What is solar power?
The sun doesn’t just provide warmth and light – it’s also a source of energy.
Solar energy (or solar power) is the energy we generate from sunlight. Through a process known as the photovoltaic effect, we can convert energy from the sun’s rays into electricity that can power our TVs, refrigerators, lights and other appliances.
What are the parts of a solar energy system?
There are other key components to a solar system aside from the panels themselves. To generate your own energy, you need a complete solar power system. The essential components:
Solar panels, to capture energy from the sun
An inverter, to convert that energy to a format that can power your appliances
Racking, the foundation on which you mount your system
You also need a method to store the energy generated by the panels. If you have access to power lines, this doesn’t require additional equipment. It can simply be fed into the utility grid and used later.
But if you are off the grid, you’ll need additional parts:
Batteries, to store the energy you generate
Charge controller, to control the rate at which batteries charge from solar
What are the pros and cons of solar power?
Here are some reasons why you might choose solar over another source of power:
- Renewable: Sunlight is an infinite resource. It’s not like oil, which we remove from the Earth and spend when we use it. The sun’s rays can be harvested for energy over and over again without depleting the source.
- Lower Electric Bills: As a replacement for grid-tied properties (anywhere with access to power lines), solar power costs just a fraction of what you pay the utility company each month. A properly sized system can drop your electric bill to $0.
- Remote power: If you live in a remote location, it may be too expensive or impossible to run power lines to your house. Solar power systems generate energy when you can’t hook into the power grid.
- Improve Property Value: Homes equipped with solar systems sell for 3.74% more than equivalent homes without solar. Off-grid solar also enables you to buy affordable undeveloped property in rural areas.
Here are some drawbacks to consider before going solar:
- High up-front cost: Even small systems cost a few thousand dollars, and full-scale systems for a family home can reach a 5-figure price tag. Though it pays for itself in the long run, it can be prohibitively expensive to get started.
- Weather Dependent: Shade, snow and other obstacles reduce the output of your solar panels. If your panels don’t get a lot of sun, they won’t work as efficiently as advertised. You can buy equipment designed to mitigate this, but it costs more.
- Takes up space: Solar panels are over 3 feet wide and 6-7 feet tall depending on configuration. An average residential system might contain a few dozen panels. They take up a lot of space on your property, so you need to make sure you have somewhere to put them.
- Storage is expensive: Batteries are by far the most expensive part of a solar system. If you need them to store power (either off the grid or as backup for your grid-tied system), that will eat into your return on investment. They should be used out of necessity, or to provide peace of mind in areas with unreliable power.