I: The Drive Towards Renewable Energy

Power produced by renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, has doubled globally since early 2015, according to a new report by Ember (a climate-focused think tank).  These renewable energy sources now take up a tenth of the global power emissions, reaching close to the same amount of energy generated by nuclear power plants.  Carbon-free power sources are steadily replacing coal as we approach the new decade.  The United States now receive 12 percent of their power from wind and solar.  Even in April 2019, the total amount of renewable power generated in the United States surpassed coal for the first time, contributing to a record setting year for renewable power sources.  The stats rolling out at the end of 2020 are promising for any renewable energy enthusiast.

The progress made globally over the best five years is encouraging and helps limit the devastating effects of climate change. There is still a long way to go to reach the goal set in The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement of stopping the planet from heating up more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To hit that target, coal needs to drop 13 percent every year over the next 10 years, and carbon dioxide emissions need to essentially disappear by 2050.

Although you may think that we are on our way to completely abolish the fossil fuel industry, this may be a wishful dream rather than a realistic expectation.  The reality is that wind and solar are dependent on the fossil fuel industry; they cannot exist without oil and natural gas.  Wind turbines and solar panels cannot be made solely from other wind turbine and solar panels.  Fossil Fuels are required for the manufacturing, transportation and assembly of wind and solar equipment.  It also provides a necessary backup in case the wind is not blowing, or the sun isn’t shinning.  Wind and Solar facilities require massive quantities of steel and concrete, both of which require oil and natural gas in their manufacturing processes.  The amount of steel required for wind and solar to replace fossil fuels exceeds the worlds capability to produce it for decades.

II: Finite and Renewable Energy Sources

In general, energy sources can be split into two main categories: Finite and Renewable. Finite Energy resources (petroleum, natural gas, coal, etc.) are those resources found on earth with limited quantities. Renewable energy resources are those that can be continuously generated and are unlikely to be depleted.

With finite energy source; materials are extracted from the ground, refined, and burned, which in turn boils water which produces steam.  The steam generated is powerful enough to spin turbines which are capable of turning kinetic energy into usable electricity.

Renewable Energy Resources, on the other hand, are continuously generated.  Biomass, Geothermal, Wind, Hydropower, and Solar are some of the most popular renewable energy resources used today.

Biomass Energy

Biomass is the organic material harvested from plants, animal fats or waste.  Biomass products can be burned in a combustor or furnace to generate steam, which is fed into a steam turbine to produce usable electricity.  Examples of biomass material used in the united states includes wood and ethanol.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy also utilizes steam to produce electricity.  The steam comes from reservoirs of water found miles underneath the earth’s surface heated by magma.  The steam is fed to turbines that activate special generators to product useable electricity.

Hydropower Energy

Water spins turbines which in turn create electricity. Hydropower includes waves and tidal power as well as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).

Wind Energy

Wind drives the spinning of giant windmills, which spins to generate electricity.  Wind turbines capture the winds kinetic energy and use it generate usable electricity through the use of a special generator.

Solar Energy

There are multiple forms of solar energy, but the most common used to power homes and building is photovoltaic or PV solar energy. In this system, solar panels directly gather sunlight and convert that light into electricity that powers home appliances.  Solar Energy, in general, is the most renewable energy resource we have available on this planet.

III: How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar Panels are comprised of many small photovoltaic cells.  Photovoltaic cells are made of two layers of Silicon, dosed with either phosphorous or boron.  Silicon is a semi-conductive nonmetal that allows for the conversion of sunlight into electricity.  When light hits the silicon cell, it causes electrons to be set into motion, which initiates a flow of electrical current.

The Lifecycle of energy in a Solar Panel can be simplified into four basic steps: 

  1. Photovoltaic cells absorb the sun’s energy and convert it to DC electricity
  1. The solar inverter converts DC electricity from your solar modules to AC electricity through the help of a solar inverter, which is used by most home appliances
  1. Electricity flows through your home, powering electronic devices
  1. Excess electricity produced by solar panels is fed to the electric grid

This is known as the “photovoltaic effect.”  The top layer of the photovoltaic cell is seeded with phosphorous that is electron rich, resulting in a more negative charge.  The bottom layer is seeded with boron, which results in less electron, and more positive charge.  This allows for a positively and negatively charged semiconductive layers, creating an electric field.  When light hits the top layer of the panel, electrons are displaced between the two layers and a flow of electricity is created.

This electric field forces the drifting electrons to flow in a certain direction- towards the conductive metal plates that line the cell. This flow is known as an energy current, and the strength of the current determines how much electricity each cell can produce. Once the loose electrons hit metal plates, the current is then directed into wires, allowing the flow of electrons out of the panel.

So, solar panels work by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells, generating direct current (DC) energy.  DC energy is then converted to usable alternating current (AC) energy through the use of the panel’s Inverter. AC energy then flows through the home’s electrical panel and is distributed accordingly.

There are several different types of Solar Cells and Solar Inverters on market today.  To learn more about the different variations of solar cells, explore AES’s this article, ‘The Different Solar Panel Types!’ To learn more about the different inverter types, check out AES’s article, ‘Solar Inverter Types!’

IV: Advantages vs Disadvantages of Solar

Advantages of Solar

1.Renewable Energy Source  

Solar energy is truly a renewable energy source and will continue to be a renewable source for at least the next 5 billion years.

2. Reduce Electricity Bill

Solar panels will produce enough electricity to meet the majority of your energy demands for the household. Exactly how much you save on your energy bill will be dependent on the size of the solar system and your household’s electricity usage.

Not only can you potentially save on your energy bill, but there is also a possibility of receiving payments from the surplus of energy that you export back into the grid (assuming your system is connected to your town’s electrical grid).

3. Low Maintenance Costs

Solar systems require very little maintenance.  Solar panels have few moving parts, meaning less wear and tear on the system as it ages.  The inverter is usually the only part of the system that needs to be changed after 5-10 years because it is continuously working to convert solar energy into electricity.

Solar panels do require cleaning a couple times a year to maintain max efficiency. Overall, after covering the initial cost of the solar system, you can expect very little spending on maintenance and repair work.

4. Long Life Span

Depending on the manufacturer, solar panels’ performance can be guaranteed for 25 to 30 years, but it’s very possible that your panels will go on to produce electricity for longer than that.

A typical solar panel installation comes with two warranties: a performance and equipment warranty. A solar panel’s performance warranty will typically guarantee 90% production at 10 years and 80% at 25 years. An equipment warranty will typically guarantee 10-12 years without failing.

5. Add to the Value of Your Home 

The price of an average rooftop solar installation and battery is generally recouped in the home’s sale price. The average resale value of a home with a Solar Panel installation increases by $4,020 – $5,911 per Kilowatt.

At $4,020 per kilowatt, a 5-kilowatt solar panel installation would add an average of $20,100 to the market value of a mid-sized U.S. home!

Households purchasing solar also acquire lower energy bills and healthy tax incentives that can cover the system’s costs multiple times over.

6. Technology Development 

Technology in the solar power industry is constantly advancing and trends suggest improvements will intensify in the upcoming years. Just in the past ten years, there has been rapid growth in solar technology, solar alternatives and an exponential decrease in the pricing cost of solar panel installation.

The cost of a fully installed system dropped from $7.14/watt in 2010 down to around $2.50/watt in 2020. That means you can go solar today for about one-third of what it would have cost ten years ago.

Innovations in quantum physics and nanotechnology can potentially increase the effectiveness of solar panels and double, or even triple, the electrical input of the solar power systems, and further the decrease in installation costs.

Interested in buying a solar system? Contact us and talk to a professional today!

Disadvantage of Solar

1.Initial Cost 

The initial cost of purchasing a solar system is high. This includes purchasing the solar panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and installation costs. Nevertheless, solar technologies are constantly developing, so it is safe to assume that prices will go down in the future.

2. Weather Dependent 

Solar panels can still collect energy during cloudy days and rainy days, although its efficiency drops.  Solar panels are dependent on sunlight to efficiently gather solar energy.  Therefore, a few clouds, or a rainy day can drastically decrease the amount of energy received from the system.

3. Expensive Solar Energy Storage 

If you don’t purchase a battery, the solar energy must be used right away. Solar batteries allow energy to be stored during the day’s peak sunlight hours and used at night if needed, but they come at premium costs. In most cases, it may be smarter to use solar energy during the day and take energy from your local grid at night.  Luckily, in general, the energy demand during the day is much higher than that needed at night.

To get a better idea of the total cost of a system tailored to your home, check out our Solar Calculator!

4. Uses Lots of Space

The more energy you want to gain from your solar system, the larger it needs to be.  Solar panels require a lot of space and some roofs may not be large enough to fit the number of solar panels that you would like to have for your energy demands.  An alternative solution to this problem would be to install some panels in your yard, where direct sunlight is accessible.

5. Associated with Pollution 

Pollution related to solar energy systems is far less compared to other sources of energy, but they are not perfect.  There is some greenhouse gas emission during the transportation, manufacturing, and installation of the solar cells.  Nevertheless, solar energy pollutes far less than any other alternative energy source.

VI: Solar Panel Installation in Five Steps!

Millions of homes have already gone solar in the United States, and for those homes that haven’t implemented the renewable energy source yet, you know that its been on their minds.  If you are in the market for solar, you probably want to know the entire installation process before jumping into a new system purchase.  To help you anticipate what to expect, here is an outlined guide for the five big steps for a typical solar panel installation.

1. The Initial Visit

Before you sign your contract, the installer will typically visit your home and evaluate your property to consider the potential system size, roof type, roof angle, shading, general environment, etc.  In some cases, the installer will take pictures of your home to show the licensed engineer associated with the company.  If the engineer feels comfortable signing off on the project without coming onsite to evaluate your home, then no further onsite visits are necessary.  Otherwise, after you sign the contract, an engineer will  need to make a second visit to your home.

After you sign the initial contract agreement, an engineer will also come to the property to evaluate your home.  These engineers typically evaluate the electrical panel of your home, the condition of your roof, its surrounding structure, and ensure the system discussed in your initial agreement is compatible with your home.  Engineers typically work hand in hand with the installer, but can be contracted independently.  Talk to the engineer for more information and details regarding the onsite visit.  The engineer will inform the installer of the details for surrounding their onsite audit, and you will be informed of any upgrades that need to be done before the solar panel installation can take place.

2. Permit Application

As with any big purchase, there is a ton of paperwork that needs to be filled out. Luckily, the installer will take care of the majority of the paperwork. Your installer will try to apply for federal and state solar incentives. You installer should know the restrictions and requirements of the states in which they operate, and can help you figure out which permits you need – in many cases, the installer will fill out this paperwork for you. The time frame for this step is mainly dependent on how long it takes your installer to get it all finished and submitted. If you’re eager to get your panel system up and running immediately, just make sure to follow up with your installer to check on the progress of your paperwork.

3. Equipment Purchase

Note: Before you sign your contract, the equipment required for the job is discussed. The two primary components of your solar system are the solar panels and the inverter. Your installer will likely recommend a particular brand of each with other incentives of purchase. Be sure to do your research and look particularly at the durability, efficiency and aesthetic ratings of each brand discussed (as well as the price of course). Spend some time looking at the advantages and disadvantages of microinverters, string inverters, power optimizers, Polycrystalline, Monocrystalline and Amorphous silicon cells, and other key features associated with the best solar panels on market.

After the required paperwork is submitted, your installer will need to place the order for the equipment needed for installation. It takes about one to two months for your paperwork to be approved and your equipment to be shipped.

4. Solar Panel Installation

Installation Day! Finally…

First your solar installer will start prepping the roof, and checks that the tiles/shingles are secure. Then, they begin to install the electrical wiring that will connect your solar panel to the general power system. Racks, which are responsible for securing the panels to your roof, are installed. Panels are then secured to the racks and connected to the inverter. The inverter is responsible for inverting direct current energy into alternating current energy. Alternating current energy is usable energy used in homes.

It takes about 1-3 days for the installation to take place, depending on the size of the system purchased.

5. The Final Approval

Finally, a representative from your town government will need to inspect the system and give the final approval, basically double checking the installer’s work. A representative you’re your electrical company may also visit to of their own final evaluation of the solar panel system. Following the local inspection, you will be ready to connect your panel to the grid. After these miscellaneous inspections are approved, you’re finally able to connect your system to the grid.

It takes a couple weeks to a month for the town approval and utility approval to occur and the interconnection to go live.

To learn more about the solar panel installation process, check out AES’s Solar Installation and Maintenance Article today!

Installing solar panels doesn’t happen overnight – there’s a process for what needs to happen to get your panels ready to begin powering your home. Overall, from the day you sign your contract with your installer, it will typically take between one and three months before your solar panels are grid-connected and producing energy for your home. To learn more about the installation process, what to ask yourself before signing a solar contract and more, check out AES’ Solar Installation Guide!

VII: Is Solar Worth It?

In 2020, the average Solar System saved homeowners 94% of their electricity usage.  At that rate, the average solar system installation would be paid off in 8 years’ time.  With the lifespan of your average solar system lasting about 25 years, the little costs associated with the maintenance of your panels, and the corresponding added value to your home’s resale value, it is a no-brainer that going solar is a smart financial decision long term.  Check out Las Vegas Solar Guide for more specific solar information in your area.

Interested in going solar?? Feel free to contact us for more information. Check out our AES Contact Page for more information!

What are some Solar Energy Alternatives on market?

Before taking the leap to solar panel installation, you may want to go over your solar energy options. As it turns out, there are multiple ways your wallet can benefit from adapting solar as your preferred renewable energy source.   Some alternatives include Solar Lights, Sun Tunnels, and Solar Shingles. There are pros and cons associated with each option, so further research may be required to make the best decision for your home. To learn more about different solar alternatives, check out AES’s  Solar Energy Alternatives page!