For most homeowners and people renting their own residential or commercial properties, getting an electric bill is inevitable. It’s a huge cost in utilities, around $1400 a year, a significant sum which many people are struggling to afford on top of water, food, rent, and other living costs incurred. Despite practices such as conserving electricity and unplugging appliances when not in use, sometimes the increasing costs of electricity from traditional electric companies are just too expensive for many Americans.
Being someone with an above-average electric bill while currently looking for ways to use more renewable sources, I did some research and found solar energy, a greener alternative to coal and other non-renewable energy sources. It’s marketed as a greener alternative, harnessing the power of solar energy through solar panels, which turn sunlight into electricity. It’s also considered “off-the-grid” because people who power their homes with solar energy don’t depend on infrastructure from utility companies.
I’ve found that many who have switched to it aren’t doing it simply because it’s a greener alternative, but because people can save thousands on electric expenses. While installing solar energy in your home isn’t free, it’s an investment that has removed the need to rely on companies whose prices will continue to increase along with inflation.
Electricity from Renewable Resources
Ever since electricity was discovered and used to power machines, lights, and appliances at home, things have become much easier for humanity. While there are still groups of people who refuse to use electricity and remain in an older way of thinking – such as the Old Order Amish – or impoverished people who don’t have access to electricity, nearly the entire population uses electricity to power their everyday activities.
However, while most electricity is generated from off-site locations and distributed among its clients through wires underground or overhead powerlines, it is possible for homes and commercial establishments to produce their own electric source, cancelling the need to pay electric companies to provide electricity. If there’s a major brownout in your community and there’s one house that continues to operate and have electricity, chances are, they have something called a generator, which produces on-site electricity.
Electricity can be generated from renewable energy sources, not simply just solar energy. These include wind energy, hydro energy, and geothermal energy. However, since solar energy is the most popular form of green renewable energy, we’re going to use this as an example.
How Does Solar Energy Work
In the simplest terms, solar energy is the process of taking sunlight and turning it into electricity, which is used to power your home and business. To understand deeper, you have to understand a few scientific concepts on the sun and energy.
The sun is a ball of nuclear energy containing photons, which creates the light from the sun. It takes 8.5 minutes for this light to travel 93 million miles to Earth. In the morning, the sun you see rising is actually the result of the world turning and the sun’s light finally reaching your time zone. However, you’ll notice that the temperature at six in the morning is not as hot as the temperature at two in the afternoon. That’s because of the time it takes for light and heat to arrive. At the first 8.5 minutes of sunrise, we can barely feel the presence of the sun’s photons. But by mid-afternoon, enough photons have arrived on Earth to create hotter temperatures.
Based on the first law of thermodynamics, energy cannotbe created or destroyed, but only transferred or changed. This means that once the solar energy reaches the earth, it does not get destroyed. On its own, it simply gets converted into heat energy, which causes the temperature to go up. However, scientists and engineers have found that it can be converted into electricity.
Solar panels are made up of semiconductor materials called solar cells. These form an electric field similar to a battery. When a photon hits a solar cell, their electrons are separated from their atoms. If the conductors are attached to both the positive and negative sides of a cell, it creates an electrical circuit where electrons can flow, creating electricity. The more solar panels you have, the more electricity you can generate.
By day, the sun’s light can power any building with enough solar panels. Since there is no sun at night or when it rains, property owners will need a generator to collect electricity to be used when there’s no light or heat source.
Will Solar Energy Become Popular?
Currently, less than one percent of Americans are off-the-grid and are independently using solar energy. This is because solar energy really is an investment due to the equipment required. Instead of a one-time payment of solar energy, most Americans opt for paying electric bills monthly.
However, with more technological developments in solar technology, it’s possible that solar companies can offer equipment and installation at much more affordable prices. It’s why, as of 2017 according to the International Energy Agency, it has become the world’s fastest growing source of power. Pretty soon, more people will see the environmental and economic benefits of solar energy.
Addressing the World Energy Crisis
And according to Dr. Mehran Moalem, a Professor from UC Berkeley and an expert on Nuclear Materials, solar energy could be the key to solving the world’s energy crisis. Hypothetically speaking, there is enough solar power in the Sahara Desert to power the entire world.
On average, the world uses around 17.3 Terawatts a year. If engineers built solar panels spanning 335 kilometers by 335 kilometers, it could produce 17.4 Terawatts. The space needed would be 43,000 square miles; the Sahara Desert is 3.6 million square miles. Given its low rainfall and hot temperatures year-round, it would be an ideal place for people looking to harness solar energy. All it takes would be less than 1.5 percent of the Sahara Desert’s total land mass.
It’s a huge feat, however, seeing as the cost of the project would be five trillion dollars. There’s also the cost of providing all countries with access to its generated electricity and the cost of maintaining the solar panels to ensure it is providing everyone around the world with enough electricity. However, it’s a price the government has heard of before, and it’s only a quarter of our country’s own national debt. So, if all countries could pitch in, does this scenario still have to be a hypothetical one?
Living with solar energy means living off-the-grid and saving almost $1500 a year on electricity. Given that you could be spending $15,000 in a decade living with traditional electricity taken from utility companies, wouldn’t it be more efficient to live with a solar panel that will cost you much less than that within the same period of time? All it takes is one investment. If you won’t do it because it’s the greener option, consider doing it because of its economic value and the money you could be saving from going off-the-grid.