Nerdy Talk Episode 1: How Solar Works


The power of the sun is what makes life on Earth possible. Efforts to harness solar energy in concentrated form have long been a long pursuit for mankind. In fact, solar technology has existed since the 19th century, and it is no longer uncommon to see a few homes with solar panels installed on their rooftop.

With the advancement of technology, solar power has become widely used and it isn’t just being installed by clean energy enthusiasts – many more eligible homeowners looking to save a bit of money are installing them also. A common misconception about renewable energy, specifically solar energy, is that it’s not affordable. While solar started out as an expensive form of electricity, with the growth of competition and improved technology in the solar industry, the price of going solar is rapidly decreasing. Installation costs have also decreased due to more experienced and trained installers. In the last decade, the price of Solar PV has dropped by more than 70%,1 making solar energy investment even more lucrative. Furthermore, the government is constantly encouraging homeowners to invest in going solar through tax credits.

In the last ten years, solar energy has experienced a rapid growth and the number of installed solar units have increased, becoming a major player in the US economy. In fact, solar now employs more workers than coal, oil and natural gas combined and it’s among the world’s cheapest forms of electricity. In 2012, the number of individuals working in the solar industry has more than doubled.2 The solar workforce also grew 25% in 2016, adding around 73,000 new jobs.

Contrary to common belief, solar panels generally require very little maintenance. They have no moving parts and are long-lasting, durable, and use a renewable resource (the sun) for generating energy, so they’re extremely reliable. In fact, most of them far outlive their already impressive 20-25 year warranties that are offered by most reliable solar panel manufacturers. Additionally, if you lease your solar panel system, repairs and maintenance are the leasing company’s responsibility, not yours, which is an added benefit.

On average, residential PV modules are about 65 inches by 39 inches, or 5.4 feet by 3.25 feet, with each module typically containing 60 solar cells and weighing about 40 pounds. Of course, some variation does occur from one manufacturer to another. Typically, weight for residential PV modules can range from 33 pounds to 50 pounds, depending on the manufacturer. Commercial PV modules, on the other hand, are slightly larger. These models typically measure 78 inches by 39 inches, or 6.5 feet by 3.25 feet, with each module typically containing 72 solar cells. Because of their added length, commercial PV panels are heavier, with most weighing 50 pounds or more, depending on the manufacturer.3

The following are the two main types of solar energy technologies:

  • Photovoltaic (PV): You’re likely most familiar with PV, which is utilized in panels.
  • Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): The second technology is concentrating solar power, or CSP. It is used primarily in very large power plants and is not suitable for residential use.4

Components of a Residential Solar Power System:

  • Solar Panels
  • Mounting Equipment
  • DC-to-AC Inverters
  • Tracking Mounts
  • Disconnect Switches
  • Wiring and Fuse Box Connections
  • Utility Power Meters

Sources:
1, 2 https://www.seia.org/solar-industry-research-data
3 https://news.energysage.com/average-solar-panel-size-weight/
4 https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/articles/solar-energy-technology-basics

10 Unconventional (But Easy) Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint While Saving Money

10 Unconventional (But Easy) Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint While Saving Money

With summer arriving, you might be considering ways to make a positive impact on our progressively troubled world. While there are many ways to improve your community, such as contributing to a local charity, there are also some easy and simple changes that can have a dramatic impact on reducing your carbon footprint.

Going green or being eco-friendly can seem intimidating, but reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t need to involve a radical lifestyle overhaul! From unplugging your devices to contacting your local solar professional and investing in clean energy, here are 10 unconventional (but easy) ways to save money while reducing your carbon footprint.

1. Unplug Your Devices

This might surprise you but all electronics use energy when they’re plugged in, even if they’re turned off. In the US, “vampire power,” devices and appliances that continuously use up electricity are responsible for approximately $19 billion in energy every year,1 which is about $165 per U.S. household on average. A simple solution is to leave your electronics unplugged at all times, unless you’re actually using them.

2. Minimizing Driving

When possible, walk or ride your bike in order to avoid carbon emissions completely. More and more people are opting to bike to work, especially with bike lanes becoming more prevalent. As of 2017 there are over 66 million cyclists/bike riders2 in the United States — a number that has risen dramatically since 2012. Additionally, carpooling and public transportation drastically reduces CO2 emissions by spreading them out over many riders. With an increasing population, effective and efficient public transportation is even more necessary than ever, and options like subways, trains, buses, and rapid transit continue to grow.

3. Reduce Your Water Usage

Avoid any unnecessary water consumption. Instead of showering for 10 minutes, shower in under 5 minutes. If you shower for 10 minutes you are wasting enough water to fill a pool in just one year. If you shorten your showers, you can save more than 16,000 liters of water each year. Additionally, by selecting cold water to wash your clothes you are offsetting five times more in greenhouse gas.

4. Shop and Buy Local

Whenever possible, try to eat local, in-season produce. By choosing to shop and buy locally in your own city or neighborhood, it helps to reduce the carbon footprint created from shipping foods from elsewhere. When your food can be grown in your backyard or at a local farm, the environmental cost (emissions) is significantly reduced. Just imagine the journey that your nonlocal food has to take — by plane, ship, train, or truck — plus produce needs to be kept at a specific temperature, so it doesn’t spoil during transit.

5. Replace Your Lightbulbs

If you want to help change the world while reducing your carbon footprint and saving money, start with changing your light bulbs. It’s one of the best things you can do for the environment — and your budget. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) or LED bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use at least two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and they last up to 10 times longer.

FACT: If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, we would save enough energy every year to light 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.3

6. Air Dry Your Clothes

Now is the perfect time to take advantage of the sunlight and hot days, and air dry your laundry. This amazing old-school method allows you to bypass your drying machine and drastically reduce your carbon footprint while reducing your electricity usage. Additionally, as an added benefit, it will help you preserve the quality of your clothes. This is an area which should save you money — generally, the less electricity you use, the less you have to spend and the more you will help the environment by using fewer fossil fuels.

7. Reduce Meat and Dairy Consumption

We cannot deny that farming has a major impact on global warming. Emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from livestock are larger than you might think, posing an additional challenge in the fight to limit global warming. Eating less meat and dairy products is one of the most effective ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint and to generally reduce your negative impact on the environment.

8. Buy Energy Efficient Appliances

Household appliances can use a surprising amount of energy, but buying new appliances is a relatively rare event for most, and it’s easy to get carried away by a salesperson’s pitch and the eagerness of the event. When buying electrical appliances, look for ones that are A-rated with Energy Saving Recommended labels — these consume much less energy and minimize your carbon dioxide emissions for the lifetime of the appliance. Buying the most energy efficient appliance makes environmental sense because it means that you will be minimizing your carbon dioxide emissions.

9. Quit Consuming Bottled Water

By consuming your water from plastic bottles, you are adding to an already significant pileup of plastic waste that even if it is recycled, requires energy and resources to create and then process. In addition, how far did your water have to travel and by what transportation? The carbon footprint of a bottle of water is far more than purchasing a high-quality water filter for your faucet and keeping the filters fresh.

10. 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Energy, and therefore carbon emissions, is associated with everything you buy — from the sourcing of its raw materials, manufacturing and its transports to the point of sale. Additionally, when goods are disposed of, more energy is used to transport them to landfill, incinerate them or recycle them. Plus, when we throw away things that could either be recycled or reused, we increase the number of new items that need to be manufactured and hence total energy use.

11. Install a Solar Energy System

Adding a solar energy system is a great way for homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint. The average American household produces 14,920 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year, but the good news is that you can drastically decrease your home’s impact on the environment by going solar. Furthermore, if you live in a state with a Net Metering4 law, you could eliminate your electricity bill or even earn money by selling electricity back to the grid while still helping the environment and significantly offset your carbon footprint.

Sources:
1https://www.nrdc.org/resources/home-idle-load-devices-wasting-huge-amounts-electricity-when-not-active-use
2https://www.statista.com/statistics/227415/number-of-cyclists-and-bike-riders-usa/
3https://www.energystar.gov/products/lighting_fans/light_bulbs/learn_about_clfs/cfls_and_mercury
4https://www.seia.org/initiatives/net-metering

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10 Awesome Solar Energy Facts You Should Know

10 Awesome Solar Energy Facts You Should Know

Solar energy is energy that radiates from the sun. The sun has produced this energy for over four and a half billion years. It is one of — if not THE — most important source of energy for all living organisms. Additionally, it is also a form of renewable energy unlike fossil fuels, which are nonrenewable and releases harmful emissions into the environment. Nonrenewable energy, by definition, are energy sources that cannot be replaced by natural means on a level that is equal to its consumption.

Here are 10 awesome facts about solar energy that might just surprise you:

1. It’s Now the Cheapest Energy Source in the World

Solar energy is a completely free and abundant source of energy, and is officially the cheapest form of electricity currently available.1 This development completely debunks the common myth that going solar is expensive. Not only is it the cheapest energy source in the world, but qualified homeowners can save money every month when a system installed on their roof or property with affordable financial products and solar energy rebates and incentives.

2. It’s Among the Cleanest Energy Sources

A main benefit of solar energy is that it is environmentally friendly and one of the cleanest, most sustainable renewable energies available to us. Solar energy, also referred to as Photovoltaic (PV) Energy, has no impact on the environment. Solar power is one of the most common forms of renewable energy, as well as one of the most widely studied. It requires little maintenance and is relatively easy to install.

5 Other Clean Renewable Energy Sources:

  • Wind
  • Water
  • Geothermal
  • Bioenergy
  • Nuclear

3. There Is Enough Solar Energy to Power Millions of American Homes

The demand for solar in the United States is higher than ever before. The US installed 10.6 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV capacity in 2017, totaling 53.3 gigawatts (GW) which is, according to SEIA studies, enough to power 10.1 million American homes.2 The total installed PV capacity is anticipated to more than double in the U.S. over the next five years, with over 15 GW of PV capacity expected to be installed by 2023.

4. It’s the Most Abundant Energy Source on Earth

Solar energy is the world’s most abundant resource. 173,000 terawatts of solar energy hits the Earth on a continuous loop — that’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use.3 Switching to solar is the best way to combat any future energy crisis.

5. California Is the Leader of Solar Energy in the United States

California is America’s renewable energy pioneer, with over 11% of its total electricity4 coming from renewable energy like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric facilities. The Golden State has continually been the top state for total solar PV capacity, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

6. It Helps to Preserve the Environment

While solar energy provides significant financial benefits — like electricity savings and increased property value — it also provides many substantial health and environmental benefits, which are equally as important. Additionally, switching to clean energy is a great option for homeowners that want to reduce their carbon footprint.

7. It Protects You from Rising Energy Costs

The electricity rates from your utility company are on the rise every single year, with data to back it up.

With the historical trend of electricity prices rising, you can protect yourself against soaring electricity prices by switching to solar and locking in predictable monthly rates. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), retail residential electricity rates have risen about 4% across the nation over the last 10 years.5

8. There Are Two Ways to Capture Solar Energy

Solar energy needs to be converted into solar power and ultimately, usable electricity. Solar panels do this by collecting the sun’s rays and converting the energy to electricity. There are two common methods used to harness the sun’s energy:

  • Solar photovoltaic systems are the most commonly recognized solar energy systems. Solar cells, also called photovoltaic (PV) cells, are encased in panels to convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV cells come in many sizes and shapes, ranging from 10mm by 10mm to 100mm by 100mm (the latter of which is the most common).
  • Concentrating solar power generates electricity from the sun by using mirrors and heliostats, which reflects sunlight onto receivers that are collected and converted into heat. “Thermal energy” as it’s called, can then be used to produce electricity.6

9. It’s Renewable

The energy from the sun is renewable, meaning it will never run out. Other energy source reserves, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, will eventually have its supply exhausted, which is even more reason to support the idea that solar is the energy of the future.

10. It’s Low Maintenance

Solar energy systems are incredibly durable and generally requires little maintenance. Most reliable solar panel manufacturers have a 20-25-year warranty. As an added benefit, if you lease or purchase your solar panel system from a financial provider, repairs and maintenance are the leasing company’s responsibility, not yours.

Sources:
1http://fortune.com/2016/12/15/solar-electricity-energy-generation-cost-cheap/
2https://www.seia.org/us-solar-market-insight
3https://sos.noaa.gov/datasets/energy-on-a-sphere/
4http://www.energy.ca.gov/renewables/history.html
5https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=20372
6https://www.seia.org/initiatives/concentrating-solar-powerfacebooktwittergoogle-plusinstagramlinkedin

Solar Energy Incentives to Take Advantage of Today

Solar Energy Incentives to Take Advantage of Today

Solar energy delivers positive environmental impact, contributes to our nation’s energy independence, and provides more jobs than the coal industry, and upstream oil and gas sectors in the United States.1 To encourage the continued expansion of solar, the government, utilities and other organizations, such as The Solar Foundation, in the US offer solar tax breaks and financial incentives to make solar more accessible for today’s homeowners and businesses.

Federal and state solar energy incentives make investing in residential solar more affordable than ever. Here are some solar energy incentives you could take advantage of today that will provide significant savings for your efforts:

How to Take Advantages of Solar Energy Rebates and Incentives

Solar energy systems have a great reputation for offsetting the cost of its installation through its energy savings. But there are also many types of solar energy rebates and incentives you can take advantage of, which can vary by state. Here are some of the most common.

1. Tax Credits

A tax credit2 is an amount of money that taxpayers can subtract from the taxes they owe to the government. Tax credits are claimed when you file taxes from the previous year. If you made a solar investment that was approved by the government in that previous year, you would be able to deduct that amount when you file your taxes with the government. All products that are eligible for tax credits for residential energy efficiency are labeled with an Energy Star certification.3

2. Rebates

Rebates, on the other hand, work differently than tax credits by getting cash back into your hands more quickly after you switch to solar. While there are no federal rebates for energy efficient purchases at this time, many state governments, local governments, and utility companies offer cash rebates for the purchase of energy-efficient products. Some manufacturers offer specials and sales that make it easier to power your home with clean, renewable energy.

Solar Energy Financing

In addition to the advantageous rebates and solar tax credits, there are also financing and power purchase agreement (PPA) options available that are making solar cheaper than ever before. Since 2010, the cost of solar has dropped about 1/3 and is outperforming coal and gas.4 Today, you can even go solar with zero out-of-pocket expenses, which is a great option for individuals who are strapped for cash but want to go solar.

What is the EPA’s Energy Star Program?

A great way to get your energy savings started is through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star program. The EPA’s Energy Star Program5 is a voluntary program that helps homeowners save money and protects our climate through superior energy efficiency products.

Federal Solar Incentives

When doing your research about solar panels, you probably came across the federal solar incentives investment tax credit (ITC), which was implemented in 2006. This tax credit allows you to claim up to 30% of the price you paid to install solar panels when you file your taxes, which cuts the cost of going solar significantly. Sadly, unless the policy is reinstated, this federal investment tax credit is set to expire December 31, 2021 with a gradual step down each year in the credit value.

Solar Energy Rebates and Incentives by State

In addition to the great federal solar incentives, many states offer additional tax credit and rebates. There are currently several states with rebates and incentive programs that you can receive to help you pay for your new solar system. Furthermore, there are various programs that will help you offset the cost of your solar energy system and the cost of making your house greener. For the most up-to-date list of all energy incentives for your state, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.6

Sources:
1https://truthout.org/articles/doe-report-solar-creates-more-us-electricity-jobs-than-oil-gas-coal-nuclear-combined/
2https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/taxcredit.asp
3https://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits
4http://fortune.com/2016/12/15/solar-electricity-energy-generation-cost-cheap/
5https://www.energystar.gov/about
6http://www.dsireusa.org/

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