What is Solar Power?
Since its humble beginnings in the mid-20th century, solar power has emerged as one of the premier forms of renewable energy, bearing the potential to service the entire world’s energy needs in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way. Demand for solar energy has been steadily increasing in recent years, setting record after record for quarterly growth in the residential systems industry, yet it is reported that only 8% of American households have made the switch to solar so far.
Despite the affordability of residential systems and the savings and government incentives that homeowners stand to benefit from when adopting solar energy, many Americans still have doubts about making the switch. One of the reasons often cited for this is uncertainty about what solar power is and how it works. Read on for answers to these questions and an introduction to solar power!
Solar power is exactly what it sounds like – power that comes from the sun! More specifically, it is energy that is generated by the technology found in solar panels, which collect the sun’s light and converts it to electricity that can be used to power homes, appliances, vehicles, and anything else that uses power. Once a solar power system converts sunlight, there is no difference between the electricity it generates, and electricity generated by conventional means.
What most people know as a solar power system is referred to by scientists and engineers as a ‘photovoltaic system’. That name comes from the Greek ‘photo’, which means light, and ‘volt’ a unit used to measure electricity; in other words, it describes a system that turns light into electricity.
A full system is composed of several parts, the most visible being solar panels (or modules), which are themselves composed of small devices called solar cells. These cells are made of silicon, a material that exhibits the photovoltaic effect; this means that when they are exposed to light, solar cells generate an electric current. The amount of electricity generated is relatively small, but when many cells are arranged in several solar panels, they produce a considerable amount of power.
The electricity generated by the solar panels is then run through a solar inverter to convert it from direct current to alternating current, making it usable for all your power needs.
Solar Energy History
It might surprise you to learn that solar energy is not a new idea – in fact, the first working solar power system made its debut appearance on a New York City rooftop in 1884! After suffering a lull for most of the 20th century, interest in solar energy returned in the 1990s, and with that demand came a boom of technological advances that have allowed modern solar systems to leave their predecessors in the dust. Modern solar systems are much more efficient than they once were, becoming thinner and requiring fewer panels, and they’re only getting better!
Is Solar Energy Renewable?
Solar energy is completely renewable and sustainable, for the simple reason that the sun is an inexhaustible power source, continuously radiating an incredible amount of energy. How much energy? In one hour, the Sun pelts the Earth with 430 quintillion (yes, quintillion) Joules of energy, which is more than every person on the planet uses in a year combined.
In addition, solar energy systems produce no greenhouse gases as they operate. While it is true that some CO2 is produced during the manufacturing process, that amount is quickly offset by the CO2 release prevented by a household that adopts solar power. The ‘carbon debt’ of the manufacturing process is, on average, entirely paid off after three years of operation, turning the system completely carbon neutral. After three years, your solar system will actively reduce your carbon footprint for the duration of the system’s lifetime, which is over twenty years.
Solar energy is energy produced by systems that allow us to channel the power of the sun and turn it into electricity we can use to service all our energy needs. The potential of solar power to meet humanity’s energy needs has been known for over a century, and the technology has existed for just as long. Since then, steady technological advancements have made systems more and more capable and efficient. Affordable, reliable, and renewable (after all, the sun isn’t going anywhere!), solar energy is one of the best and most accessible ways to reduce both your power bill and your carbon footprint, making it an excellent choice for your family and for the planet.