Alternative and Sustainable Energy Sources: Solar Power

Sustainable power sources need to be able to produce power without depleting the earth’s natural resources. The source of the power needs to be readily available, renewable and must not compromise the ability of future generations to generate their own power. Solar power uses the heat of the sun to produce energy in a sustainable, clean and eco-friendly manner.

The sun can be used to produce power in a number of different ways, several of which are available to the individual householder. This is where solar energy differs from other forms of sustainable power, such as hydro and wind power, which are really only viable on a large scale. The power of the sun is free, making this form of alternative green energy cost-effective once a system is established.

The History of Solar Power 

Solar power has been in use since the 1800s when it was used to operate steam-driven machines for manufacture. In 1839, Alexandre Becquerel discovered how to generate electricity using the photo-voltaic effect but it wasn’t until 1941 that the solar cell was invented to make use of the discovery.

There has been on-going research into generating electricity from the sun which has increased the reliability and efficiency of the technology. Mass production of solar cells, especially in overseas countries, has made solar panels more affordable than in the past.

Different Types of Solar Power 

Solar Hot Water

This method of solar power is the easiest and cheapest system to set up for an individual household. It allows you to heat water for showers, clothes washing and kitchen use and can save a considerable amount of money on power bills. The thermal energy of the sun is harnessed to heat water running through pipes that are exposed to the sun’s rays.

Photo-voltaic Solar Cells

Panels of these photo-voltaic cells are fixed to the roof, facing in the direction that receives the most direct sunlight through a typical day. The power generated by these cells is a direct current and needs to be converted to an alternating current for household use. An inverter is fitted for this purpose to allow the electricity to be available for immediate use. Alternatively, the energy can be stored in batteries for later use. This system has been very expensive to install in the past but subsidies and mass production have made it more affordable to the individual householder.

Concentrated Solar Power

This system uses mirrors which concentrate the heat of the sun to heat a special fluid that will then operate a generator. This type of system is more suited to community, rather than individual, use.

Solar Space Heating

Heat from the sun is used to heat internal areas.

Solar Drying

Commercial applications use the sun in the drying process of grain, fruit and wood chip.

Solar Cookers

It is possible to set up an effective but inexpensive solar oven for cooking food.

Solar power is a clean, green method of generating electricity and has applications for the home, farm and industry. It uses a renewable resource and produces no waste products or toxic chemicals. The equipment used to generate power has no moving parts, meaning there is minimal maintenance and an extended life-span. The solar panels are relatively easy and inexpensive to install. This alternative energy source is especially suited to hot, sunny places that get the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the year.

In many countries, it is possible to sell the power you generate with your solar panels. The electricity goes into the grid for general consumption. Many people take advantage of this system to further decrease their energy bills. This system makes green energy available to people who cannot generate their own. You can elect to use a certain percentage of green power in some areas, allowing you to contribute to the health of the environment.

So, what do you think about solar power? Is it a solution we should invest in? 


Alternative and Sustainable Energy Sources: Solar Power — 34 Comments

  1. This is an interesting article; I would not have expected the panels to be inexpensive and easy to install. What’s an example of a country that allows you to sell the energy generated by individual household’s solar panels? I’m curious about the size of the compensation as well.

      • If you live in certain east coast states (particularly New Jersey, but there are others), if you generate enough solar power, you can sell the REC (Renewable Energy Credit) separate from the power itself. Different power providers are obligated to “green” up a percentage of their load, and NJ allows these providers to purchase the renewable attribute without purchasing the energy (the idea is that the renewable energy is being generated anyways).

        A REC is equal to 1 megawatt hour, so it takes quite a bit of solar generation to get there, but I’ve seen just the RECs go for up to $600 (and you could conceivably sell the power separately).

  2. Fundamentally, *everything* is solar energy, from ancient sunlight (oil and gas) to biomass. Solar panels are just a more direct conduit for it. Having a solar oven is one of those items on the long-term to-do list.

  3. Definitely Miss T. Have you noticed more and more homes are having solar lights? I think this is a small step in the right direction. Solar cookers are a terrific idea.

    I do hope solar roof panels will catch on. But they are still too expensive. Hopefully this will come down in the coming years.

  4. When I visited a relative in Arizona last spring, I noticed that many of the newer subdivision homes all had soloar panels on the roof. I wouldn’t mind having them, but the payback period to put them on our house in the midwest probably exceeds my remaining lifetime.

    • It is a shame that it does cost more that what many people can afford initially. It seems to really hinder the progress of the expansion of this technology. Maybe a solar power program will come to your community where you could at least make use of the energy in your home.

  5. Living in southern California, solar is a natural choice. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I keep my utility cost so low, it is hard to justify the expense. My utilities (electric and gas) is less than $70 per month.

  6. I think solar is a good investment at this point, and it makes more sense than some of the other out there (like hydropower). With the cost of panels falling, I think we’ll see a lot more roofs with solar as the time to see a full return on investment lowers, too.

  7. Interesting. Couple of years ago we seriously considered having solar panels put on the roof (we have quite a bit of roof anyway). We didn’t because we run out of funds but when replenished we would look at it again.

    In the UK there was a scheme where installing solar panels was subsidised by a government scheme and the electricity produces sold to the grid at very good price. The subsidy is being disconected but I think we can still sell to the grid. No one will get rich from that – solar panels take a long time to recover their costs. But installing them is usually not about money but about taking a bit of the load from other sources.

  8. I think in the US, you can hook up the solar power to the grid and rewind the meter back. I think we should invest heavily in solar power and install them on as many home as possible. The panel cost is coming down and maybe soon it will be affordable to everyone.

    • You might be right. I am not sure. As far as costs coming down, you are right. Panels are still out of reach for many though so improvement can still be made regarding affordability. I would love to see government subsidies for this kind of thing to encourage people to make the switch. I guess I have to keep hoping.

  9. THere are a lot of ways to lower the cost of solar – it something that im really interested in and am hoping to invest in for the future – from water heaters to energy and everything in between, I’ve always been interested in solar. What I plan on doing is making my energy needs as low as possible, then installing solar -allowing for as close to “off the grid” living as I can get.

  10. I think that solar is a viable source of energy for our homes. I can’t afford the upfront cost now, but as soon as I could, I would be looking into it for providing electricity and heating.

  11. Efficiency always pays. If we were staying in a house for more than 2-3 years at a time I would go solar in a heartbeat. For now, I mazimize the solar benefits by managing the drapes, shutter, and blinds wherever possible.

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