Solar power dates back to 1839 when it was first noticed that electric currents could be produced when certain metals were exposed to sunlight. Although this was the first incident of the photovoltaic effect known to man, no explanation could be found.
It was decades until solar cells were looked at as a possibility for an alternative power source to electricity. Then in the 1950s, Bell Laboratories demonstrated their solar panel with promising results. As the years have marched on, the efficiency of solar cells has improved, and the use of this alternative energy is widespread.
China outstrips the rest of the planet when it comes to solar power generation. They produce over 200 GW a year and are planning to build the biggest solar farm in the world. The US is no slouch when it comes to solar power and they are the second biggest producer in the world. Many Arab states are reaching alternative energy targets, and Japan, Germany, and India have taken solar power seriously.
Is it time to install solar power in your home?
To generate electricity, an energy source is required. This has traditionally been from fossil fuels, and the majority of electricity is still produced this way.
Around 61% of all electricity generated across the Earth is due to fossil fuels. These include natural gas, petroleum, and coal. Indeed, coal is used more widely than other methods of electricity generation. Around 37% of electricity is produced from coal-fired power plants.
Current estimates from the US Energy Information Administration put recoverable coal mine reserves at just 25 years. Although they also estimate there are 470 years more of recoverable coal reserves. Other reports suggest coal could run out completely in about 110 years.
With oil and natural gas reserves expected to finish in around 50 years or so, there is a definite need for a sustainable alternative energy source that is practical and safe.
What does installing a home solar system involve?
An installer such as Impact Energy Solar will work out how many voltaic panels you require against a number of metrics. An estimate for an average house would be about 20 to 25 solar panels. However, there are some considerations to be made before installing a solar system.
The roof space needs to be calculated first. The amount of sunlight your home regularly enjoys needs to be taken into account. And, also the actual solar panels themselves need to be taken into the equation.
Solar panels come in different levels of efficiency and wattage. The norm would be between 250 to 400 watts for a solar panel. To calculate exactly what you require you will need to look at your yearly electricity consumption.
Most people use professional solar system installers, and all these calculations will be done for you. If you are determined to install a solar system yourself you can use an online solar panel calculator.
How are solar panels made?
One concern some people have is the manufacturing process behind solar panels. After all, if you wish to switch to clean energy the production process should be environmentally sound also.
The good news is that the minerals used in the production of voltaic panels are in no danger of running out. Silicon itself makes up about a quarter of the planet's crust by weight. It is only second to oxygen as the most plentiful element on the planet.
Yet, there are still concerns about the use of all the minerals for solar panel manufacturing. This is due to the increased mining needed to keep up with increased manufacturing. Many mines are still using coal-fired electricity to carry out their mining activities which means that some research is needed to ensure that solar panel purchases come from green manufacturers.
Are solar panels and batteries recyclable?
If you are installing a solar system in your home you may also be concerned about the lifespan of the panels and the batteries. And also whether they can be recycled.
Currently, there aren't enough failing solar panels to make recycling a financially viable option. Some reports estimate that there could be more defunct solar panels by 2050 than plastic in landfills. In some estimates, solar panel waste will more than double the world's unrecyclable plastic waste of today.
It has also been suggested that there could be around 10 million tons of unrecyclable batteries by 2030. Nevertheless, this should not be a determiner for avoiding switching to a cleaner energy source. The more people use solar energy, the more likely that recycling will occur as it becomes more practical.
Does your government offer any incentives to install solar panels?
Since solar panels first became an option for homeowners, many governments around the world have introduced incentives to encourage people to switch energy sources.
The UK has had more than one initiative during recent times and now has in place the Smart Export Guarantee. Gone are the interest-free loans and grants but now owners of solar panel systems can sell their excess power back to the grid.
In the US, there are tax credits for those using solar power, and other countries also have different ways to encourage people to cut their use of electricity. In India, the cost of solar panels has been cut by up to 50% in some states, and Turkey offers reductions in certain fees and gives monthly energy credits to solar users.
Can you share solar power with your neighbors?
A shared energy source could make solar power even more environmentally friendly. Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that community solar systems exist across the states and in other countries.
If the average solar panel generated 350 watts, then it would take just over 51 billion units to provide electricity for the entire planet. While the world is a long way off from this type of solar installation, smaller community projects are very feasible and working right now.
Community solar systems have been created to power small clusters of residential buildings, commercial areas, and other groups. The power can be generated away from the actual users and fed through in the same way that electricity normally is. This removes the need for installing solar panels on individual homes but still provides similar benefits.
Will your home solar system pay for itself?
Installing a solar system is not necessarily a small expense. The average homeowner could expect to pay somewhere in the region of $15,000 but could reach $25,000. This depends on the size of your home and your electricity usage.
The efficiency of the panels and the amount of sunlight you receive will also be a factor in your payback period calculations. On average though, most solar systems will pay themselves off after 12 years with some doing so much earlier. As a solar panel system is expected to last up to 30 years, this could be seen as a good ROI.
There are certainly many innovations being made today with solar power. Wristwatches that use solar power, vehicles powered by solar, and reusable cell batteries charged by solar, are just some. The biggest user of this energy source, China, is set to build a space solar power station in the coming future too.
For most people though, it is the home that could benefit most from solar power. Installing an individual system means being able to move away from the grid, save money, and heat and light a home with a clean renewable energy source.