Sustainability 101: Facts About Solar Energy Production that Will Surprise You
The world is getting warmer… but you might not realize it depending on where you live. In fact, you might’ve even had a really cold, hard winter, making you question all this climate “science stuff,” right?
Well, adverse and erratic climate conditions are byproducts of a warming planet. Cold winters and abnormally severe storm seasons are among the side-effects of a rise in global temperature. And, this is the end result of a rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a measurement that now stands at over 400 parts per millionth, the highest it’s ever been on the planet for the last 200 million years.
You might also be surprised to learn that roughly 97 percent of all scientists on the entire planet all agree that climate change is real. That ranks among the greatest scientific consensus in human history.
Climate change is measurable through science. And, the cause is largely due to human industrialization. Truth be told, the same scientific methodology that tells us how a smartphone works is the same process used to tell us how climate change works.
So, consider this, if you’re on the fence about climate change, or if you don’t believe climate change is real, you might as well not believe in science at all.
Fortunately, many advances in sustainable energy have been made over the last 40 years. This includes development in wind energy production, nuclear power, and hydroelectric power. But the most abundant source, the source that we cannot live without and is responsible for all life on Earth, is actually our most reliable source of renewable energy.
Solar power is the most abundant, and the most prevalent source of energy in the entire solar system, and here we’ll explore just how this can be applied in our world today.
Big facts first: There’s enough solar energy hitting the planet each hour to power the entire world for a full year.
If you think about it, if we had the technology to capture the sun’s energy for just one hour and disperse it across the planet, there would be no need for coal, oil, or fossil fuels for energy sources at all.
To put it in a smaller scale perspective, if we had a large enough field of solar panels and the means to connect this source to output stations across the United States, say a small area of solar panels in the middle of North Dakota or the Mojave desert, we’d produce more than twice the energy output of all the nation’s energy resources combined per year.
So, yes, the sun is powerful. And it’s the most abundant source of energy we have access to.
But, how are we using it?
You may have heard of the large-scale solar panel fields that can be found across the country. But, these solar panels are also being made smaller and more effective for single-family homes, apartment buildings, and commercial spaces as well.
Today, the rise in awareness and the need for environmental sustainability practices has become an attractive quality for both businesses and individuals alike. In fact, more people are willing to buy from companies that practice environmental sustainability.
Even short-term vacation rentals are seeing an increase in clicks and rental averages going up once solar panels are added as a feature of the home. This also adds to the overall value of a property and allows a property owner to charge more per month or per rental, especially if you have a reputable property management company overseeing the maintenance and overall operations of your property.
Additionally, companies like Target, Walmart, and Apple are all the top buyers of solar energy with Target being the largest, averaging 147.5 MW of solar generation, with Walmart as a close second.
As you may probably be aware, these three companies are among the largest and wealthiest in the world, and this has a good bit to do with the attractive nature of their environmentally sound business models.
Most people have scoffed at solar energy in the past because of the reported high costs associated with deploying and maintaining solar equipment. While this was the case years ago, the truth is that solar energy is actually much cheaper than fossil fuels.
Sure, the average homeowner typically doesn’t have the capital to go out to the store and buy a solar panel system for the entire home. Most of this equipment is costly, and still in the development phase to make it more affordable.
But, as a whole, solar energy production itself is far cheaper than most any other type of energy production.
To put it in simple terms, a little over 40 years ago, in 1977, the cost to make a single solar cell was 77 dollars per watt. Today, it’s estimated that it only costs less than 21 cents per watt for a single solar cell. This is a considerable difference, especially when you consider the fact that it only costs 39 cents per watt to make a full solar unit today.
On the larger scale, solar energy power only costs 4.3 cents per kilowatt to produce output sufficient for use. This is far cheaper than any modern fossil fuel-burning power plant in the world today.
Solar power largely runs on solar energy collected by a photovoltaic (PV) system. These are the solar cells that capture solar radiation and transfer it into usable energy.
In addition to having a PV system, solar energy requires the means to store and disperse the energy efficiently. The latter of which is still in the development stage for large-scale use, but is functional and cost-effective for most residential solar systems.
Though a PV and storage system are the two main components of a solar system, there are several other critical parts of this system that have to be used as well.
While you can generate power from a rooftop solar PV system and have it stored either in your personal storage system or a nearby solar installation on the power grid, you have to have the means of using it in the home as well. This is where an inverter comes into play.
An inverter is what allows the energy to be converted from direct current DC power to alternating current, AC power. AC is the most common in households across the United States, thus the need for several types of inverters depending on the solar system itself.
Types of inverter systems are as follows:
- String Inverters: Used for connecting your solar panels to an electrical outlet in the home.
- Micro-Inverters: While string inverters transfer power from the entire solar panel system to the home, micro-inverters are attached to every single solar cell, making them more effective at transferring power.
- Power Optimizers: This technology combines both the string inverter and micro-inverter into one hybrid unit and they are much more affordable.
Some inverters, particularly ones with micro-inverters and power optimizers, allow a user to track the solar output from each individual cell. This feature also allows a user to tell when a cell needs repair or replacement.
Many homeowners are surprised to learn that the solar panels responsible for capturing the energy are not simply glued or nailed to the roof, causing damage.
Depending on the pitch of your roof, and the location of your roof in relation to the path of the sun, solar panels need to be installed onto a racking system to be effective.
Racking systems allow the installer to properly angle the panels in order to absorb the maximum amount of solar energy possible. While some racking systems are stationary and can be raised or lowered manually, others are powered with hydraulic systems and can be moved, pivoted, and angled remotely.
A racking system can be elaborate as well, but this all depends on the overall design of your home and its location on the planet.
Solar energy has been met with skepticism for many years, especially concerning its practical and cost-effective application. It’s no wonder that solar energy production is often at the table of political debate, as many energy lobbyists try to keep the production and development at bay in order to facilitate more capital for fossil fuel production.
No matter the skepticism or the hype surrounding solar production, below are several facts that many simply aren’t aware of when it comes to solar energy production and implementation in the United States and around the world.
- China is the world’s leader in solar energy production.
You might think that China is the world’s biggest polluter, and this is true on a massive scale, but they also have 1 billion more people living in the country than in the United States. Regardless, in 2017, China installed over 50 GW of solar power output systems. This is enough to power over 8 million U.S. homes.
- California is the biggest producer of solar energy in the United States.
California gets nearly 20 percent of its energy from solar output facilities. In addition to this, California has produced some of the largest solar power plants in the world. And, the solar power used within the state is an amalgam of both residential rooftop systems and large-scale power collection fields.
- Nearly 40 percent of new energy production in 2016 was solar energy.
Yes, the United States is beginning to take advantage of the sun, and this was evident over five years ago, and has grown tremendously since then. This number is forecast to rise from 5 percent to 10 percent more solar power output each year for the next decade.
Some states around the country are now offering alternatives to fossil fuel usage. In Texas, if you buy or rent a home and you go to your local power company, you’ll get a list of power plans. Many of these plans are hybrids and offer both wind and solar options along with fossil fuel-generated power.
The hybrid plans offered in several states are often far cheaper during peak usage times of the year than with fossil fuel power alone. In fact, a single-family home’s average energy cost in 2018 ran just under $120 a month during the hottest months of the year.
In addition to the solar options offered in some states, homeowners with solar installations also get little perks as well.
If you have a PV system and are hooked up to the power grid for storage purposes, and if you produce more energy than you use through your solar system, the power company will cut you a check for the surplus energy that you produced.
While many Americans are just realizing the financial benefits of most sustainability measures, many people across the globe are beginning to feel the effects of climate disruption.
Today, it’s far more attractive to be environmentally conscientious and do your part to reduce your carbon footprint in whatever way possible. We all need to use energy. But, what’s good for the planet, is ultimately good for humanity. And, the sun is our biggest ally when it comes to energy production.
Today the applications for solar energy production are still being developed to deliver more energy at a faster, more cost-effective rate. And, with the pace of modern technology always advancing, it’s projected that within the next two decades we’ll have more sustainable energy output systems in place than we do fossil fuel power generation.
We can only develop better, more powerful and efficient technology from here. And, what was considered next-generation in the 1970s is now nearly considered obsolete technology.
The same will be the case in the next 40 years. One day, we’ll all look back at our smartphones from 2020 and laugh at how slow or inefficient they were; a difficult thought for anyone to wrap their mind around today by far.
The same will be true when it comes to solar energy production and equipment. It might be a little costly in the residential sector now, but just wait until a few brilliant minds put their heads together.
When it comes to technology, they often say the sky’s the limit, but, just maybe it’s the sun.
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