Solar Power: The Future is Bright

Solar Power: The Future is Bright

Madison Ross

In recent years, climate-consciousness has made its way into mainstream media and culture. More and more people care about the kind of impact they leave on the environment, and the government has even begun incentivizing renewable energy or waste reduction in homes and businesses. It’s even become more common to see solar panels on the roofs of homes as you drive through neighborhoods. These panels are a great, and ever more popular, way for homeowners to reduce their home’s carbon footprint: the sun will never run out of energy, so its energy is arguably the ultimate renewable resource. But, how does harvesting this energy work?

There are three main methods of harvesting solar energy: photovoltaics (PV), solar heating and cooling (SHC), and concentrating solar power (CSP). PV uses solar panels, SHC is most often used to heat water for residential and commercial use, and CSP is most often used for utility-scale projects. Photovoltaics, the kind of technology that homeowners rely on to power their homes, converts radiation from the sun into a direct current, which is then converted into an alternating current for use. PV solar uses solar panels, either on rooftops or in large fields or on those dancing plastic flowers your 4th-grade teacher had in the windowsill, and these panels are made up of solar cells. Solar cells are tiny units, only a millimeter or two thick, that convert radiation from the sun into energy. These cells form larger solar panels: made of a conductive metal base, two layers of silicon, another conductive metal, and topped with glass to protect the system from the elements.

Solar panels are a great way to harvest an incredibly valuable resource. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, all of the world’s energy needs for just under a year could be fueled by the amount of solar energy that hits the Earth’s surface in only an hour. So, why doesn’t it? Why isn’t the whole world running on solar? It’s abundant, renewable, and won’t hurt the environment in the same way that fossil fuels do. 

There are a few problems with solar energy. For one, it can be expensive to implement: some residential solar systems can cost up to $50,000 to install. Solar panels last 25-30 years and do have a level of degradation over time, meaning this large sum is not a one-time thing. However, once installed, there are very few maintenance-related costs to solar panel owners: actually, the panels save homeowners money, which they would have been paying to electric companies for natural gas or fossil fuel-based electricity. State governments have also implemented programs to help alleviate the installation costs for homeowners looking to go solar, to encourage the use of this green energy.

So, if you are someone who has become interested in reducing their home’s carbon footprint: consider solar!