Americans are in growing
numbers turning to solar power as a source of energy for their homes and
businesses. Others who may be considering the use of this new technology may be
concerned about its costs and ultimate rewards. In order to determine its cost-effectiveness,
it is important to understand how solar power operates and whether it is viable
in a particular situation.
The Basics of Solar Power
This technology makes it
possible to turn sunlight into electric energy. It accomplishes this through solar
panels that are placed in areas that receive heavy exposure to sunlight.
Normally made of crystal silicon and employing either lenses or mirrows, these
panels create an electric current when exposed to the sun. In order to achieve
their maximum efficiency, the panels installed in the United States should face
to the southern sky and be separated from trees or other obstacles that will
shade them from the sunlight. A professional in the solar industry is best
qualified to determine the most suitable location of the panels. Equally
important in determining their efficiency is establishing the peak sun-hours at
the location where the panels have been installed.
Understanding Peak Sun-Hours
This figure is not the same
as the number of hours of daylight. The peak sun-hour period is the amount of
time that solar energy can be generated, specifically when the sunlight has an
intensity level of 1,000 watts within an area of one square meter. This period
will of course change during different times of the day, during different times
of the year and in different weather conditions. The period of greatest solar
radiation is obviously at noon and lower earlier and later in the day, when the
rays of the sun are filtered by the atmosphere. In terms of seasons, the summertime
is most conducive to the production of solar energy, attributable to the higher
position of the sun in the sky. The local weather is the other determining
factor, with cloudy conditions reducing the efficiency of solar panels by 25 to
Calculating Solar Efficiency
When considering the
environmental factors, the peak hours of sunlight average between three and
five a day in most areas of the United States. Fortunately, there are different
ways to determine the peak sun-hours to the degree that the information can be
used in a practical manner. An insolation map will highlight the amount of
solar energy available at a particular location, with charts having been
compiled for specific areas in North America. Additionally, an insolation meter
can be used to calculate the amount of sunlight that a specific group of solar
panels will receive. A determination of these peak sun-hours can help
businesses or homeowners decide whether solar energy is suitable for them.
Modern solar power has only been around for approximately 60 years. The discoveries that created the solar cell occurred approximately 200 years ago. It is these discoveries concerning the properties of conductivity as well as light that led to the development of modern solar power.
The photovoltaic effect was discovered by a French scientist named Edmond Becquerel in 1839. It is the process of light being absorbed by a material and causing electrical voltage to occur.
In 1873, the photoconductivity of selenium was discovered by Willoughby Smith, an English electrical engineer. This process made selenium electrically conductive and able to absorb light. In 1876, Richard Evans Day and William Grylls Adams realized selenium could produce electricity from light. It did not require any moving parts or heat. This was proof that solar power could easily be harvested and maintained.
First Solar Cell
In 1883, Charles Fritts created the first solar cell. A thin layer of gold was used to coat selenium. It had an energy conversion rate between 1 and 2 percent. Modern solar cells are between 15 and 20 percent.
Observing Photoelectric Effect
The first photoelectric effect observation took place in 1887 by a German physicist named Heinrich Hertz. Light was used to free electrons from a solid surface and then utilized to create power. Hertz discovered more power was produced with exposure to ultraviolet light and not just visible light.
Commercial Production Of Silicon Solar Cells
In 1953, Bell Laboratories physicists realized silicon provides more efficiency than selenium. This led to the creation of the first practical solar cell. It meant solar power could be used to power electrical equipment. Western Electric started selling a commercial license for Silicon PV technologies in 1956.
Solar Energy Used In Space
Solar energy had improved its efficiency so much the government used it to provide power to space exploration equipment. In 1958, the first solar-powered satellite began orbiting the earth.
Research Decreases Costs
During the 1970s, Exxon Corporation funded research able to create solar cells with cheaper materials and lower-grade silicon. This reduced the cost from $100 per watt to as low as $20 per watt.
First Solar Parks
The first solar power plant or solar park was built in 1982 at Hesperia, California. It was able to produce 1 megawatt per hour when operating at full capacity. It could provide power for a 100-kilowatt light bulb for approximately 10 hours and more. A second park was ultimately built in Carrizo Plains, California.
Creation Of Retractable RV Solar Panels
In 1995, Thomas Faludy filed a patent for a retractable awning that had solar cells integrated into it. It provided a way for solar cells to be used with recreational vehicles.
Advancements in Photovoltaic Conversion
A new solar cell was developed in 1994 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It was created from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide. The new cell had more than 30 percent conversion efficiency. This same laboratory ultimately created thin-film solar cells that had 32 percent conversion efficiency.
DIY Solar Panels.
In 2005, DIY solar panels started to be made available to consumers. They quickly became popular and today there are many ways available to make solar panels.
Flexible Printed Solar Panels
Solar cells as thin as paper started being manufactured in 2015. They are rated at a 20 percent power conversion efficiency. These strips are inexpensive to produce as well as flexible.
Discovery Of Sunless Solar Power
In 2016, a research team from the Australian National University and the University of California in Berkeley were able to discover new properties of nanomaterial. One of them was magnetic hyperbolic dispersion. This refers to a material that when heated will glow. This was combined with thermophotovoltaic cells and able to turn heat into electricity without sunlight.
There have been significant advances in solar power during the past 200 years. It started by observing the properties of light and working to find a way to convert it into usable energy. This technology continues to advance and is growing at an impressive rate.Read More
Due to the threat of climate change and electricity prices that are ever-increasing, there’s never been a better time to switch over to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. PVs have become more efficient and affordable with the advancement of technology—making them even more appealing as a way to save money on energy bills.
Before you get caught up into buying something you don’t actually need, you’ll want to do a bit of research to find out how much electricity your household needs and how PV alternatives hold up in your area.
Determine your Household’s Electricity Consumption
Get all your electricity bills from the last year together in order to estimate your typical power usage from each month. This calculation of the average electricity consumption of your household is vital because of the peaks and valleys inherent in the micro scale of things.
Total up all of the kWhs for every month of the year and divide what you get by 12 to figure out your normal monthly energy usage. Divide your monthly number by 30 to find out the kWh usage on average each day.
OPTIONAL: To assess your household’s electricity needs ever more accurately, write down each one of your appliances as well as the power usage each one consumes in wattage. Don’t forget to mark whether it’s DC or AC power.
Write down the number of hours each appliance was used per week. Multiply the hours/week by the watts to calculate how much you use each appliance by the watt-hours per week. You could also determine what the energy consumption was for specific appliances by installing an electricity monitor. Letting the monitor measures of the electricity for a week gives the watt-hours per week that we just calculated on paper.
Put the numbers you’ve gathered into a load sizing document. Go through the worksheet and enter in any leftover calculations to find out the number of amp hours you appliances used each day in total.
Find Out Insolation
You can get a solar insolation table on the internet to find out the insolation. This is a calculation of the normal number of hours the sun produces peak sunlight each day in your region. Locate the city closest to you on the table and record the daily figure’s average.
To discover the specific insolation information for specific days of the year, make use of NASA’s Atmosphere-Ocean Model.
Choosing the Best PV System
Calculate the amount of room you have to install your solar panels and how they will need to be mounted. Choose a budget that will work best for your solar system. Make sure the system you choose meets power requirements, but will fit inside your space limitations.Read More
Oregon Institute of Technology
The Bachelor of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering was created in 2005, and it was the first of its kind in North America. This program has been teaching students to implement, manage and develop sustainable energy technologies ever since. Students take courses in chemistry, math and physics as well as wind power, photovoltaics and energy management.
University of California, Berkeley
U.C. Berkeley has a Master of Business Administration in Energy and Clean Technology. This program was developed to prepare students who will be in the public policy or business sectors tackle the problems that the world has with energy. The program includes the study of fundamental, environmental and engineering science perspectives.
University of Texas at Austin
Undergraduate engineering students have the option of studying under the Energy Systems and Renewable Energy Technical Core. Those who graduate enter careers in renewable energy sources, grid operation and power systems and generation.
University of Michigan
This university’s Energy Institute gives students the option of studying sustainable systems and energy systems engineering. The energy systems engineering program prepares students to address the changing needs of the environmental and energy systems all over the world.
Students may study to receive a graduate degree or a professional certificate in renewable energy. The certificates give currently working professionals the option of expanding their knowledge and increasing their job prospects. It only requires students to devote one or two years to the program, and it can be completed online.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The energy studies minor that MIT has created gives students an education in theory as well as the hands-on experience they need. Since energy pervades every discipline, MIT added undergraduate energy to all of its programs, departments and schools.
North Carolina State University
In 1988, North Carolina State University created the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center that pays special attention to solar energy. Now, it also has a Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series in its continuing education division. Students in this program obtain professional certifications for solar heating and photovoltaics.
San Juan College
San Juan College welcomes students to take part in its renewable energy degree programs. Students have the option of obtaining certificates in renewable energy, or they may choose to study for an Associate of Applied Science degree.
Echotech is the first to offer students an educational institution that is entirely devoted to renewable energy technology. This institution is for anyone who is looking for an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in sustainable energy.
University of Massachusetts Lowell
This university offers something for everyone with a minor in sustainable energy all the way up to a doctorate in sustainable energy. Due to its research efforts, this university is at the forefront of research and development, but students receive a complete education in service learning as well.Read More
There are many things to know when it comes to the similarities and differences of rooftop solar setups and solar farms. Both are great ways to use renewable energy, but each comes with their own advantages and disadvantages, unique to the customer who chooses to utilize solar energy.
Rooftop Solar and Solar Farms
Rooftop solar setups are photovoltaic panels that are installed on the roofs of homes. Excess energy is sent to a utility grid for other customers to use. The energy is measured with two meters. One meter measures the energy generated by the panels, and the other measures the energy that is being used. Homeowners are paid for the energy they generate, and deducted for the energy that they consume.
Solar farms consist of towers rigged with solar panels. The towers are in sync with the sun, which increases energy production, and power gets put into a utility grid. Customers buy solar panels from the farm and get paid for production, and deducted for consumption.
The biggest difference bereeen the two involves the potential energy that could be produced. Limiting roof factors could make the solar farm more advantageous to some customers. Below is a list of additional things to consider.
Maintenance, Aesthetics, and Land Management
Very little maintenance is required on solar panels, though if damage is incurred on a rooftop panel, the homeowner is responsible. Solar farms minimize that inconvenience.
As for looks, solar panels are an obvious addition to a rooftop. Solar farms, on the other hand, allow homeowners to reap the benefits of solar energy without the green look.
Land management creates a philosophical dilemma for some, as the solar farm land could be allocated for agriculture or development. Rooftop solar panels, however, use space that is already unusable.
Cost and Energy Independence
The setup costs of a rooftop solar array versus owning panels on a solar farm are relatively similar. In the long run though, it has been observed that solar farms are more cost effective. According to a Brattle Group study, it was nearly half the cost for a solar farm to generate the same amount of energy of a rooftop setup.
Energy independence is only possible if customers choose rooftop setups. While solar farms are green and sustainable, customers are still dependent on an energy company.
Rooftop panels are great for people who are looking to be green, gain independence from energy companies, and save on energy bills. On the other hand, solar farms involve dependence on energy companies, but could be an even better way to further save on energy bills, while still allowing customers to be sustainable. Personal preference is key.Read More
Even if you have the knowledge that a solar energy system is going to pay for itself given enough time, it is good to reduce any costs you can up front. Other than the federal Investment Tax Credit—allowing you to obtain a 30% credit for certain installation and equipment expenses—numerous incentives are offered on municipal, state and utility bases.
Prior to the purchase of any solar energy system, be sure to review our Solar Rebates and our Tax Forms 101. Checking out our record of the best tax credits, incentive plans, and rebates available in your state is a smart idea as well. Also make sure that you skim over our guide to picking a proper solar installer.
A financing plan to make your building more energy efficiency is the AlabamaWISE Home Energy Program. It includes loans from $2,500-$15,000 and an interest rate of 1%. One plan that gives you a set amount (usually the typical retail price) for each kWh produced by an enrollee’s renewable energy arrangement is the ones offered by TVA Green Power Providers.
Incentivized price cuts depending on your solar power generation per kWh is offered through the Sustainable Natural Alternative Power (SNAP) Plan.
A Small Building Materials Loan is also available for a maximum of $100,000 that applicants can use when they finish or renovate a piece of property placed in a “small community.”
A solar energy credit that reaches a maximum of 25% of the price of your device or a maximum of $1,000 is also available. It is called the Residential Solar and Wind Energy Systems Tax Credit.
There is a sales tax exemption for those who sell solar energy arrangements in retail circumstances. This also applies to the price of installation from the contractor. It’s designated as the Solar and Wind Equipment Sales Tax Exemption.
$0.05 per watt is incentivized with a system capacity of 50 kW at most. It stops at $2,500 and is included in the Mohave Electric Cooperative Renewable Energy Incentive Plan.
A tax credit is offered on qualified systems that were installed on or after December 31 of 2010. It is dependent upon the level of electricity generated every year in a ten-year time frame. This is called the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit.
Arkansas currently doesn’t permit the use of public-purpose-funded energy plans for efficiency. The state does implement metering for totals that are based on guidelines supported by firms such as Entergy Arkansas.
A property tax exclusion for the complete total of a solar energy arrangement’s price is available for particular kinds of systems established between January 1 of 1999-December 31 of 2024.Read More
Check out our interesting list of solar energy facts.
Solar Power 101
1. Solar panels capture the sun’s rays creating energy.
2. Panels use photovoltaic cells to capture electrons.
3. Photovoltaic cells are made of silicone.
4. Sunlight will reach a panel in just over eight minutes.
5. Panels need to face south in the U.S.
6. Solar power is measured in watts.
7. Panels have a capacity of 200 to 250-watts.
8. Panels generate up to ten kilowatts of power per square foot.
9. An average home uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
10. Solar power can replace other energy sources.
11. You can save excess power for cloudy days.
12. Panels don’t require direct sunlight.
13. Panels will work when the sun starts burning helium.
14. 191,000 square miles of panels would power Earth entirely.
Carbon Footprint Advantages
15. It’s the cleanest and most renewable resource available.
16. Its operation produces zero air pollution.
17. There’s also zero noise pollution.
18. Emission releasing coal isn’t involved.
19. It can reduce a home’s pollution by over 100 tons.
20. It get cheaper every year, falling 80% since 2008.
21. The average cost of solar power is about 12 cents per kilowatt.
22. Solar cells are priced per watt.
23. Installation costs are around $10,000.
24. After installation, it’s free.
25. You can rent them.
26. They usually have a 25-year warranty.
27. You can sell excess energy.
28. Some states offer financial incentives.
29. It pays for itself quickly.
30. You wouldn’t have an electric bill.
31. The panels are usually exempt from property taxes.
32. The IRS offers a tax break.
33. Solar energy will last as long as the sun does.
34. We currently produce more solar energy than we consume.
35. California produces the most solar power.
36. Las Vegas operates entirely on green energy sources.
37. Pollution is limiting solar power’s availability.
38. The first American city to go 100% green was Burlington, Vermont.
39. Over 260,000 Americans work in the solar energy field.
40. One panel is installed every 8 seconds.
41. A solar powered aircraft is being studied by NASA.
42. China uses the most solar energy in the world.
43. Arizona and California are blazing the path for solar energy.
44. 1366 watts of energy reaches every square meter of Earth.
45. It was discovered in 1839, by Alexandre Edmond Becquerel.
46. In 1954, Bell Laboratories produced the first photovoltaic cell.
47. In 1956, it was available publicly.
48. We saw solar powered calculators in 1978.
49. A 22.1% efficiency rate was reached by one green company in 2016.
50. Exxon Mobile is paving the way for solar energy realization.Read More
In the last two decades, solar power has become more and more popular as a trustworthy source of renewable energy. Innovations such as solar roof tiling have made it even more cost-effective and accessible in this day and age.
We’re going to be looking more into a few of the benefits solar roof tiling provides, some of the drawbacks and the best brands out there as well in this article.
Solar Tile Benefits
Made to match conventional roof tiling, solar roof tiles—also known as solar shingles—are narrow photovoltaic (PV) sheets that take the place or lay atop shingles already in place. Similar to solar paneling, solar roof shingles take in the energy from the sunlight and can be used in any environment or climate.
Solar tiles take up less space than conventional solar panels and are similar in size to regular roofing shingles—roughly 12 inches wide and 86 inches long. They weigh approximately 13 lbs/sq ft. The shingles are usually less than one inch in thickness and a traditional installation is typically 350 tiles.
A lot of PV tiles are slim film solar cells (TFSC) produced from a semiconductor, copper indium gallium selenide, that provides the cells with thin and flexible characteristics. The material is proven to have one of the best efficiency rates when it comes to conversion—coming to an average of around 10–12%.
Different brands will make use of a naturally occurring semiconductor utilized in the computer chip manufacturing, monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si). Mono-Si cells carry an average efficiency rate of 15–20%, but they’re more expensive overall.
Depending on what type of shingle you purchase as well as the brand, the power your solar shingles generate is going to vary. The majority of shingling makes between 13-63 watts. 350 shingles can reduce the regular utility bill by 40-70% according to some projections. Every system is going to require an energy inverter equipment to control the power the cells capture.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Roof Shingles
Although people who want to save the world—and a bit of money on electric bills—might find that reason enough to buy solar tiles, a few pros and cons should be considered before anyone proceeds to the installation phase. The following provides you with a few points to remember before you re-shingle your entire house with PV cells.
One main advantage solar shingle systems provide as opposed to solar paneling is the inherent aesthetic charm. Solar panels have the potential to be bulky and noticeably due to how much they stick out from rooftops, while shingles are intended to coincide with the existing roofing.Read More
Camping is a beloved hobby that can be enjoyed all year round. Make those camping trips convenient and safe by purchasing these 10 solar-powered camping gadgets.
Solar-Powered Backpack With A Charger
Electronics will stay charged while out on a hiking and camping trip by purchasing a solar-capable backpack that doubles as a charger.
Pros: Powerful, comes in a variety of colors, and lots of storage.
With a solar-powered oven, meals can be cooked effectively and deliciously without the need of a campfire.
Pros: Creates high heat, collapsible, and has a working thermometer.
Cons: A tad expensive.
Lanterns that run on solar power will function on pure sunlight, unlike other laterns that require expendable fuel and/or batteries.
Pros: It’s waterproof, provides pleasant lighting, and has a convenient carrying strap.
Cons: None at this time.
Getting a warm and thorough shower while camping isn’t a challenge when a solar-powered shower is packed with the rest of the camping gear.
Pros: It heats water quickly, has a large capacity with a low flow, and possesses a convenient carrying handle.
Cons: It is heavy when full of water.
Have access to light whenever it is needed without worrying about dead batteries with a solar-powered flashlight.
Pros: It provides a bright light, can be charged with solar power or an AC charger, and is affordable.
Cons: Only lasts for four hours at full power.
Relaxing to a playlist of favorite tunes during a camping trip is easier than ever with solar-powered speakers.
Pros: Bluetooth compatibility, water-resistant, and affordable.
Cons: None at this time.
Solar-Powered USB Charger
Charge phones, tablets, e-readers, and other electronics during a camping trip with a solar-powered USB charger.
Pros: Affordable, lightweight, and high-density power storage.
Cons: Not available in a lot of colors.
Keep drinks and perishable foods fresh and cool during a camping trip by investing in a solar-powered cooler.
Pros: Can be charged with solar or electric and has multiple temperature settings.
Cons: Very expensive and the solar panel must be purchased separately.
Solar Water Purifier
Have fresh, clean drinking water at all times with a solar water purifier.
Pros: Reusable filter, large capacity, and quick water treatment.
Cons: A tad bit expensive.
Solar-Powered Emergency Radio
Access to emergency announcements regarding dangerous weather or wild animal sightings is invaluable to campers and outdoorsmen to remain safe and aware.
Pros: Available in multiple sizes, compact, and affordable.
Cons: No color variety.Read More
If you are looking to purchase solar panels for your home, you probably want to know which companies in America are the best. Here are the top 4 companies:
Founded in 2007, Sunrun is the number one solar panel company in the country, with in excess of 100,000 customers and an A+ rating from both the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Angie’s List. In addition to outright purchases of equipment, they also offer solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) with 0% down and 20% energy savings.
The company operates in the following states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- South Carolina
2. Vivint Solar
Vivint Solar has been selling solar panels since 2011 and has made close to a million installations. The second largest solar panel company in the United States, the company also offers home security and automation systems. They offer sales, leases and energy savings of up 30%.
The company operates in the following states:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- South Carolina
3. NRG Home Solar
Backed by a Fortune 200 company, NRG Home Solar does not offer PPAs but does offer 0% down lease-to-own solar panels and they will not only install them without cost but will also take care of designing, engineering and permits.
The company operates in the following states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
SunPower has been offering solar panels for more than 30 years and have more than a half million customers. Over the years, they have accumulated 600 solar technology patents. Their panels have cells that produce 55% more energy, and they provide homeowners with apps that allow them to monitor energy use. While they do not offer PPAs, they do offer buying, leasing and financing options.
The company operates in every state but the following:
- District of Columbia
- North Dakota