Solar energy is created by taking sunlight (solar thermal energy) and converting it into electricity. This conversion takes place via a medium that absorbs the solar energy and then converts it into usable electricity that can power various objects that are electrically operated. While the solar panel is not the most effective method of generating electricity, it remains a favorite because of the unlimited amount of energy that the sun provides.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
A solar panel is necessary in order to create solar energy. The most widely used type of solar panel is the photo-voltaic panel. These are panels that, as the name suggests, convert the sunlight (photo) into electricity (voltaic). Another, less technical way to think of it, is that the photons from the Sun are being converted into volts.
When the sun hits the solar panel, the photo element of the panel brings in the photons. The panel then absorbs as much light as possible. However, most solar panels can only absorb up to 30% of the sun’s rays. When the sunlight hits the solar panel, the light energy is transferred to a silicon semiconductor. This semiconductor then converts that energy into electricity.
That electricity is then sent to the grid for the consumer’s use. Solar electricity’s popularity can be attributed to its lack of emissions. Generating electricity from the photons that the sun emits creates no carbon byproducts. In other words, electricity can be had without releasing any pollutants.
Many people question the future of solar energy. This is because it is currently not the most effective source of electricity because of how small the panels are and the small amount of energy they absorb. As science discovers new materials from which solar panels can be constructed, the 30% absorption might increase. Considering how much energy the Sun emits on a daily basis, it is easy to imagine that solar energy could power the entire Earth.
More people are putting solar panels on their roofs as they decrease electricity bills and, in some small part, help to preserve and protect the environment. Solar energy is clean and an improvement in its harnessing methods will result in it becoming one of the premier sources of electricity.
How Much Does Solar Energy Cost?
The biggest barrier to entry for adopting solar power on a wider scale world-wide, however, has been the large cost of entry for installing solar panels and other technologies. Over the past two decades, the cost of solar electric systems has decreased almost 70% world-wide due to improvements in technology and incentives provided by federal and local governments and regional utility companies. Some countries and states in the United States have also adopted programs to pay the home owner for any excess electricity produced with solar power systems installed in the home.
Solar Power Installment Requirements
The first requirement examined by solar power companies when assessing the cost for installing a solar system in your home is the number of panels required for the installation. There are varying models of panels that will provide different levels of energy efficiency. The more efficient the panel, the less your home will need to have installed but the higher the up-front cost. Other factors that are taking into account when designing the overall solar capacity for your home include:
- Is air conditioning used in the home (if not could you expect to install a system at a later date?)
- Do you have or will you install a hot tub?
- Will the number of people living in your home grow (ie are you done having children or is there a parent or grandparent that could eventually move in with you?)
- Will you add any significant electronic equipment that is not currently installed in the homeIf you plan on doing any of these, then you will want to ensure sufficient capacity of solar panels is installed to support the future expansion. The cost to add extra panels later will be significantly higher than doing so initially.
Determining the Need for Solar Power Inverters
The number and size of solar power inverters needed for a solar power system will depend on the overall size of the system. At a minimum one inverter is needed for a small to medium-sized solar energy system with two being required for larger installations or a large number of groupings or strings of panels.
Other Solar Power Cost Considerations
One of the other considerations to make when considering the installation of a solar power system in your home is the type of mounting system to be used for the panels. The most common location to mount solar panels is on a house’s roof, but they can also be mounted on a specialized structure designed for the system. A separate structure will increase the overall cost of the project, but may be required if the roof of your home is not able to support the overall size of the solar power system.
What Will the Overall Cost Run for a Solar Power System?
It will vary depending on the location that you reside, but at the time of this writing the total cost to supply a moderate-sized, individual home is around $20,000 USD or approximately $12 per watt of required power. This cost will vary depending on your locale and availability of materials. If you are a little less ambitious and want to power a few items in your home or an RV when parked, the up-front cost will run around $1,000 USD. A more popular option for many consumers has been to install solar water heaters which cost less than $4,500 USD but will save significant amounts of money on your monthly water heating bill. You will also see specialized systems designed to heat hot tubs and swimming pools and the household water.