Solar Energy Facts: What Is Solar Energy? And Why Does Solar Technology Matter?
In a world where the topic of alternative sources of energy is bound to come both in the news and in conversation, you might be asking, what is solar energy? We hear about solar power all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we understand the uses of solar energy, how solar panels work, and more importantly all the advantages of solar energy.
In addition to covering basic solar energy facts, we will discuss solar energy pros and cons and answer the question, how does solar energy work?
Photo courtesy of Freeimages.com
What Is Solar Energy?
The simplest explanation is that solar energy is energy provided by the sun. The question then becomes, what is solar power? How does solar power work? Solar power is generated when energy from the sun is converted into electricity, generally through the use of photovoltaic devices.
The question “what is solar energy?” can have an answer that is scientifically complex or as simple as saying that it is a clean energy source that helps people improve their lives.
One of the biggest advantages of solar energy is that it’s a renewable resource. Because it’s renewable and clean, more people and businesses are researching the uses of solar energy, and there is now an increase in demand for solar technology. According to SEIA.org, there has been a 60% increase in the solar technology industry over the last decade.
Solar Energy Facts: How Does Solar Energy Work?
After discovering what solar energy is, most people ask, “How does solar energy work?” After all, if it were that easy, more people would know their solar energy facts and utilize the technology.
Answering the question of how does solar power work can get a bit technical. The sun’s energy is converted into usable power through the use of photovoltaic devices (PV devices) also known as solar cells.
According to Scientific American, we can harness the sun’s power when it hits certain materials like silicon or copper-indium-gallium-selenide and turns the light into an electrical current.
How Solar Panels Work
The most visible form of solar technology in use is solar panels. When you see giant panels on rooftops, it makes you wonder how solar panels work.
Solar panels can either be a primary source of electric power or a secondary source by absorbing light from the sun. Some lower-light situations due to natural weather patterns or pollution may cause the panels to be less effective than in places with a sunny, clear climate.
Giant solar panels are essentially made up of many small units of solar cells. According to Livescience.com, when many cells are linked together, they make a solar panel. This is different from two other types of solar technology, solar thermal and concentrated solar power.
For the average consumer, it’s not as important to know how does solar energy work as it is to know what is solar energy used for.
Solar Energy Facts: Common Uses of Solar Energy
With a 60% increase in the industry over the past decade, many people are discovering the advantages of solar energy. Once the sun’s energy is converted into usable power, the uses of solar energy become almost limitless. After all, what is solar power if not a means to unlimited energy?
Solar power can be used for:
- Heating water
- Heating homes
- Home electricity
- Outdoor lighting
- Indoor lighting
Probably the most common use of solar energy that we may not even notice is our small solar powered calculators.
But what is solar energy used for that we may not have heard of? There are many less common or less well-known uses for solar power:
- Power for emergency roadside phones
- Photo radar
- Road signs
- Charging batteries
Passive Solar Power
When asking “What is solar energy?” we often think only of solar panels that directly convert the sun’s energy into power. However, we also need to ask ourselves what is it about solar power that it can be used passively?
New buildings are being constructed every day to use passive solar power with design features that take advantage of the sun’s energy. Design features can include:
- Position of the building in relation to the sun
- Where windows are placed
- Construction of the roof
- Landscaping features
- Constructing rooms to improve air circulation
The design features are oriented around maximizing solar energy to reduce heating costs in colder months and air conditioning costs during summer. This is also known as solar architecture.
Solar Energy Facts: Solar Energy Pros and Cons
After answering “what is solar energy?” and “how does solar energy work?” it’s tempting to want to put solar power to work for you immediately. However, it might be helpful to take a look at solar energy pros and cons before you make the commitment.
- Unlimited natural resource
- Clean energy which does not pollute the environment
- Improving technology
- Energy cost reduction
- Low maintenance
- Useable for many applications
In addition to utilizing green energy for the sake of the environment, the biggest benefit of using solar power for most people is the energy cost reduction. While utility costs vary by state and region, one estimate from Understandsolar.com says the average solar system could save you $20,000 over 20 years.
For all the advantages of solar energy, there are still a few disadvantages that make solar technology out of reach for many people.
- Unavailable at times
- Costs prohibitive for startup
- Space requirements
- Expensive storage
Most solar energy facts point to solar power being beneficial to most users, but some of the disadvantages are too prohibitive, even for the most environmentally conscious consumers.
What is solar energy without the sun? That’s what some people and businesses face because their homes or buildings are not strategically located to take advantage of the sun’s rays. Even air pollution can affect how well solar energy can work in high pollution zones, according to Conserve-Energy-Future.com.
Also consider that certain areas of the country receive less sunlight than others. Cloudy days — not to mention nighttime hours — are times when solar power is not available unless it’s stored. To store solar energy, you must use special batteries that are large and heavy, and they can also be expensive.
Solar energy facts also indicate that the initial cost of going solar can be prohibitive. Even with possible federal, state, and local tax credits, the cost of installing solar panels may be the main reason people put off converting to solar power.
Solar Energy Facts: Costs and Effectiveness
If you’re thinking about converting your home or business, you’ll be asking, “How much do solar panels cost?” and “How does solar energy work compared to fossil fuels?” After all, what is solar energy worth if it’s not cost effective and reliable?
Photo courtesy of Freeimages.com
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
How much do solar panels cost is the first question potential green-energy users ask after figuring out how solar energy works.
The cost of solar panels largely depends on a few factors:
- Where you live
- What kind of rebates are available in your area
- What size system you need
- Actual cost of panels and installation in your area
The best way to figure out approximately how much solar power will cost you is to use an online calculator such as the one at Solar-Estimate.org.
How Does Solar Energy Work Compared to Fossil Fuels?
If you’re considering going solar, it’s important to know how does solar energy work compared to fossil fuels.
Gocamsolar.com states that solar power requires less continuing maintenance than gas-powered electricity, once the initial installation is finished. The technology itself has now reached, according to Time.com, a tipping point with solar being “very affordable, being reliable, and a clean energy source.”
Solar Energy Facts: Who Can Benefit from Solar Power?
With solar technology becoming more efficient and affordable, converting your home or business to solar seems like the obvious choice.
The solar energy facts point to a broad range of people who can benefit, including people who:
- Have some money upfront for purchasing panels and installation
- Are concerned about energy costs going forward
- Have room for a proper installation
- Need a low-maintenance option for energy
- Have a home or business positioned favorably to receive maximum sun exposure
- Consider environmental needs important
How Does Solar Energy Work to Protect the Environment?
The positive impact that the use of solar energy has on the environment cannot be overstated. Despite the fact that some toxic materials are used to make PV cells, solar energy itself does not produce air, water, or noise pollution. It also doesn’t produce greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming.
Despite the positive effects the uses of solar energy have on the environment, there are some global warming emissions associated with manufacturing, transporting, and installing the materials. However, all the solar energy facts point to a positive overall impact.
Solar Energy Facts: Conclusion
Converting your home or business to solar technology is a big decision. The advantages of solar energy are clear, but they may not be right for your situation.
Think about the immediate cost versus the long-term savings of going solar. Checking an online solar estimate is only the first step. It may be important to seek professional advice from multiple sources to evaluate the benefits to your particular building.
By taking the time to research the solar energy pros and cons, you will position yourself to make a positive impact on your own home as well as the environment.
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