Green Energy- Giving Back to the Grid
Happy Earth Day everyone! Today, April 22, 2016, is internationally recognized as Earth Day and we’d like to take a moment to recognize that fact by looking at ways we can save on energy and give back to help offset fuel and electricity consumption.
Of course, what else is the front-and-center example of green energy than solar power? Adjusting thermostats, turning off lights, and using energy-efficient devices are all great, but nothing brings a green future to mind like a set of solar panels.
Solar Power, the Greenest Power
Solar power is the most unique method of generating electricity on the market. Everything from coal to hydroelectric power requires the spinning of a turbine to generate electricity. Even powerful energy systems such as nuclear are simply advanced ways to boil enough water to force a turbine to spin. Solar power converts photons (light) from the sun into electrical energy. There are no moving parts which need lubrication and no fuel sources (unless you count the hydrogen burned by the sun).
Instead, photons travel into a sandwich of two materials, typically labeled n-type and p-type. As the photon moves into the p-type material, it gives off energy, dislocating electrons held inside the material. The freed electrons travel into the n-type material, where they are released as electric current. NASA helps to explain this premise in greater detail here.
The good news is that solar power is here to stay. Newer technologies are becoming more efficient, as we harness UV light (which moves through clouds) and develop better battery storage systems which can help to store excess sunlight during the day for use during the night. Solar power is free, and the panels can be installed on pretty much any structure, so why aren’t we living off of solar power?
Surface area and storage. Solar panels are still extremely inefficient. The majority of the energy from the sun ends up as heat within the solar panel. Very little is converted into electricity, which means you need a lot of surface area to take advantage of the sun’s rays. The panels also need to be pointed almost directly at the sun. Solar collectors can be used to focus the sun’s light onto the surface, but energy is still lost to heat.
In fact, while solar panels are great for powering the majority of a home, high-rises, apartments, and condominiums (which all take up far less space per person than a normal house) do not have the roof space to play host to enough solar panels to power the entire building. One of the ways this problem is mitigated is by having multiple buildings, large or small, play host to an interconnected network of solar panels. All of the homes and buildings work together to generate enough electricity for the full group, but there’s a distance limit on how far electricity can be transmitted without substations and high-voltage lines.
Scientists and power companies are working to develop better and more efficient voltaic cells to take advantage of the sun’s energy. One day we may be able to rely completely on wind, hydro-electric, and solar power, but for now we still need dedicated power plants that are fuel-fed to provide the backbone of our electrical grid.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, there’s nothing stopping you from installing solar panels on your home. Disconnecting from the grid completely is not the best idea (since snow, heavy rainfall, and overcast days can all reduce your power generation), but the more panels you have installed on your home, the closer we get to replacing our existing infrastructure.
Just be sure to contact a licensed electrical contractor for the installation. Hooking up a power generation system to the electrical grid is a complicated process. Our electrical grid is a precisely monitored instrument and additional energy sources need to be accounted for properly. Once your solar cells are in place, you’ll be less dependent on the municipal grid and can start saving on utility costs and on the planet’s resources each and every month!
We’d love to hear how you’re planning to conserve electricity, for today and for the rest of the year, so let us know!
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