Harness the Power of the Sun: It’s Easier Than You Think
Solar energy is a form of sustainable power derived from the sun’s light and is considered the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available. Utilizing energy from the sun has been around since the 7th century B.C., when archeologists found evidence of using a magnifying glass to make fire. Research into creating solar cells began as far back as the 1860s.
Even so, the public use of solar panels didn’t come about until the 1970s, when a nationwide energy crisis encouraged the federal government to direct funding and research into sustainability, making solar energy viable and affordable to the public. They were successful, and the use of solar energy began to rise. Solar installation cost has steadily decreased by as much as 70% in the last decade.
Solar energy continues to grow in use worldwide, with projections of a 24% increase in how much global energy will come from solar by 2030. This is primarily due to the focus on making solar energy widely available. The US government provides grants and tax breaks to green homeowners who switch to an environmentally conscious energy source.
Financial rewards are always a huge plus on the pros list when considering solar energy, but the benefits don’t stop there. Solar energy is also more environmentally friendly and has higher energy efficiency levels than non-renewable sources. This adds to the sustainability factor of solar power, which is important when you consider that many energy sources are on track to run out in less than 60 years.
Benefits of solar panels
The benefits of using a sustainable energy source like solar are endless. Energy sources like fossil fuels are limited, and once the earth runs out, it’s out. On the other hand, there is no limit to how much sunlight we can access. Non-renewable energy is also more expensive, with fossil fuels currently costing nearly three times more than solar power to produce electricity.
Next comes the environmental impact, which is another area where solar energy wins out on sustainability over non-renewable energy. The carbon footprint of solar energy is 18 times less than that of coal, to give an example. However, some people argue that producing solar panels creates a significant carbon footprint. Still, solar panels produce such an insignificant level of greenhouse gasses once they’re in use that the negative impact is outweighed by the positive.
It would be impossible to completely reduce our carbon footprint, but many people taking small steps to reduce this environmental impact will pay off and improve the future of human life and the planet’s longevity.
That brings us to the part you can play in being eco-friendly by installing solar panels in your home and using solar energy to supply your electricity. A house with a solar power system that provides electricity produces about 80% fewer carbon emissions than a home powered by fossil fuels. By reducing these CO2 emissions as a collective, it’s possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions back down to more manageable levels, thus improving air quality and slowing down climate change.
Protecting the environment is a noble goal, but solar energy also has a few financial benefits. For one, running your home on solar is drastically less expensive than paying your power bill after initial installation costs. It’s estimated that in just a few years, the money you save by using solar begins to exceed the installation cost. There are even ways for solar power to make you money by selling excess power back to the energy grid. Homeowners report earning around $3,000 per year combined with governmental clean energy incentives earned.
Speaking of incentives, there are tax breaks for going green. This comes in the form of subsidies from the government or your local utility company, which has historically paid up to 30% of the installation cost of solar panels on your home. This percentage can differ from state to state, so check with your local utility association as part of your installation research.
How does solar energy work?
The sun is extremely powerful, and even though it’s about 93 million miles away, it’s still stronger than most light sources on earth. Solar energy converts sunlight through either photovoltaic (PV) panels or mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This power generates electricity or thermal energy and can be used immediately or stored in batteries.
How do solar panels work?
When sunlight hits a solar panel, the energy from the light is absorbed by photovoltaic panels. These then create a moving electrical charge in response to an internal electric field in the cell. From there, the energy is ready to be used or stored.
Cost of solar panels
The amount it costs to install solar panels varies from state to state and depends on several factors. Part of this cost is the size of your solar panel system and installation cost. You can subtract how many government clean energy incentives you claim, which is usually a percentage of the total cost. The average price is around $15,000-$25,000 before subtracting any subsidies.
Some homeowners decide to do the installation themselves, which accounts for the lower end of the cost estimate since most solar installers charge approximately $1 per watt to install. Systems are upwards of 6,000 watts for a single-family home.
Do they really save money?
The short answer is yes, solar panel energy systems really save money. After hearing you have to fork up an average of $20,000 to get started, this may seem hard to believe, but let’s do a little math. The average lifespan of a solar panel system is 25 years before it needs to be replaced, during which time the only money you spend is on the system itself and installation.
In 25 years, a median-income single-family home will pay $33,591 in energy bills. Even if you pay the max amount for solar energy, you still save around $5000. Most people end up paying less than half of what they would have paid over 25 years for power, saving about $15,000.
Solar panel system installation involves an initial visit from the solar installers to view the site and determine the installation logistics. Before this step, it’s a good idea to have your roof inspected to learn whether or not it’s possible to install solar panels based on roof infrastructure, shape, and sun exposure. You’ll streamline the process slightly if you get the go-ahead before your installation team comes by.
Installing solar panels requires permits in some areas, and there are other forms of paperwork that need to be in order if you plan on claiming tax deductions. Knowing if you plan on doing the installation yourself is important, so you don’t incur a fine or miss out on your incentive opportunity.
Once you’ve taken care of the administrative side and all the equipment arrives, the installation can begin. Solar panel installation isn’t considered difficult, but it can be complex. Those with a knowledge of electrical installation can probably do the installation themselves. However, some people might prefer to leave this costly investment to the professionals.
After installation, the last step is interconnection! This is where your home is routed to draw power from the sun. A correctly installed system should be able to switch seamlessly from solar to grid power when needed, in the event of a period of low sunlight or high energy usage.
Maintenance and durability
Solar panels are considered extremely durable, both in the materials themselves and the electrical components that deliver energy to the house. Even after the 25-year average lifetime, solar panels don’t “die” — rather, their energy output decreases below the initial level, so replacement is recommended.
Maintenance usually falls under accidents like a storm bringing debris that damages a panel or other smaller electrical parts going out. These parts are often under warranty, but if not, replacement cost averages between $500 and $3,000.
Do solar panels work when the power goes out?
During power outages, you will continue to have power so long as energy is stored from previous sunlight absorption. This is one of the major benefits of getting your power from solar energy rather than the local grid.
Is my house a good candidate for solar panels?
The best houses for solar panels will have a structurally sound roof with ample square footage that gets as much sunlight as possible without interference from trees or other structures.
The professional recommendation is that your solar panel area gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight daily. This means that roofs with a pitch or areas that only get sunlight on a particular side can still benefit from solar panels. Of course, the more sun exposure you can get, the more energy your panels generate, and the more power you can use exclusively from solar or save up for a rainy day.
The perfect solar panel candidate would be a house with a large flat roof, no trees around to block the sun or drop debris during a storm, and a geographic area with cloudless days year-round.
What other eco-friendly choices should you make?
As a homeowner, there are other steps you can take that can boost the effectiveness of your solar panels for home energy. Switching to LED lightbulbs is a sustainable trick you can keep in mind as your incandescent bulbs go out. LED lights use a whopping 75% less energy than traditional bulbs and last up to 25 times longer, saving you tons in the long run.
You can also consider replacing old appliances with energy-efficient models that draw less energy or have smart options that shut off after a period of non-use.
So, are solar panels worth it? The general consensus is yes, solar panel installation is a sound choice for a homeowner who wants to replace non-renewable energy usage with sustainable methods. If you own your own home and live in a sunny area, look into the local incentive percentage you can claim if you install solar panels. Our planet will thank you for doing your part and being another drop in the sustainability bucket.