Interesting Facts About Solar Energy You May Not Know
What do you know about solar power? If you’re like most people, you can probably identify solar panels, and know that they collect energy from the sun for electricity, but little more beyond that.
Don’t worry – you aren’t alone. But if you read on, you’ll learn interesting facts about solar energy – and maybe even be inspired to make the switch yourself.
The History of Solar Energy
Since the beginning of time, the sun has been considered a source of power for the Earth. While most of us think of solar power as the primary form of energy from the sun, the nearest star is also the primary source of non-renewable fossil fuels (coal, gas and petroleum) which began life as plants and animals millions of years ago.
That being said, the idea of using the sun to create immediate energy has roots more than 27 centuries ago. As early as 700 B.C., humans used glass lenses to magnify the sun’s rays to create fire. It wasn’t until 1839, though, that Alexandre Edmond Becqueral, a French physicist, uncovered the potential of solar power. Thanks to his special interest in studying light, he is credited with discovering the photovoltaic effect, or the process of creating an electrical current when the sun’s rays.
Despite Becqeral’s discovery, it wasn’t until 100 years later that the solar cell was invented by Russell Ohl – and the first commercially available photovoltaic cell didn’t appear until 1954, thanks to Bell Laboratories. These solar cells were available for public purchase two years later, but were too expensive for the average homeowner to afford, at $300 for a one-watt solar cell. Today, a solar panel costs about $7-9 per watt, which is actually an 80 percent decrease since 2008.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the idea of solar energy really caught on, spurred in large part by the Energy Crisis of 1970. At this time, ExxonMobile became one of the first companies to invest in research to find ways to lower solar cost; at the time, the energy giant was using solar panels to power the warning lights on its oil rigs. Solar still didn’t catch on as an alternative to other forms of energy until the last few decades, though, as prices have steadily declined.
Today, there are more than 1.3 million solar installations in the U.S. alone, counting both commercial and residential markets. Tax credits and net metering, which allows residents to receive electric bill credits for the amount of solar energy they use have contributed to the
significant growth, as well as state laws that require investments in solar and other forms of renewable energy. Taking into account the cost of installation, a homeowner can expect to save anywhere from $10,000-$30,000 in energy costs over 20 years.
Who Is Using Solar?
Unsurprisingly, the two sunniest states – California and Arizona – produce and consume more solar energy than any other states. In fact, California regularly produces more solar energy than it can actually consume. Other states that produce significant amount of solar energy include Utah, Nevada, North Carolina and New Jersey. And as you might expect, the states with the fewest installations are in the upper plains (the Dakotas, Montana, etc.) where there simply aren’t enough sunny days to make solar power a viable replacement for other resources.
Solar power isn’t limited to individual homes, either. Many cities, especially in sunny states, are turning to the sun to power municipal resources. Las Vegas is the largest city to operate on 1100 percent renewable resources (which includes solar, hydropower, wind, and landfill gases), but other cities, including Burlington, Vermont and Aspen, Colorado, have also achieved 100 percent renewable energy. Dozens of other cities across the country have also committed to transitioning to renewable power.
The U.S. isn’t the only country turning to the sun for power, though. China actually has more solar power wattage than any other country, producing a whopping 130.4 giga watts electricity annually. The U.S. is number two, followed by Japan, India, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Australia and Pakistan. And yet, although solar energy is widely used and accepted as a source of energy, it still only provides a small fraction of the world’s total energy supply, despite the fact that the sun provides more than enough energy each year to supply enough energy for the entire planet.
How Solar Power Works
We know solar energy is powerful, but how exactly does it work?
Every day, every square meter of our planet receives around 1,366 watts of direct solar radiation. To become electricity, though, that radiation must be captured and converted. That’s where the photovoltaic cells come in. At the risk of oversimplifying, solar panels contain photovoltaic cells that cause a reaction between photons and electrons. Photons (the light rays from the sun) collide with electrons, knocking them loose from the atom. Those electrons are then collected and turned into electricity.
Therefore, installing solar power for your home power needs requires several solar panels, an inverter, a charge regulator, a battery and wiring to transmit the captured electricity to your home. Over the course of the day, the panels absorb the sunlight, which is then converted to electricity by the system. The more panels and sunlight you have, the more power you can produce. For times when there is less sunlight, such as at night or on overcast days, the battery picks up the slack and uses stored electricity to power your home.
Pollution and Solar Power
Solar power is attractive as a renewable resource because it does not produce any pollution apart from what occurs during the manufacture of the panels. Also, unlike other forms of energy (including wind and hydro) solar power doesn’t produce any noise pollution. However, pollution in the atmosphere can affect how efficiently solar panels work. When pollution obscures the sun’s rays and keeps light from reaching the panels, they do not produce as much power.
That being said, transitioning to solar power is actually a good way to reduce pollution. When a home transitions to solar power, it can potentially reduce its carbon dioxide production by as much as 100 tons, improving the air quality both now and in the future.
These are just some of the fascinating facts about solar power that you may not have previously known. Did anything surprise you? If you are interested in exploring how solar power can transform your home and energy bills be sure to contact Fusion Power for more information.