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Blog Oct 16, 2017

National Energy Awareness Month: Solar Energy Q&A

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Renewable energy is just one of the buzzwords heard in the power debate today. Renewable energy is defined as being sustainable and totally inexhaustible, and what could be as inexhaustible as the sun’s rays? Find out about solar energy below.

  • What is solar energy and how does it work?

Solar energy is radiant energy emitted by the sun. Essentially, the sun puts off radiation that is strong enough to reach the earth. The warmth and light provided by the sun are byproducts of this energy. That same energy can be harnessed in different ways in order to create electricity.

The most common and easily-identifiable manner of capturing solar energy is solar panels. Solar panels are made of photovoltaic cells, which allow sunlight to be converted to energy. The panels are often seen on the roofs of homes or commercial buildings. The photovoltaic cells in the panels allow photons, or particles of light, knock electrons free from atoms, which generates a flow of electricity, according to LiveScience.

  • Can solar panels really help save money on the electric bill?

Although solar panels are a popular way to harness solar energy, installing solar panels on your home doesn’t necessarily equate to savings. While homeowners can earn tax credits from federal, state and even some local governments for installing solar panels, but it might take a while for those credits to cover the cost of the panels.

Once installed, areas with an average amount of sunlight can generally cut their monthly bill in half. But, with a price tag of $15,000 for the purchase and installation of an average residential system, it could take anywhere from ten to 20 years to make back the money spent on installation, according to NerdWallet.

  • How does solar power impact the environment?

Once produced and installed, solar panels produce zero pollutants. However, that doesn’t mean the entire life cycle of solar energy, including manufacturing and transportation, is without environmental concern. Three main concerns about solar power include land, water and hazardous materials use, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

With the popularity of solar energy growing, so are the number of large-scale solar operations. These facilities exist on massive lots of land and include hundreds to thousands of solar panels. Some scientists worry that these facilities are contributing to land degradation and habitat loss, although those risks can be managed by using low-quality land, such as abandoned mines or transportation corridors for solar fields, rather than fertile farm land.

Water use is another potential environmental issue with solar energy. Concentrating solar thermal plants are another kind of facility that creates solar energy, and this technology differs from the panels commonly seen on homes. These facilities require water to cool the power plant. Since the sunniest areas in the country are also some of the driest areas in the nation, solar energy advocates will have to weigh the tradeoffs of water use when planning new facilities.

Finally, solar panels are manufactured using a large number of hazardous materials, according to National Geographic. Without proper maintenance and disposal, old solar panels could pose a serious threat to the environment and public health. However, because solar panels contain rare materials, they are valuable to recycle, which helps reduce any worry of future mishandling.

  • How popular is solar energy?

Solar energy is one of the fastest growing forms of energy out there today. Since 2008, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased more than 23 times, according to the United States Department of Energy. Although solar energy is rapidly gaining popularity, only one percent of all electricity in the United States was generated through solar power in 2016. In fact, solar power ranks fourth popular out of five renewable energy sources in the United States, followed only by geothermal power.

Check back each week in October as Payless Power takes a closer look at different energy sources. Be sure to follow Payless Power on Facebook and Twitter for more energy statistics and electricity-saving tips!

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