Solar: A Cleaner Future
What is Solar Energy?
Simply put, solar energy is light that is emitted by the sun. By using solar panels, this energy – also known as electromagnetic radiation – can be collected and used directly, or stored in batteries for later use. Depending on where you live in the world, you may get exposed to more or less potential solar energy throughout the year.
How Does Solar Power Work?
The most widespread way that solar energy is collected and stored is by using photovoltaic cells, or PV for short. A solar panel is comprised of multiple individual PV cells organized into an array. When solar energy hits the surface of a PV cell, it excites it and causes electricity to flow through it. This electricity can be directed through an inverter and then stored into a battery.
How Much Power Does a Solar Panel Produce?
That can be a hard question to answer. Really, it depends on the size and composition of the panel. Most residential panels can produce anywhere from 250 to 400 watts. This can vary based on how efficient the panels themselves are, as well as how much sun the panels are exposed to during the course of a day. To put that in perspective, a 50 inch LED TV uses about 90 watts to operate continuously. When you start to consider how much power an entire household consumes on a given day, the need for multiple panels is inevitable. In many cases, homeowners use a small solar power system and take the rest of what they need from the existing power grid.
What If I Consume Less Power than My System Produces?
To determine consumption, your household power usage is measured by a Net Meter. This breaks down your overall power usage and which source the power is provided by. In some cases, you might not need all of the power that your solar energy system provides. When this happens, your system will feed your surplus power into the grid. By taking some of the strain off of the power company, you actually get a credit from them!
What Are the Best Batteries for Solar Power Storage?
This depends on how you define “best”. Just like the batteries you put in your remote, there are options of which battery type to use.
This is the type of battery you will find under the hood of your gasoline powered car. Tried and true, lead acid batteries are relatively low priced and have a high capacity. Unfortunately, lead acid batteries have the shortest lifespan of the bunch. You will most likely need to replace them more often than more expensive types, possibly costing you more in the long run.
This is the type of battery used in electric cars and smartphones. They have higher storage and discharge efficiency than lead acid and have a longer lifespan. You will pay more for these up front, but will need to replace them less.
One of the biggest issues with lithium ion and lead acid batteries is what to do with them once they need to be replaced. They aren’t easy to recycle, and mining the raw materials to produce them is damaging to the environment in most cases. Saltwater cells aim to change that. Instead of using acids to store the energy your panels produce, a salt solution is used. This is much easier to recycle when the time comes. Saltwater cells land in the middle between lead acid and lithium ion in terms of lifespan. Because they are still new to the market, saltwater cells are more expensive than lithium ion. As their use becomes more widespread and the technology develops more, the price should comedown.
There are more resources below regarding solar power. The overwhelming conclusion is that it is the future of energy efficiency and sustainability.
Energy.gov | How Does Solar Work
Energysage | How do Solar Panels Work
CertainTeed | How Solar Energy Works