The sun is a nuclear reactor that occurs naturally. The tiny energy packets (known as photons) it produces, take around one-and-a-half minute to travel from the sun to the earth – around 93 million miles. Each hour, there are enough photons affecting the planet to satisfy the global energy requirements for a whole year, theoretically.
However, today, the solar-generated energy accounts for around four-tenths (of one percent) of the energy people consume throughout the United States. Solar technology is improving each day and the installation costs are dropping faster. Therefore, the ability to harness the power from sun is highly rising. Actually, a report from the Energy Agency shows that solar energy may become the largest source of electricity globally by the year 2050. In around 10 years to come, everyone will be benefiting from solar power in one way or the other.
How Solar Energy Works
Solar power is pure green electricity that you can make from sunlight, or the heat resulting from sun. Generally, installing a solar power system in your residential setting means that you will have to set up a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system on the roof of your home.
Solar Energy Systems
A solar energy system will work in your home! But how it works highly depends on the resource (sun) availability. It will also depend on the available space, because the installation space affects the size of the system you select. Other factors affecting the effectiveness of a system include the local permits you require, and the investment economics. The following are some things to consider when evaluating whether the solar system you are about to purchase will work:
The available solar resource: check whether you have unobstructed clear sunlight access throughout the year.
The size of your solar system: ensure that you have an area or roof large enough to accommodate the solar system.
The economics: ensure that the solar system is a good investment.
Check the local covenants and permits: they will help you know whether there are issues related to systems installation.
How to Evaluate the Solar Resource in Your Area
Photovoltaic (PV) systems will use both scattered and direct sunlight to produce electric power. However, the electric energy the cells produce highly depends on the amount of sunlight that reaches them. As a result, PV systems function better in some areas compared in the others – they will produce more power in the areas that receive more sunlight throughout the year. Therefore, before purchasing a system, ensure that the site you intend to install the system has adequate solar energy that will help you meet your electric power needs economically and efficiently. The local system supplier may help you with the analysis and even show you the right way to install the system. When evaluating the site, you will also have to consider the geographic orientation and the solar panel tilt – PV modules – as that can highly affect the performance of your system.
Economics of Smaller Solar Electric Systems
The operating and capital costs will affect your PV system or home solar electric system economics. The capital cost includes the initial designing cost and the PV system designing. The operating costs include all the costs related to maintaining and operating the system throughout its life. The factors affecting the operating and capital costs include: System size, system components, your location’s solar resource or the amount of sunlight reaching the space, and whether the solar system is a standalone or you have connected the system to the grid.
Before you start the components selection and sizing the PC system for your home, analyze your annual energy consumption patterns and aim at reducing amount of electricity you use in your home. A good idea is to start by analyzing your load. To do that, check your utility bills within the last one year; calculate your total energy consumption and recognize the energy consumption trends.
After you have understood your energy consumption habits and you are more energy efficient, try to reduce the photovoltaic system’s size you require. By doing that, you will lower the operating and capital costs. When building a new home, work with the builder and a solar professional to incorporate the photovoltaic system into the entire house system design.
The Solar System Cost Consideration
Ask the PV provider about the amount of electricity the PV system you intend to purchase will produce in a year – mostly measured in kilowatt-hours – and compare the amount to the amount of electricity you consume each year. Generally, the cost per every kilowatt-hour will decrease as you increase the size of your PV system.
Furthermore, you can consider the utility-generated electricity purchase price to higher cost of the small PV systems. Typically, PV-generated electricity is more expensive than the conventional utility-supplied electricity. However, the costs can vary depending on the geographic location. Solar subsidies, rebate programs, and any other incentive will help make the PV system affordable. Sale incentives include sales tax exemption, property tax exemption, personal income tax credits – they will all reduce the capital costs.
Permits and Covenants
Before you start the PV system purchase process, you will have to research local permits and the requirements of the neighborhood covenants. At times, obtaining permits from the county or city building department will be necessary. That includes an electrical permit, building permit. The PV supplier may take care of that, but they may price it on time and material basis. If you are among the first individuals in your community to install a photovoltaic system in their homes, the local building department might be inexperienced in approving the systems. The PV provider will speed up the entire process by working with the building officials besides educating them on technology.
Stand-Alone Small Solar Electric Systems
Stand-alone home solar or PV systems operate “off-grid. In other words, you will not need to connect it to the electricity distribution grid the utility operates. A stand-alone PV system will make sense when any of the following applies:
You are currently living in a remote location where the system will be cost effective than reaching a power line to the national grid.
When opting for hybrid electric system and smaller wind electric system
You require minimal electric power amounts for example remote sensors or irrigation control equipment. You can benefit from an outdoor solar lighting regardless of where you live.
Grid-Connected Small Solar Electric Systems
Grid connected PV or home electric systems receive back-up power from the utility grid whenever the PV system fails to produce sufficient power. And whenever the PV produces excess power, the utility purchases it through rate and metering arrangement. Most people opt for net metering, as the power provider will pay the retail price for all power units you feed back into the power grid.
Is Solar Energy Renewable?
Solar energy is renewable. The energy source is free, sustainable and inexhaustible unlike the other fuels, which are finite. The sun is also a non-polluting energy source and never emits greenhouse gases during electricity production. Solar electricity may supplement your partial or entire energy consumption. The power usage means lower energy bills and more savings. What’s more, by installing a solar system in your home, you will be raising its total value.
Solar Energy Production
Solar energy production involves harnessing rays (photons) from the sun and their conversion into electrical power. That happens through solar panels, which consist of solar cells or photovoltaic (PV) cells. Mostly, people will install solar panels on the roofs of their homes to make them more effective and efficient. Anytime the sunrays hit the solar panel, the photons changes into direct current (DC) electricity electrons. For the direct current to change into alternating current (AC), it has to pass through an inverter. You can then use the power from the sun to power your business or home systems.
You can also track the amount of energy the system produces using a net energy meter. The unused electricity from the system can go back to the electrical grid simultaneously. During cloudy days, or at night, when it is impossible to produce the amount of electricity you need, your system will draw electricity from the national grid as it does normally. In most cases, solar panels will produce more energy than you need for your domestic and business purposes.
To maximize your solar system investment and produce more solar energy, ensure that all your panels have direct access to sun rays, during the day. Any shading on your solar power system will minimize its energy output significantly. Neither air temperatures nor snow accumulation will affect the energy system.
Future of Solar Energy
Probably, solar energy is the best solution to our daily needs. The sun offers adequate energy to keep the world going each time it rises. According to the United States government estimates, the earth receives around 173,000 kilowatts of energy per year – the amount exceeding the humanity power needs more than 10,000 times. However, the challenge has been one: collecting the energy!
Even though a large population is already aware of PV cells, solar panels are very expensive. Considering that fact, they have remained on the luxury bracket. For many years, the lower efficiency of solar panels and high costs per square inch of the solar panels has made solar energy economically unviable.
Solar Energy Tax Credit
Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is among the most important federal policy mechanisms that support solar energy deployment in the United States. SEIA succeeded in advocating for multi-year extension of the year 2015 credit that offers business certainty to investors and project developers. The ITC has continued to drive growth in job creation and industry throughout the United States.
Currently, the ITC is a 30% federal tax credit declared against tax liability of the residents, utility and commercial investors in solar energy systems property. The solar tax credit allows application of credit to the homeowner’s personal income tax. The homeowner benefit from the credit immediately he/she purchases the solar system and installs it on her home. The business that does the installation, finances or develops the project is usually the credit claimant.
However, between the year 2008 and 2013, the cost of solar panels reduced by more than 50%. The cost also reduced by around 40% between the year 2015 and 2017. The growth of solar adoption in the United States has surprised most researchers from the country. According to estimates, the cost of solar panels will significantly reduce such that the sun will contribute around 20% of the energy requirement by the year 2027. Some years back, no one would have imagined the benchmark. In terms of efficiency and cost, technology has already caught up.
After researchers from Germany and Israel partnered to study whether there are better ways of converting sunlight into electricity, it turned out that the most common, photosynthesis method, is also the most efficient. According to their recommendations, development of biomass as fuel would help in creating artificial photosynthesis machines. That would convert sunlight into electricity energy and allow its storage in a natural way use in the future.
In some countries, there is inadequate space for solar farms. Floating solar farms will work perfectly in such countries. Since the year 2011, a French energy company has specified in developing an effective large-scale floating solar system. They have already installed the first trial farm in the UK and they are now trying similar projects in France, India and Japan.
How the Tax Credit Works
The tax credit is a money reduction in the income taxes, which the individual or company claiming the tax credit would have paid the federal government. The ITC has its base on the solar property investment amount. Both commercial and residential ITC are equal to 30% depending on what the homeowner has invested on the property, which will have commenced construction by the year 2019. The ITC will then reduce to 26% in the year 2020 and to 22% in the year 2021. After that year (2021) the residential tax credit will be zero while that of utility and commercial credit will stand at 10% (permanently).
Utility and commercial projects that will have commenced system construction by December 31, 2011 will still benefit from the 30, 26 and 22 percent tax credit if placed in service by the end of 2023. Currently, the IRS and Treasury are drafting guidance that will inform all solar developers about the percentage of tax credit they will qualify for depending on when they began the solar installation project.