Every day, the sun radiates an enormous amount of energy to the Earth. The sun actually emits enough energy to satisfy our power needs many times over. It’s the perfect clean, green energy solution.
So what’s stopping us from using solar power for all of our energy needs? Until recently, we hadn’t figured out how to harness the sun’s energy efficiently. While the sun’s energy has tremendous potential, it is spread out over a large area, making it difficult to capture and convert to usable energy.
In addition, solar photovoltaic energy is still more costly than traditional sources of energy (numbers are approximate):
||4.8 - 5.5 cents per kWh
|| 3.9 - 4.4 cents per kWh
||4.0 - 6.0 cents per kWh
||15 - 30 cents per kWh
All of this is changing. New advancements in solar technology are improving solar panel efficiency, making solar energy cheaper and easier to convert to electricity and heat that we can use.
Solar energy has so much potential. It’s time to tap it!
Your school’s solar panels are photovoltaic (PV), which means they produce electric voltage when exposed to sunlight.
Sunlight is made of particles called photons. When photons reach the solar panels, some of them are reflected, and some are absorbed. When a solar panel absorbs enough photons, the solar energy dislodges electrons, creating an electric current.
The current created in the solar panels is direct current (DC). Most appliances in homes and buildings use alternating current (AC). Therefore, the electricity must be converted from one form to the other. The piece of equipment that conducts the conversion is called an inverter.
How Your School’s System Works
Colorado's solar superiority
There is so much potential in solar energy! Currently, most solar panels are about 10-20 percent efficient, meaning they convert only about 10-20 percent of the sunlight that hits the panels into energy. As engineers learn more about solar energy and solar panel design, our ability to capture that energy improves.
Certain factors, such as weather affect the performance of your solar panels. On sunny days, more sunlight reaches the panels, so they produce more energy. On cloudy days, less sunlight means less energy can be produced. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, Colorado is one of the best places for producing solar energy.
Solar power creates energy without producing harmful greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are naturally occurring gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that absorb heat and keep the Earth warm. They play an important role in creating the Earth’s climate.
So what’s the problem with greenhouse gases? Now we have too much of them. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, human activities have dramatically increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Take carbon dioxide, or CO2, for example. This greenhouse gas is naturally released into the atmosphere by volcanoes, animals and oceans. The trouble is that human activities—such as burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas)—are now releasing much larger amounts of CO2.
Many scientists believe that the amount of CO2 that humans have added to the atmosphere has caused the average temperature of the Earth to rise—a process that scientists call global warming. Scientists predict that this temperature increase could lead to many negative changes on Earth, including more severe weather, an increase in insects, and a change in the Earth’s precipitation patterns. This might mean we experience stronger hurricanes, flooding, droughts, difficulty growing crops, and a change in life on Earth as we know it.
Solar energy is a renewable source of energy that doesn’t release greenhouse gases.
Fossil fuels are made from plants and animals that died about 300 million years ago. These fuels are a nonrenewable energy source, which means that there is a limited supply. Eventually we will run out of fossil fuels, so we need to find replacement energy sources.
Solar energy is a renewable energy source that naturally radiates to the Earth everyday. It could easily provide us with all of the energy we need—without polluting our atmosphere.
1. Solar energy is consistent. The sun is a dependable power source that will always be available.
2. Solar energy is environmentally friendly. Unlike burning fossil fuels—which creates harmful greenhouses gases, carcinogens and carbon dioxide—solar panels don't release any pollutants into the air.
3. Solar panels are extremely reliable. They have no moving parts, so you don't have to worry about replacing anything. In fact, most solar panels generate electricity for thousands of hours with little or no maintenance.
4. Solar energy is quiet. Solar cells make no noise while collecting energy. There is no other renewable energy source that is completely silent.
5. Solar energy is cheap. In the long run, producing solar electricity is cheaper than buying electricity from the power company. Of course, installing solar panels requires an up-front investment, but the panels pay for themselves over time in energy bill savings. Everything after that is profit. It’s a lot better deal than paying a monthly bill and getting no return on investment.
6. Solar energy systems come in many shapes and sizes. There are many different types of solar panel systems to suit different budgets and power needs. Some cost tens of thousands of dollars, while others cost just a couple hundred dollars. This means there’s a system to suit just about anyone.
7. You can live off of the grid. You're not required to connect to the power grid. Using solar energy, you can be completely self-sufficient and never have to pay another monthly energy bill or hook-up charge.
8. You can sell back your extra energy. If your solar panels produce more energy than you need, you can make your electric meter spin backwards! Most power companies will buy or credit you for this excess electricity. So consider installing a larger system for your own power. Contact your local power company for details.
9. You can earn government tax credits for installing solar panels. Most governments provide some kind of tax credit or incentive to people who purchase solar energy systems. On average, rebates cover 20-30 percent of the system cost. Contact your local government for details.
10. Solar technology is constantly improving. Solar panels have become more efficient in recent years, so more and more people are installing them. In fact, solar installations are increasing by an amazing 50 percent every year. Most of these new installations are small, homemade systems. You can do it, too!