energy.

Despite the cons, wind energy is the best and most viable energy source to meet the world’s energy needs. Transitioning to wind energy isn’t a single home process, though, since you cannot install wind turbines on your family home or business—we as the human race must make that transition together to help benefit our planet and ourselves. Wind has already been implemented in several countries across the globe, including in parts of the United States. With larger and continued support, the use of wind energy could become even more widespread, bringing forth clean energy, jobs, and a benefiting environment.

 

Sources:

https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-wind-sector-trend-helping-turbines-to-kill-fewer-birds

https://www.dsireusa.org/

https://www.energysage.com/about-clean-energy/wind/pros-cons-wind-energy/

https://windexchange.energy.gov/projects/incentives

https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/report-shows-new-transmission-can-help-wind-energy-supply-third-us-electricity

https://ecavo.com/wind-energy-pros-cons

https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/pros-and-cons-of-wind-energy.php

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/wind-power

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/wind-energy/

https://windexchange.energy.gov/projects/economics

http://www.switchenergyproject.com/education/CurriculaPDFs/SwitchCurricula-Elementary-Wind/SwitchCurricula-Elementary-WindFactsheet.pdf

https://greentumble.com/harmful-effects-of-non-renewable-resources-on-the-environment/

https://www.buildinggreen.com/blog/putting-wind-turbines-buildings-doesnt-make-sense

Pros and Cons of going solar

Pros & Cons of Solar Energy: What’s Best for You?

Solar energy has rapidly grown to be a popular energy source for the average consumer whether for home or business use. It accounts for more than 1/8th of energy produced across the United States. When considering switching to solar energy, what factors should you look at?

 

Pros

  • Lowers electric bill
  • Improves the value of your home
  • Reduces your carbon footprint
  • Solar is cheaper than ever
  • Provides energy independence

Cons

  • Initial investment can be high
  • May not work for all roof types
  • Manufacturing panels has pollution risk
  • The transition can require navigating red tape
  • Weather and climate dependent

 

So, what are the pros of solar energy?

 

1. Switching to solar energy will lower your electric bill

When installing solar panels, you are in control of the energy generated within your home, making you less reliant on utility providers. Therefore, your monthly bill could be reduced, if not eliminated entirely. Depending on your state, size of your home, and how much electricity you typically use, you could save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 over a 20-year-period by switching to solar. The installation of your solar energy system is an investment. Use this estimate tool by energysage.com to calculate a customized estimate of how much you could save on your electricity bill.

2. A solar energy system improves the value of your home

Recent studies have shown that having a solar energy system installed increases the value of your property. Even if you plan to move before the life of your solar system is over, the increased value to your property will still provide a return on your initial investment. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, found that on average, across 8 different states, a solar system added $15,000 in value to the home. This is especially important if you’re ever planning on moving.

3. Solar energy is a clean energy source, reducing your carbon footprint

Solar radiation is captured in solar panels from the sun. The energy produced from these solar systems is free of pollutants and emits no greenhouse gasses. The Environmental Protection Agency states that greenhouse gases emitted from non-renewable energy like gas, coal, and oil energy are trapped on Earth and thus warm the planet. The average American home that uses typical non-renewable energy pushes out an estimated 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. With solar panels, that footprint is reduced by over 3,000 pounds, making it a much cleaner option.

4. Solar is cheaper than ever

The price of solar energy systems has continued to decrease, leading to a large increase in the use of solar technology. According to figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency, the cost of solar energy has dropped by 82% since 2010. This is due to many factors, including improved technology, and the cost will continue to decline as technology improves and more licensed installers become available. In 2010, solar cost roughly $0.378 per kilowatt and as of 2020, is now $0.068 per kilowatt—equating to an 82% difference. 13.1% of that drop happened between 2018 and 2019 alone. Not only has the price of the actual system dropped, but there are financial incentives set in place to help families and businesses afford solar energy. For example, purchasing a solar power system in the U.S. means you may be eligible for a 30% federal income tax credit.

5. Solar provides energy independence

Solar power is always available to us, unlike non-renewable energy that must be created from resources that are not unlimited. Solar is the most abundant source of energy that we have available to us on Earth, meaning that we’ll never run out of it. With the transition to the use of solar panels, the average consumer can trust that they’ll never run out of the sunlight that powers their home. As solar technology has improved, even climates with little sun can still generate energy.

 

So, what are the cons of solar energy?

 

1. Initial investment can be high

Though you may save money over time on your electric bill, the initial investment when installing a solar power system can be significant. The more energy you need to fuel your home or business, the more panels you’ll have to buy upfront. Installing panels can be tens of thousands of dollars in the beginning, but fortunately that can be reduced with federal incentives for making the transition to clean energy. Depending on your state, costs of a residential solar system after federal tax credits can range from an estimate of $11,000 to $20,000. 

Though not everyone has the cash to pay for a solar energy system outright, there are a number of financing options to help you get started. The Investment Tax credit (ITC) has helped fund many solar panel investments since 2006—as of 2020, you can have 26% of your solar panel cost deducted through it. There are also federal grant and loan programs that offer incentives for installing solar panel systems—this enables homeowners to either receive a grant or take a loan to assist in their solar investment and get their system set up as soon as possible. Despite the initial investment cost being high, the savings on your monthly bill will allow you to recoup that investment in just a few years. The sooner you make the transition to solar energy, the sooner you can start saving money.

2. Solar panels may not work for your roof type

Solar panels are installed on the rooftop of homes and businesses through a mounting system. It can be difficult to install panels on some roofing materials used on older homes, making it difficult to include everyone in the transition to so

lar power. While installing solar on a home that you don’t own may make going solar for renters more difficult, it’s not impossible. You may be able to install solar panels on your roof with your landlord’s permission or use a portable solar panel system. 

It can also be difficult to install on apartment buildings or businesses that have rooftop decks of skylights, making the installation process and transition to solar power much more difficult and costly. However, rooftop installation is not the only option when it comes to using a solar power system, as there are other options such as ground-mounted panels and community solar panel gardens.

If you live in an apartment, you can still go solar with portable solar panel systems —it can go on your balcony, banisters, or even your window. A portable system generates between 1.3 kWh and 1.5 kWh of electricity per day—enough to charge your devices and run small appliances—giving you the ability to use less non-renewable energy. These portable systems also qualify for the same federal tax credit that regular PV systems qualify for, continuing to save you money. While some roof types may make solar more difficult, as you can see it’s not impossible in the U.S.–even with the use of the smaller portable solar panel systems, both you and the environment benefit when the use of non-renewable energy declines.

And if you don’t have access to a community solar program, make sure your utility company hears that you want one!

3. Manufacturing solar panels has pollution risks

A solar energy system does not cause pollution during its working life, but it can during the initial manufacturing process. There are chemicals used during the making of the panels and the transportation of them—but it’s still one of the least-polluting energy sources available to us. In addition to the toxic chemicals used when making them, the manufacturing processes can produce gas emissions, but there is still considerably less pollution than what is produced by non-renewable energy sources. Manufacturers are continuing to improve their efforts in sustainability—including making sure that toxic chemicals are disposed of properly and that options for recycling solar panels are available. While there are pollution risks, making the transition to clean energy with minimal pollution outweighs the use of dirty energy and maximum pollution risk.

4. The transition require navigating red tape

Though solar is one of the fastest growing markets in the U.S., the market is still very small. It can be  stressful and confusing to get started when you want to make the transition, and this can be due to the lack of qualified sales representatives that are honest or available. Don’t fall for aggressive companies trying to sell their products to the average consumer, which can make the transition to clean energy frustrating instead of enjoyable. With the growing of the industry, it’s becoming easier to find installers in your area that won’t leave you stressed about the transition. Mission: Net Zero is a project of Energy Alabama to install more than 310 megawatts of solar energy in North Alabama. Whether you are looking to install solar on your home or business, we have resources to connect you with qualified (and reputable!) solar installers throughout Alabama.

5. Solar is weather and climate dependent

Solar panels are dependent on the sun. In lesser-than-sunny areas, solar energy may not be as efficient despite technology improvements but luckily that isn’t a problem in Alabama. Solar energy also cannot be collected at night when the sun isn’t out, which is why external batteries are used to store energy during the day to power your home at night. These batteries are not essential for every solar system owner, but companies are steadily working towards increased availability for those who would benefit.

The technology of the batteries has greatly improved in recent years. Battery prices have dropped almost 90% in the past 10 years, with another expected 50% drop by 2023. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. household consumes an estimate of 30 kilowatt-hours (kW) of energy per day while a standard battery has a capacity of 10 kWh.

 

Key takeaway

These pros and cons are what determine whether you choose to make the transition to clean solar energy—but it’s important to remember there’s a tradeoff. The technology of solar energy is continually improving and  the pros still outweigh the cons. 

While the initial investment can be expensive, you still save thousands compared to traditional non-renewable energy sources. Solar is also cheaper than ever and continues to decline in price. Despite installation difficulties and whether or not your roof type works, there are always alternative options such as portable panel systems or community solar programs. While solar may also be entirely dependent on the weather, batteries can make sure your home stays powered even when the sun is down. We will eventually run out of the non-renewable energy sources we use now, but we will never run out of sunlight. While there is some pollution in the creation of solar panels, there is much less pollution from solar than from the use of nuclear, coal, and gas, making solar energy one of the most advantageous option for our future.

The U.S. is successfully transitioning to clean energy—it’s our cheapest and cleanest option for our futures.The transition to solar energy in your home could encourage your neighbors, leading to more and more people using clean energy. Small steps lead to a big change, a change that could be made in your home and life. While it may not be the best and most available option for everyone right now, there is plenty of hope that one day it will as the solar energy market continues to improve.

Learn more about how to go solar in North Alabama.

 

Sources:

https://goingsolar.com/why-is-it-so-hard-to-get-people-to-switch-to-solar-energy/

https://news.energysage.com/solar-panels-toxic-environment/

https://www.zmescience.com/ecology/renewable-energy-ecology/solar-panels-pros-and-cons-056654/

https://suntuitysolar.com/suntuityblog/whygoingsolarcanhelpreduceemissions.html

https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2015/01/13/berkeley-lab-illuminates-price-premiums-u-s-solar-home-sales/

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/solar-energy/solar-energy-pros-and-cons.html

https://us.sunpower.com/pros-and-cons-solar-energy

https://www.energysage.com/solar/financing/

https://news.energysage.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-solar-energy/

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/nonrenewable-resources/

https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/investing-in-solar-energy-what-return-can-you-get-on-your-solar-investment

https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/solar-panels-for-rental-homes-and-apartments#:~:text=If%20you%20rent%20a%20house,of%20a%20large%20solar%20farm.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sherikoones/2020/01/26/creating-energy-independence-with-solar-panels–storage-battery-systems-in-the-home/?sh=6095c9a75ead

https://www.energysage.com/solar/solar-energy-storage/what-are-the-best-batteries-for-solar-panels/

https://alcse.org/energy-alabama/our-work/technical-assistance/mission-net-zero/

Solar 101: Frequently asked questions about solar

Solar 101: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Solar Energy

Solar energy is the future of energy, allowing you as an energy consumer to not only be energy efficient but also save money. Solar energy is one of the main clean and sustainable energy sources that benefits both the consumer and world we inhabit.

 

So, what should you know?

 

What is solar energy?

Solar is the most abundant source of energy we have available to us on Earth. The energy from the sun is more than 10,000 times what the world needs in terms of energy, at any given time of day. It is a form of “renewable energy” or “clean energy” which is energy that comes from natural sources that are always available. In recent years, scientists have studied solar energy as a power source for homes and businesses–it now accounts for more than one-eighth of the energy sources used across the United States. 

This 1/8th includes the energy that has been used to grow our crops, dry foods, and keep us warm, but now it can be used to warm your water and power your homes and businesses.

How does solar energy work?

The US government’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy states that “the amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year.” Solar energy is derived from the sun. Solar energy comes from the light emitted by the sun—electromagnetic radiation—that reaches the Earth’s surface. Through the installation and use of solar panels, sunlight and solar radiation is converted into power that our technology can use. The heat radiation from the sun triggers a reaction that produces electricity for use.

Does solar radiation have any negative affects to our Earth?

There are no negative effects from the sun’s radiation with the use of renewable energy. On average, 70% of the radiation emitted by the sun is absorbed into the Earth while the other 30% is reflected back into space. However, greenhouse gasses emitted from burning fossil fuels (a non-renewable energy source) trap the sun’s radiation, causing the temperature of the Earth to rise. Earth’s average global temperature that covers the entire surface depends on how much energy we receive from the Sun and how much returns into space, and as a result of non-renewable energy, Earth has experienced an approximate 1℃ global change in temperature.

How is solar power produced?

Solar radiation is captured through photovoltaic (PV) cells in solar panels where it is then converted into electric energy. Solar panels used to capture sunlight and radiation consist of 60 or more solar cells, and comes in two main types—monocrystalline or polycrystalline—with a marginal difference in wattage. Both cell types serve the same purpose for the solar system, but monocrystalline solar panel cells are made from a single crystal of silicon while polycrystalline solar panel cells are made from many melted silicon fragments. Monocrystalline panels -considered the premium of the two- have higher conversion efficiencies and are sleeker looking. Polycrystalline cells are the cheaper option, but they have slightly lower efficiencies and look less aesthetically pleasing to some.

In order for the conversion of sun radiation to electric energy through the solar panels to successfully occur there is a complex process that consists of the following elements—solar panels, PV module, wiring, inverters, etc. The PV module is the core of the solar cells, when light from the sun hits the conversion module, each cell produces direct current (DC) voltage. DC and alternating current (AC) wiring are responsible for switching the power on/off and from the inverter. The inverter is responsible for taking the DC from the solar and/or batteries and turning it into AC for use in a building or on the grid. Batteries are sometimes installed to store the electric energy chemically to be used when the sun is not hitting the panels, like during the night-time. Finally, solar controllers are used to regulate the energy current into the batteries. Solar energy is made possible through the work of each of these components.

How much does solar power cost?

The prices of solar panels are ever dropping. What you should expect depends on the system size and federal solar tax credit, with a 10-kilowatt ranging from $17,650 to $23,828 and the average price per watt ranging from $2.40 to $3.22. The cost depends on how much energy you want to generate, depending on whether you’re planning on fueling solar electricity through your home or business. The below chart depicts the average cost for solar panels depending on the size of the system:

System sizeAverage solar panel system cost before tax creditsAverage solar panel system cost after tax credits
2 kW$5,620$4,159
3 kW$8,430$6,238
4 kW$11,240$8,318
5 kW$14,050$10,397
6 kW$16,860$12,476
7 kW$19,670$14,556
8 kW$22,480$16,635
9 kW$25,290$18,715
10 kW$28,100$20,794
12 kW$33,720$24,953
15 kW$42,150$41,588
20 kW$56,200$41,588
25 kW$70,250$51,985

The solar tax credit reduces your cost by 26% simply for installing a solar energy system, saving you thousands of dollars for going solar. Costs can depend on your state, so it’s best to compare prices with various providers in your area to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

What can solar energy be used for?

The sun makes plants grow, causes the wind to blow, and affects the temperature across the globe. It can also power your household appliances, your cell phone, and your air conditioning. Solar can be used to:

  1. Provide electricity for homes and businesses – a solar system installed on rooftops can power the entire establishment.
  2. Heat your water – solar panels absorb heat and then transfer it into a water tank. This can be your home water or even your swimming pool.
  3. Heat your home or business – solar space heating systems paired with forced hot air systems can heat homes.
  4. Provide light within your home or business (one of the most common uses) solar lighting is present in homes, streetlights, and road signs.
  5. Charge portable batteries – portable solar PV chargers can be used for charging your portable electronics such as your cell phone.
  6. Power your method of transportation – solar power has been used to power buses, trains, and airplanes. Though not widely available, solar-powered cars are in the works. In 2015, we worked with UAH to solar power some of their golf carts.

With the potential to power your everyday necessities, solar energy has the potential to power your future.

Why isn’t solar power more widely used?

Solar energy is not a new concept, but even just a few years ago, it could be expensive to implement and not readily available to many people. However, now, many families across the U.S. and the rest of the world have converted to using solar energy as their primary source of energy. Solar energy is becoming more widely used as time progresses and prices continue to drop.

The advantages that come with using solar energy include:

  • We can’t run out of solar energy, making it a renewable source that we will always have available.
  • What you pay for energy will drop, how much depends on the size of your solar system.
  • You can generate electricity and heat, making its uses diverse.
  • Maintenance is cheap and easy. It’s as simple as cleaning the panels a few times a year.
  • Improvements are consistently being made to current solar energy systems in the industry.
  • Solar panels typically last for about 25 to 30 years, or even more.
  • Solar energy is more optimal for the environment.
  • While solar energy may cost more starting out, there are tax credits that lower the prices.

The disadvantages that come with using solar energy include:

  • The upfront or initial cost can be high—paying for the panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and installation.
  • Solar energy is dependent on the weather, and you may need batteries to smooth out your production or save it for later.
  • Adding battery storage makes a system more expensive.
  • You may need more solar panels than you have available space.
  • There is some pollution that comes with the initial manufacturing process of the solar panels.

Who can benefit from solar energy?

Everyone can benefit from the use of solar energy. You don’t have to live on a sunny beach to benefit from the energy that the sun provides for us, nor will you be without if you live in a cloudy region. As long as solar energy systems are properly manufactured and placed, the risks fall far below that of the non-renewable energy the world uses now.

What is the reality of solar energy?

Solar energy has proved to be abundant and is becoming more popular as years progress. Solar pollutes far less, is energy efficient, and saves money. There are many misconceptions about using a solar energy system that have caused people to avoid it, but with our help and determination to teach you about renewable energy, we can move past those misconceptions and implement a clean energy future.

 

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