You believe that making a move to solar is a good idea, but where do you start? How do you, as an investor, homeowner or community even embark on a solar energy project or installation?
There are countless websites, publications and studies dedicated to solar energy and no shortage of information. At the same time, all of the opinions and data can make the process of beginning a solar energy project or installation seem overwhelming.
To get you started, we have provided answers to seven (7) of the most common questions about solar energy projects. We have also provided links to additional resources, for more information on a specific topic. And if you have more questions, we at Sunrise Energy Ventures are always here to help.
What is solar energy and how does it work?
Solar energy is energy from the sun. The energy is used to create solar power by converting it to electricity. The sun can also be used to heat a liquid (like warming water for your home).
There are three main applications for solar:
- Solar energy can be converted to electricity that can be used to power the appliances in your home. This is known as photovoltaic (PV).
- Solar energy can also be used in geo thermal applications, where the sun warms or cools a liquid (like the water in your home). This is known as solar heating and cooling (SHC).
- The third application for solar is called concentrating solar power or CSP—used to heat a steam turbine or in another large-scale application.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on PV, the most common solar. If Visit here for details on SHC or CSP.
You have no doubt seen the familiar blue solar panels installed on homes and buildings and also in large scale solar “farms” where several acres of solar panels are strung together.
In each of these cases, solar panels or photovoltaic panels harness the energy from the sun.
They do so by capturing the current from the sun, known as “direct current” or DC electricity.
This electricity flows through the panels down to an inverter, which then converts the DC electricity into “alternating current” or AC electricity that can be used on the appliances in your home. Solar farms work the same, but are connected to and feed the energy directly into the electrical grid, which then supply the energy to communities through local suppliers.
For more information, including a diagram and pictures, please visit: http://www.solarreviews.com/solar-energy/how-does-solar-energy-work/
And here: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/how-solar-panels-work#.WZID9q3Mxo4
To understand the opportunity that we have with solar energy, it’s fascinating to note that according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, just 18 days of sunshine contains the same amount of energy as all of our entire reserves or natural gas, coal and oil!
This makes solar a great alternative to the diminishing resources that we rely on today. The harnessing, output and byproducts of the acquisition and use of these resources is also responsible for threats to our health, the environment and global warming. The sun has been shining for 4.6 billion years and shows no signs of quitting—it’s abundant. Not to mention it’s free, and it’s clean.
Read here for many more reasons why Solar is Good For Communities, and learn more about the detrimental effects of fossil fuels.
Can solar save me money?
To harness solar energy, there is an initial cost to adding solar panels to your home or community.
According to the Energy Sage:
In 2017, most homeowners are paying between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt to install solar, and the average gross cost of solar panels before tax credits is $16,800. Using the U.S, average for system size at 5 kW (5000 watts), solar panel cost will range from $10,045 to $13,475 (after tax credits).
That’s nine percent lower than it was a year ago, and solar panel system costs are continuing to fall. However, to really understand what a single solar panel will cost and what a complete solar system will cost, it’s important to compare prices quoted to homeowners in your area – total costs can vary depending on the state that you live in.
Learn what state level incentives are available to you.
However, when you consider: 1) The many benefits to the environment, 2) The benefits to public health and, 3) The decreased reliance on other often-unstable nations to provide natural resources, the initial cost to add solar to a can be easily justified.
Along with the dropping price of solar panels and the federal and state incentives, solar continues to become less expensive. Furthermore, solar energy is nearly free once you are connected, so you will credit back your initial investment with cost savings on electrical bills over time. If you have net metering in your area, you can feed electricity back to the grid when you have an overabundance, actually moving your meter backwards.
There are several cost-savings calculator that are available to find out the cost to install panels on your home and the savings you can realize based on where you live. Due to the varying amounts of sunlight (weather and geographical location), it’s important to use a calculator for your location.
A few website are listed below:
This article offers a good overview of commercial solar cost incentives: http://businessfeed.sunpower.com/articles/written-blog-breaking-down-commercial-solar-panel-costs
What is the ongoing maintenance?
Solar PV panels have very few moving parts, which means they require very little maintenance. The panels are constructed with tempered glass, making them extremely durable against weather threats like hail and ice. The average life span is 25-30 years.
As well, solar panels have long warranties averaging 25 years, offering further protection. When solar panels are leased, any costs will go to the lessor.
In areas with large amounts of dust and debris, it is advisable to clean the glass regularly to maximize output. In areas with snow, there is little concern as the glass heats up quickly, melting snow. Additionally, panels are constructed at an angle in snowy climates so the snow will fall off as it melts.
What happens on cloudy days? How about at nighttime?
Although solar panels work best on bright sunny days, they work on cloudy days—they do not need direct sunlight in order to harness the sun’s energy. They do need light, however, so they will capture energy during the nighttime.
Though estimates vary on how much energy solar panels can produce on cloudy days (taking into account varying degrees of density in cloud cover), according to the Energy Sage solar panels generate 10-25% of maximum output.
According to UnderstandSolar.com, clouds can sometimes increase output, since panels receive light through clouds as well as reflected light, caused by clouds. Read more here:
Although solar panels will not produce electricity during the nighttime, the industry is addressing the issue in two ways: storage and net metering. Both of these solutions have the potential to capture energy when it is most available, saving it and making it available for the times when it is not.
Storage systems are becoming more widely available and allow an array to feed its extra electricity into a battery that can store it for use when panels are not producing electricity. This is an exciting and developing area for the solar industry.
Net metering allows homeowners and communities to feed excess electricity back into the electrical grid—these homes receive grid-connected electricity during nighttime hours.
How does solar help the environment?
Harnessing energy from the sun is clean and helps the environment by decreasing our reliance on traditional methods of powering our world: natural gas, coal and oil – collectively known as fossil fuels. The resources that we have depended on for so long have caused harm to the environment through oils spills, damage to pristine natural landscapes, and our water supplies. They have also contributed to global warming and have led to numerous conditions that are harmful to our health.
According to the EPA:
When fossil fuels are burned, they release nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, which contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain.
Solar energy works by letting the sun simply shine. It captures the energy the sun creates and converts it into a form on which our homes run. No stinky, dirty, harmful byproducts. No adverse effects in harvesting it.
Sunrise Energy Ventures’ article Why Solar Gardens are Good For Communities, provides detailed information about the many benefits of solar gardens.
This video, “It’s Time to Upgrade the Electricity Grid, showcases why we need solar now.
Who do I contact to discuss a project in my community or on my home?
If you are ready to begin a project for your home, you can visit the Consumer Affairs site, which lists the top providers:
The journal, Solar Power World, publishes a list each year of the top solar contractors in several categories, including residential, commercial, by geography, service, etc.
To get started, we recommend you look at this resource provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, which helps you evaluate your home or site for solar and has other useful information:
Of course, if you are looking to develop a solar site, Sunrise Energy Ventures can answer questions and get you going in the right direction.
When you embark on a solar project, each site has its unique permitting, land use, legal and regulatory requirements. We can help you find the right site and work with local communities and authorities to ensure a successful beginning-to-end solar project. Contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss a project. https://sunriseenergyventures.com/contact/
We have compiled a list of other resources that may be useful to you: