Are you considering going solar?

Since the year 2008, thousands of solar panels have popped up across the United States as Americans are choosing to harness the power of the sun in order to run their households.  The cost of going solar has declined significantly, and continues to do so.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solar solution, here are some resources to help you decide if going solar is right for you.

Let’s get started!

What is Solar Energy?

According to the Online Dictionary, Solar Energy (noun) is radiant energy emitted by the sun.

In other words, solar power is the energy produced from the sun, then converted into electrical energy or thermal energy.

Solar power is the cleanest, most abundant renewable energy source available. And, in the U.S., solar resources are among some of the richest available in the world. This energy can be harnessed by solar technologies, and be used for a variety of things, including providing light, generating electricity, heating water and more. Solar energy can be used to power domestic, commercial or industrial buildings.

How does Solar Power work?

The sun is a natural nuclear reactor that releases small packets of energy, known as photons. Photons travel from the sun to earth (93 million miles) in under nine minutes. Each hour, these photons generate enough solar energy to, theoretically, satisfy all global energy needs for an entire year.

This is when solar panels come into play. When the photons hit a solar cell, they knock electrons loose from their atoms. If conductors are attached to both the positive and negative sides of a cell, it will form an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they naturally generate electricity.

Multiple cells make up a solar panel, and multiple solar panels (or modules) can be wired together to form a solar array. The more panels you can deploy, the more energy you can expect to generate.

What are Solar Panels Made Of?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are made up of many small solar cells. These solar pv cells are usually made up of silicon, like semiconductors. Due to the fact that solar panels are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, together they create an electric field, just like a battery does.

How do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?

PV solar panels work by generating direct current (DC) electricity. DC electricity works by the flow of electrons in the same direction around a circuit. These electrons move from negative to positive, generating a current of electricity.

AC (altering current) electricity works by pushing and pulling electrons, periodically reversing their direction, similar to the cylinder in a car’s engine.

The U.S. electrical power grid chose to use AC electricity, primarily due to the fact that it is less costly to transmit over long distances. That said, solar panels generate DC electricity. So, how exactly do we get DC electricity into an AC based grid? By using a specialized inverter.

A solar inverter has the ability to take DC electricity from a solar array and convert it into AC electricity. Think of the inverter as the “brains of the operation”. Without this technology, we would not be able to take advantage of the power of the sun for electricity.

Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels: Why Switch to Solar?

More than 80 percent of America relies on natural gas, petroleum and coal together as a main source of energy. So, why is everyone switching to solar power?

Although fossil fuels provide powerful and reliable energy, they are a limited resource and will eventually run out. For example, the gasoline you burned driving in to work today took millions of years to harvest, but you used it up in just a few minutes. Once you’ve burned a gallon of gas, there’s one less gallon to go around. In addition, all three forms of fossil fuel must be mined or extracted from under the ground – proving to be a dangerous task, an expensive, too.

Environmental Impacts of Solar Energy

When it comes to environmental impact, solar power is a much more optimal resource than fossil fuels. There is some environmental impact in the manufacture of solar energy. There are a few toxic compounds used in their fabrication, and large solar farms may disrupt the habitat of their locales. However, the net environmental impact of solar power systems is quite small, making solar power a source of very clean energy compared to fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels, while they are consistently reliable, cause significant damage to the environment during their collection and transport. But even more concerning, fossil fuel combustion generates a large amount of environmental toxins. As if that weren’t enough, these fuels also produce massive volumes of carbon dioxide, a gas which plays a big influence in global climate change.

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Solar Energy Systems: Which is Right for Me?

There are several different ways you can harness solar energy, including: solar heating and cooling, photovoltaics, concentrating solar power and passive solar.

The first three of those listed are considered to be active solar systems.

Active Solar System

Active solar systems use mechanical or electrical devices to convert the sun’s heat or light, into another form of usable energy.

Passive Solar Buildings

Passive solar buildings were created and designed to collect, store and distribute the heat energy from sunlight, in order to maintain the comfort of the occupants inside, without the use of moving electronics or parts.

Cost of Solar Power: Savings, Costs & Incentives

The ROI (Return On a Solar Investment)

When calculating the ROI of going solar, there are several factors that play a part in your return on investment. These factors include which plot is available for infrastructure, the location you live in, and the amount of solar radiation per year you’ll be using. For example, if you live in a location that is large enough to accommodate polycrystalline panels, that type of infrastructure would produce the same output as monocrystalline panels would, at a savings of 10 to 25%.

As far as long term investments are concerned, the value of a solar installation will largely depend on how it is financed. When you buy the system upfront, you’ll yield the best ROI. However, even a $0-down payment solar loan would provide a savings of around $10,000 or more.

Power purchase agreements (PPAs) or solar leases through community solar programs offer significantly lower savings – somewhere between 10 and 30% of the average home’s electric bill.

All that said, a solar panel system pays for itself within 8 years (on average). So, if you purchased mono or poly solar panels with a 25-year life span, you could easily yield 17 years of cost savings on electric expenses.

Cost of Solar Panels

In the solar industry, the cost of solar panels is generally calculated using dollars per watt.

In 2018, the average installation cost for homeowners was between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt. The gross cost of a solar project averages to around $16,000, before tax credits are applied. So, if you assume your household would need 5 kilowatts (kW) of power, your solar panels would cost you anywhere from $10,045 to $13,475 after tax credits have been applied.

Solar Incentives & Rebates

Since solar incentives and rebates have been introduced, many households have had the opportunity to take advantage of solar energy.

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