What Is Solar?
Any form of power that relies on solar quite literally comes directly from the sun’s core. Despite being more widely available than any other type of harnessable power, believe it or not, less than 10% of the world’s total energy is coming from the sun at present. This is mainly due to the high cost of processing its energy. Or that is to say, that was the case for a long time.
It’s luckily now possible to access this abundant and endlessly renewable means of energy at an accessible price for the first time in decades. But exactly what is solar energy? And why is it something you should take notice of? The goal of this article is to explain everything there is to know about it, how it works, and precisely what it is.
Definition of Solar Energy
To start with, what is the definition of solar energy? – “Radiant energy, emitted by the sun.”
Anything that powers itself using solar then purely relies on the sun to make it operate. It turns out that the process behind converting the sun’s rays into something that we can harness is quite intricate and requires intricate equipment to perform in turn. As with anything, the creation of this equipment was costly at first, but the manufacturing process has been refined over the years and the costs reduced.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Based on what you’ve read so far, you already know that we make use of the sun to access this form of energy. But how do we get it? What is it, and how do we make it work? It begins with the sun. Imagine a giant nuclear reactor full of atoms containing endless energy. That’s what the sun is, and it functions in largely the same way.
Inside the sun, there is a constant flow of renewable energy being created. It’s the sun’s rays that carry this energy in the form of something called photons. These photons are like lines of energy being shot out by the sun that then reach earth in the form of rays of light and heat. To make them usable, we need to introduce something called a solar cell to a surface.
When a photon strikes a solar cell, atoms then get separated from electrons (both of which are contained in photon rays). Then, all we need to do is introduce conductors into the mix to attach to the negative and positive aspects of a cell, and we then have a working electrical circuit. There are a few different versions of solar energy configurations and installations available to us depending on our requirements.
Solar Energy Types
We might know what solar energy is, but what is solar energy harnessed with? And what’s going to be the most useful configuration for you? Let’s take a look.
- Thin film variety solar cells
The thin film variety solar cells offer a fantastic platform to creatively weave solar energy harnessing into ordinary home setups without having to erect invasive exterior structures.
These thin films contain solar cells that offer up to 15% effectiveness in converting incoming sun rays into working electricity. Common uses are on building windows, where they can be naturally woven into existing window / privacy film. Because they’re lightweight, strips can also be added to inconspicuous locations almost anywhere on the exterior of a building non-invasively.
- Solar powered water heating
Using a storage tank, specially treated tubes, and an exterior solar powered collector, you can heat water using photons from the sun. This is a viable alternative to traditional water heating methods, and in the long run, costs a great deal less once the initial installation has been completed.
As rays enter the exterior collector, they are used to heat the water it contains before the water is then sent through the connected tubes and into an interior storage tank for distribution.
- Photovoltaic solar systems
Easily the most common means of harnessing solar energy, these systems have been in place for decades. A typical photovoltaic array measures several metres long and wide. Several are needed to power a house, whereas for large businesses, you’d need hundreds interlinked in the form of a small or large-scale solar farm.
These arrays work in exactly the same way as described previously, by splitting atoms from electrons and harnessing them with the introduction of conductors.
- Solar power plants
Though they are a relatively new development in the grand scheme of solar history, power plants are being introduced that run almost exclusively on solar power. This obviously has very positive connotations when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas omissions, as existing plants that operate primarily on fossil fuels can emit incredibly hazardous levels of omissions.
There are a few means by which a plant of this type can harness photons, but at their core, it’s the sun’s rays that ultimately sustain the turnover of electricity in a solar plant.
- Passive heating
Rather than relying on fossil fuels to create heat, through placing our windows in certain locations on a building or treating our floors with specialist coatings, we can maximise the impact of incoming photons to enhance heat within interior living spaces naturally using solar energy.
This practice has been followed for hundreds of years, but modern advances in technology are making it more and more efficient.
Instead of relying purely on boilers and intricate pipe work for heating, we can simply make use of the heat that freely flows from the sun’s core in its pure form to accommodate our needs.
True Cost of Solar Energy
We’ve now reached one of the most burning questions on many individuals minds. What is solar power going to cost you? The good news is that installation costs have fallen over 70% since 2006, so it’s now easier than ever to get your hands on solar power.
The bad news is that, on average, it’s going to take roughly eight years for your solar panels to start paying for themselves. But this “bad news” isn’t as bad as it sounds, because the average life span on monocrystalline solar installations is 25 years.
This means that you’re likely to get 17 year’s worth of energy out of them once all costs have been factored. Realistically, that isn’t bad at all. You may opt for a cheaper polycrystalline installation or the thin film cell variant, which both cost less up front, but their efficiency ratings are lower.
The typical way to calculate installation costs is via the dollars per watt formula. This usually leads to a cost of roughly $2.87 to as much as $3.85 per watt on average. This means that the gross cost for most (assuming it’s an average household requiring 5KW of energy) installations is likely to be around $16,800.
Because solar energy is the “desirable” source for the planet thanks to it not feeding into our omissions, there are luckily many government and rebate schemes available to assist those who wish to switch to this energy type. With credits and rebates applied, you may realistically pay in the vicinity of $10,000 to $14,000 for a monocrystalline installation.
How Much Do DIY Solar Panel Systems Cost?
If you’re practically minded and skilled, then you don’t have to rely on a company to install a solar array for you. You can purchase self-installation solar kits that come packing everything you’ll need for a home install, and they are a very cost effective way to start harnessing solar power efficiently and economically.
So, what does solar energy mean concerning costs for the more practically minded individuals out there who can efficiently turn their hands to DIY? On average, after rebates or credits mounting to an average of 30% have been applied to the overall cost of the panel purchase, you’re going to pay roughly $7,800 (minus contractor costs). This is obviously a substantial saving of around $3,000 based on the outlay mentioned in the previous section.
If you’ve been curious about using this power in your home or workplace, or about what it is, then we hope that we’ve helped you to understand this technology and how it works in greater detail.
It’s worth noting that the increasing diversity and economic viability of solar products on offer means that you can choose to power either one or several elements of your interior space via solar power, whether it’s heating, water, or electricity.
This is part of what makes solar energy green. It can be used to fuel every aspect of our energy demands without having a negative impact on the atmosphere. Good luck in your pursuit of effective energy and we hope that you choose solar from now on for a lifetime of safe, reliable, renewable and highly efficient day-to-day comfort and functionality.