You see them everywhere in my neighborhood: Signs that declare that the homeowner has taken the plunge and “gone solar.”
The evidence is also on the roof tops and mounted on poles in backyards or behind an industrial building: The flat, blueish panels that look like futuristic windows, which are actually photovoltaic panels that turn the power of the sun – that would-be sunlight – into voltage, which we commonly call electricity.
While the signs encourage passersby to join in the solar power movement, the panels on roofs and in backyards – sometimes one or two, sometimes many thousand that cover acres of land – are becoming so commonplace that you don’t really have to explain them, anymore. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to review the basics of solar power. How good is it? Does it work? How do you make the conversion? Can you go all the way, getting all of your electricity needs from panels that you own? And what if your solar panels make too much electricity? What can you do with that?
Furthermore, how is this done? Can you build a photovoltaic system yourself, or is it best to purchase off grid solar kits that make the process so much easier?
Here are some basic answers, which I will begin by offering some small corrections. First of all, if you live in a city or a very rainy location, you might not see a blooming of solar panels in your neighborhood. Living in Apartment 14-M in a sky scraper in New York City hardly allows many options for a personal solar panel system for you or your neighbors. Nevertheless, the Solar Energy Industries Association projects solar power will grow 119 percent in 2016, a rate the association calls “staggering.”
What is fueling this run on solar panels, which are more prevalent, of course, in sunny, rural areas? Basic economics is one factor. If you own your own backyard photovoltaic power system at home, someday you will have produced enough power to allow you to scoff at people still paying electric bills. Another factor is global warming, a potentially catastrophic environmental problem that is pushing more and more people to take responsibility for their own carbon footprints (which means how much impact they personally support or make regarding fossil fuel pollution).
So, how good is photovoltaic technology? One of the joys of solar panels is the point that they have no moving parts. Yes, they are mounted on frames that allow the owners to orient them as directly as is recommended toward the sun. But the panels themselves just lie there, basking in the sun. According to Clean Technica, they will generally last 25-30 years, requiring very little maintenance along the way.
Of course, you can purchase enough panels to provide electricity for any size home, be it an off-grid tiny house or an oversized mansion. The first step for any homeowner is to first do a load analysis, which can be as simple as looking at your utility bills or calling your electricity provider to get a historical record of your home’s electricity usage.
You can also purchase an electricity meter, which will certainly come in handy for after you have gone “off grid,” when you are responsible for your own electricity production.
Typically, says Home Power magazine, a home uses 25 to 30 kWh per day, although a highly efficient home may use as little as six to 10 kWh per day.
This information brings to mind a key factor in the decision to go “off grid.” When I write “kWh,” it certainly helps to know what that means, which might be a good time to mention that knowing the basics of electricity is certainly a fundamental reality if you produce your own electricity. Off course, you can buy an all-in-one kit that makes the conversion easier, but the fact remains that the more you learn about the basics of electricity, the better off you will be.
A “kWh” is a unit of electricity use over time. It is a unit of energy, just as one BTU (British thermal unit) or one calorie is a unit of energy. With electricity, however, energy is best understood when it is explained with its relationship to time.
By comparison, kW is not a unit of energy, kW refers to power. When it comes to electricity, that means how fast something is generating or using the energy.
One kW is equal to 1,000 watts. You know for home lighting, homeowners generally use light bulbs that range from 10 or 20 watts all the way up to 150 watts or more. So 1,000 watts would be the power needed for 10 light bulbs of 100 watts.
You could certainly use a simple equation to understand how much electricity your home uses by counting light bulbs – a house with a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner and electric heat, among other appliances, would use the equivalent of X number of light bulbs. It is best, however, to call an electrician or a solar power expert to arrange for a personal audit of your home so you know how large a system you might need with a conversion to solar power.
Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?
The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?
The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.
Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.
The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.
Introducing New Technology
The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.
- To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
- Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
- Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.
How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy
Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.
The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.
The Internet of Things
Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.
Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.
It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.
“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)
The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.
4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy
Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.
However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?
A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.
1. Boulder Nissan
When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:
- Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
- They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
- Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.
This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.
2. Valley Electric Association
In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.
“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”
The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.
This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.
3. Las Vegas Casinos
A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.
“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”
There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.
4. Boston College
Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.
Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.
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