There’s a lot of talk about the rising cost of energy, and you’ve probably heard discussions about solar power. Perhaps you’ve seen solar panels or billboards advocating for one side or the other. But what exactly is solar power? Simply, it’s the conversion of sunlight into electricity.
Concentrated solar power systems rely on lenses and mirrors to narrow sunlight into a small beam, while Photovoltaics convert light into electric current–and both work to produce solar power. While there are still a few things to figure out in the area of solar power, we do know that the cost is falling and the potential for low-carbon energy is increasing.
A brief history
Commercial concentrated solar plants appeared for the first time in the 1980s. Currently the largest solar power plant finds its home in the Mojave Desert, where there’s plenty of sun. Spain, India, and the United States all have a variety of solar power plants producing at relatively large volumes.
In the 1860s, development of solar technologies began when people predicted that there would be a lack of goal. In the early 20th century, the development stopped because of the abundance of coal and petroleum. In the early 70s, there were only six homes in North America that relied on solar power exclusively. The 1973 oil embargo and the 1979 energy crisis brought new attention to the potential of solar energy technology and efforts began to more fully research and produce this form of power.
The early 80s saw oil prices fall, which again limited the growth of solar power. Then, issues with oil and natural gas supplies as well as new discoveries about global warming renewed our excitement about solar power. Since 2000, it has experienced a 40% growth rate and many more plants have been built or are under construction.
A look at the future
So, historically speaking, cheaper fossil fuels mean that we care a little bit less about solar deployment. But that may be about to change–solar power is getting even cheaper and is on track to be the cheapest form of electricity. While you might think about solar power as being something only the wealthy can afford, times are changing.
Solar energy is becoming something that is accessible for everyone, and prices will likely continue to drop. Technology is finally trumping fuel, and it means that efficiency will likely increase. Fossil fuel, on the other hand, is becoming more expensive and less efficient.
Experts predict that, by 2050, solar electricity will be the world’s single largest source of electricity–shocking, since it accounts for just a fraction of one percent at present. Interestingly (and understandably) the small market share that solar energy currently has means that, even with rapid expansion, other forms of energy will not be impacted, at least price-wise–but they’re losing their power, so to speak.
Some cool applications
You may have seen an increasing number of electric vehicles roaming around the streets–but some of them are now being powered by sunlight. By installing solar panels on a rooftop, it is possible to generate enough energy to power a vehicle. The panels aren’t cheap, but they’re increasingly affordable–the vehicles, on the other hand, are pretty pricey.
Expect to pay about $7,200 for a gas-electric hybrid vehicle with solar capabilities than you would for an average car, even with the federal tax credit. It’s an investment, but advocates are confident that its going to pay off.
While we’re not sure how many electric cars are actually being powered by the sun, we can provide a look at how many electric and plug-in cars are being sold–97,563 last year alone in the United States. That number is up 83% from the year before, which is pretty significant.
About 500,000 homes and businesses in the United States have some form of solar installation. To give you an example–enough panels for an average house might be 41, which will cost $51,865. The federal tax credits received bring that number down to $29,205. The panels will produce about 14 megawatt hours of electricity, around 8 of which a family might use. If you add a solar powered car into the mix, you’ll use an extra 5 megawatt hours approximately.
And If you’re not by a charging station, you can use gas too–but your costs are significantly reduced. It is estimated that solar power will pay off for such a family in only six years. Without the car, it will take almost 12 years to pay off.
A few things to consider
As with anything, there are a few things to consider. You’ve got to have a roof for solar panels and it has to be a sunny one. A big clear roof is best–chimneys can be pretty pesky. Also, while costs are significantly down, it’s still a pretty significant investment. You may be able to lease too–and there are a lot of tax credits available for both solar powered homes and solar powered cars.
You’ve got to think more about your location too. While cities may provide a number of electric charging stations for your car, more rural areas may be lacking. There are cars that can suite your needs virtually anywhere though–some offer gasoline backup in case of emergencies and may be a better choice for those in more “out of the way” areas.
Solar power is getting cheaper, and it promises to change the way we consume things going forward. While it might be an initial investment, it promises to make your property more valuable in the long run.
Whether you own your own home, rent from someone else, or manage a variety of income properties, solar paneling is the wave of the future. So far, it seems like a great way to increase the overall value of your home while doing something a little friendlier for the environment.
What do you think? Is solar power the way of the future? Is it going nowhere? Would you consider installing solar paneling to power your house, vehicle, life? Let us know!