The Silent Rise of Solar Power
he early 2020s have already been a period of many firsts for the solar industry. In 2022, the world surpassed one terawatt (i.e. 1,000 gigawatts) in total solar installations. Replacing coal-power plants with solar and wind plans became cheaper than continuing to run existing coal plans. And for the first time ever, more electricity was generated with solar power than with natural gas in Europe.
The coming decade may prove to be the one that completely changes the global energy landscape away from fossil fuels for the first time since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Over the past five decades, the US has already installed about 140 gigawatts of solar power generation capacity, enough to supply more than 3% of its energy needs.
If current estimates hold, 600 gigawatts of solar generated-energy may come online by 2030. One gigawatt is about the average energy produced by a nuclear power plant, so by 2030, the United States may be able to add the equivalent of 600 nuclear power plants in clean energy production.
Though the promise of solar power as a sustainable energy source has been touted since the 1970s, progress has been slow in terms of growth in production capacity and decline in cost, leading many to lose faith in solar energy’s potential to have a transformational impact.
But just as it began fading from public attention, over the past handful of years the solar industry has quietly made incredible strides in everything from the cost of production to panel efficiency. The solar industry is expected to undergo exponential expansion in the coming years; the US Department of Energy predicts that 40% of the US’s electric demand could be supplied by solar by the year 2035.
Though other exciting technologies like fusion promise to reshape the global energy landscape in the longer term, the timeline for commercializing this technology is uncertain, with many technical and cost hurdles still ahead. By the time it takes fusion to reach maturity, solar will already have taken on a much bigger role in global energy generation.
Additionally, since solar panels are made from silicon, the production of solar panels may soon enjoy the same kind of massive scale, production, and transformative effects that we have seen in the semiconductor industry. Indeed, the solar industry may represent the second silicon revolution we experience in our lifetimes – and the start of a genuine shift towards cheap, abundant, sustainable energy.
Solar Power’s Abundant Potential
The scale of the solar resource is still not fully appreciated. Most people are aware that the sun is the primary source of energy for all biological activity on Earth, but the true scope of solar energy beamed down onto the Earth is far greater than what is harvested via the biosphere through processes like photosynthesis.
The total amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface is something on the order of 5.5 x 10^17 kWh/year, a number that is 720 times greater than annual human energy consumption. Harvesting just one percent of this vast potential energy could power the entire planet for seven years.
The question that has always stumped us was how exactly we could do this. The only other specimens we know of that were good at converting solar light directly into energy are plants. However, there is a limit to how well even plants can do this. In the first place, plants only absorb green light, which meant that all other light frequencies from red, blue, and purple are wasted in photosynthesis. On average, this meant that the energy conversion efficiency of plants hovers under 2%.
When people tout the high energy content of fossil fuels, it’s painful to imagine how long it took extremely inefficient natural processes like photosynthesis to produce the energy-dense compounds found in petroleum and other crude oils. Energy can only then be extracted through the inefficient and somewhat roundabout process of combustion.
Remarkably, solar panels today are actually 10 times better than plants at converting sunlight into energy. Solar panels also convert it into a very useful form, electricity, which can immediately be used to power devices without requiring additional energy conversions.
Solar-generated electricity also has a number of other benefits. Unlike other energy sources, such as fossil fuels, wind, and hydro, which are not evenly distributed on Earth, sunshine is available in most places even if some locations receive more sunlight than others, such as the equator and the tropics.
Also, energy generated from solar panels conveniently mimics the rhythms of human energy consumption. We tend to use more energy during the middle of the day, whether to air condition buildings or operate appliances and other machinery, which coincides with the times when the sun shines most brightly. Typically, providing additional energy during these high-demand hours is quite costly since doing so requires putting excess electricity-generating plants online to supplement the larger, centrally operated plants which run all the time to provide consistent electricity. Solar panels offer a more elegant solution to offering cheaper electricity during these peak hours.
As of today, top-of-the-line solar panels installed on the roofs of homes provide around ~23% efficiency. On average, there is something like 1366 watts falling down on every square meter of the Earth during the daytime, though this varies by time of day and your latitude on Earth.
The average residential solar panel, which typically has 60-80 solar cells, and is close to a meter squared in size, is capable of generating somewhere around 273.2 watts per hour on average. Given that a typical American household needs somewhere around 10,000 KwH per year, a 20 to 30-panel system would be needed to generate enough power year-round.
Increasingly, it looks like the math is adding up to making solar a viable energy source for many residents across the United States. 16 states are already generated more than 5% of their electricity from solar, with California leading the way at 27.3%. In 2022, the United States installed 17.0 gigawatts of photovoltaics, resulting in a cumulative 110 gigawatt photovoltaic installations in the US, or equivalent to around 4.7% of annual electricity generation.
Still, the US was only the second-largest market in terms of annual installations. By far, the biggest consumer — and producer — of photovoltaics is China. China’s annual PV installations grew 57% year-over-year in 2022, representing 42% of total global demand.
China began massively scaling up its solar panel production in the 1990s when a government subsidy program initiated by Germany massively increased demand for solar panels in Europe. Given that Europe lacked the manufacturing capacity to supply the panels, China saw an opportunity to step in and eat their lunch.
Since then, China’s solar panel production has quickly grown to become the largest in the world; and between 2008 and 2013, the country was single-handedly responsible for an 80% decrease in solar panel costs worldwide. China’s scaled manufacturing capacity has made it difficult for competition producers in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere to compete. This explains why, in 2012, the United States imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels, increasing the cost of solar installations in the US relative to global prices.
The scenario unfolding geopolitically is similar to the one unfolding in another silicon-based industry — integrated circuits. Though silicon-based solar panels enjoy the same kinds of scaling laws already seen with semiconductors-based integrated circuits, that industry has also shown that massive scaling laws typically benefit the largest and most specialized manufacturers. Just as Taiwanese TSMC produces over half of all the world’s microchips, China is already on the path to supplying nearly half of all the new solar generating panels that come online.
A History of Solar Energy
Even before we had a handle on electricity, brilliant inventors were coming up with clever ways to make use of the Sun’s power. The earliest applications of solar-powered devices found ways to concentrate solar energy to turn it into heat. Much like today’s solar ovens, used occasionally by some on camping trips or in developed countries, the first large-scale solar device was a solar furnace built in 1774 by a French chemist named Antoine Lavoisier. He used powerful lenses to concentrate solar radiation and attain temperatures as high as 1750°C.
Building on the foundations of Lavoisier’s solar furnace, engineers like August Monchot and John Ericsson developed solar-powered steam engines, which used concentrated sunlight to heat water and power an engine. In the 1878 International Exhibition in Paris, a solar-powered steam engine was demonstrated to drive a printing machine.
Though these were all exciting new forays into the potential of solar technology, converting sunlight into heat was an indirect way of harvesting the sun’s energy.
All light or electromagnetic waves carry energy through photons as a result of these photons exciting the electrons they interact with, which drives the transmission of energy. If there was a way to directly harness the increased charge from photons acting on electrons, then sunlight could be directly translated to electricity, without the need for heating water to power a turbine as an intermediary.
The Photovoltaic Effect
The key to this process was first discovered by Edmond Becquerel in 1839. The French physicist was fascinated by the properties of light from a young age. At 19, he was experimenting in his father’s laboratory where he set up an electrolytic cell, which consisted of two metal electrodes submerged in an electrolyte solution.
Becquerel noticed that when he illuminated the cell with light, an electric current was generated. This phenomenon occurred even when there was no external voltage source connected to the electrodes. He hypothesized that the light was somehow responsible for the generation of electric current in the cell.
Witnessing this strange behavior was key to realizing the true potential of light as an energy transmitter. Though Becquerel was the first to document this effect, he did not understand how or why it worked as it did. There were still nearly 50 years between his observation and the discovery of the electron. Intuitions about the fundamental nature of materials and their atomic structure were just beginning to mature. Thus, the incredible applications of light were noted, and stored away to be applied at a future time.
Today, we know that the photovoltaic effect Becquerel witnessed is a unique phenomenon in which certain materials are able to convert light energy into electrical energy. These materials are primarily semiconductors, which are known for their ability to selectively conduct electricity (which is why they are the primary materials used in producing integrated circuits and micro-electronics).
When light strikes a semiconducting material, photons transfer their energy to the electrons within the material. This energy absorption causes the electrons to break free from their atomic bonds and become mobile. As a result, a separation of charges occurs, with positive charges, holes, and negative charges, free electrons, being created within the material. The key insight is that once a material with these photovoltaic properties is connected to a circuit, the internal electric field within the material can then begin supplying electric current to an external source.
The First Solar Cells
The masters of semiconductor materials in the mid-20th century were undoubtedly the researchers at Bell Labs. In 1947, William Bardeen and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs discovered the transistor, a solid-state semiconductor-based device that could selectively transmit electric current — now a pillar of all modern electronics technology.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that the first silicon-based solar cell was also first produced at Bell Labs in 1954. The trio of Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson were running back Becquerel’s early experiments using solid semiconducting materials. Initially, the best they could do was produce a selenium-based cell that could generate a current at 0.5% efficiency of the light energy put in — a process even less efficient than plants. However, when the team began experimenting with silicon, their cell produced a whopping 6% energy conversion output, the highest ever recorded.
The researchers celebrated by hooking up their solar cell to a battery that could power a small hand-held radio. Human communication powered by the sun.
Despite the excitement generated by the first practical solar cell, the esoteric technology and high costs associated with producing it left only a few customers immediately interested. First and foremost among those was the space industry. NASA, founded in 1958, was particularly interested in the potential of solar panels for powering its satellites. Later that same year, the Vanguard 1 satellite became the first spacecraft to use solar cells as a power source.
It was only in the 1970s, during the height of the OPEC oil crisis when inflation and sky-rocketing fuel costs were threatening American economic stability, that new life was breathed into the solar industry. Solar promised energy independence and insulation from geopolitical throes. In 1979, President Carter installed 32 solar panels on the roof of the White House in a gesture meant to symbolize America’s newfound commitment to this new technology. However, the lack of any real manufacturing capacity meant that this optimism was rather short-lived. The New York Times reported rather pejoratively at the time that energy generated by solar panels would cost consumers somewhere around 10 per watt — meaning it would cost something on the order of 12,000 to run an ordinary toaster. With that, the excitement in solar gradually deflated until President Reagan symbolically removed Carter’s solar panels from the White House roof in 1986.
Though mainstream interest in solar panel technology subsided after oil returned to normal, the solar industry continued making strides in efficiency outside of the public’s notice. Counterintuitively, much of the research and development that improved solar panel performance during the 80s was driven by oil companies. Giants like Exxon and BP poured their cash from oil windfalls to invest in this new and emerging technology which already showed some promise. By the 1990s, solar panel efficiency was approaching 20% while costs were swiftly falling.
The “Generations” of Solar Cell Technology
Solar panel technology depends entirely on the material it uses. The key to producing efficient solar panels lies in the discovery, or sometimes, the development of suitable materials that can produce the desired and powerful photovoltaic effect. This kind of research requires a lot of experimentation to get right, which is why getting significant improvements in performance takes a lot of time. Nonetheless, for the past 10 years, the conversion efficiency of panels has improved by as much as 0.5% each year, with the average efficiency of traditional silicon-based solar panels sitting around 25% today.
Selecting an effective solar panel material also comes with a lot of other considerations outside of energy efficiency. The cost of producing or procuring these materials is a massive factor, alongside the durability and longevity of the materials used. This is why solar panels are not a one-size fits all business. Over the years, three distinct categories of solar panels have developed, and they’re grouped into “generations” according to the materials that make them up.
First-generation solar cells
These types of solar cells are produced from readily accessible silicon, which makes up nearly 30% of the Earth’s crust! They’re the cheapest solar cells on the market and the most prevalent, making up something around 80% of all installed solar panels and 90% of market share. They’re the panels we see on residential roofs and those installed on massive solar farms.
Second-generation solar cells
Second-generation solar cells describe semiconductor materials that can be fashioned into extremely thin layers. Producing these first became possible in the 1970s when coating flexible materials like plastics with non-crystalline forms of silicon became possible. These are the types of small flexible solar modules you might see on a simple calculator or other solar-powered portable devices. They can also be cheaper to manufacture than traditional first-generation cells, but they are also less energy efficient.
Third-generation solar cells
Third-generation solar cells are an emerging frontier in solar panel materials. These primarily refer to novel materials like perovskites, which are a class of crystalline compounds that can absorb a wide range of visible and near-infrared light, making them a much more efficient photovoltaic material than traditional silicon. Another branch of third-generation cells are organic solar cells, which use carbon-based polymers or small molecules as the semiconducting medium. These are light, flexible, and can be printed rather cheaply.
The Future Challenges and Prospects of Solar Power
Research into third-generational solar cell technology has produced very promising results. In 2022, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory managed to create a solar cell that exhibited near 40% energy conversion efficiency. This is the most efficient panel ever made, using a combination of third generation techniques.
Though breakthroughs like this are becoming ever more common in the solar industry, there are still fundamental challenges to making these devices widespread and practical. In the first place, perovskites, though tremendously efficient, are also very fragile materials. They break very easily even in laboratory conditions, which means that any kind of perovskite-based solar cell installed on a residential rooftop would likely need replacing on an extremely frequent basis. Some solutions, which combine perovskite and silicon materials together have managed to produce a more resilient solar cell, however, the latest techniques still don’t meet the predominant expectation that solar panels should last on the order of 20-30 years.
Another hurdle that remains is the problem of integrating solar-generated electricity within the existing grid. The American electrical grid is over one hundred years old and is designed to carry a constant stream of electricity generated from massive central power stations to far-away end users. The main rule of the electrical grid is that amount of electricity consumed must always equal the electricity generated. Already, the grid involves complicated processes to balance this equation, spin up additional sources of energy when consumption spikes, and spin down generation when consumption falls.
Solar energy complicates this even further. The amount of electricity generated by large solar farms can vary drastically based on the amount of sun exposure. Injecting a fluctuating amount of power is a difficult problem for the traditional grid to regulate, which makes accommodating these new power sources technically tricky and time-consuming.
Furthermore, solar energy is based on the idea that electricity can be generated and used locally. When homes generate more energy than they need, the hope is that they can sell their excess energy back into the communal grid; however, this kind of centralized and decentralized energy network makes grid maintenance even more complicated still.
As the number of solar installations increases around the country, it might be that an entirely new kind of grid paradigm would be needed. Eventually, with enough local solar installations, the centralized grid might eventually become more of a battery; relied upon at night or as a fail-safe.
Still, maturing solar technologies promise many exciting new prospects on the horizon. Organic solar cells can be cheaply printed on any surface to make even transparent glass panes capable of generating electricity. Coating digital devices with photovoltaic materials could mean that even ambient light indoors might be sufficient to power and run our electronics. Flexible, cheap photovoltaics could also bump up the efficiency of traditional energy-generating processes at the margin. Industrial processes that still rely on combusting fuels to produce heat could see their energy generation improved by adding light-sensitive photovoltaics into the mix. The panels could help absorb and utilize the radiating energy that would otherwise go to waste.
Ironically, the parts of the world most endowed with sunlight are also the ones with the lowest levels of economic development. The proliferation of solar panels globally could be a massive step in changing this dynamic. At a global scale, wide deployment of cheap, distributed energy would help reduce everything from the costs of drinking water through desalination and enable cheaper industrial processes which could help nations produce essential materials from fertilizer to refined metals locally and cheaply.
Below are the companies working to bring about a revolution in solar generation:
Antora is building large-scale batteries that can store excess electricity produced by solar plants to resupply to the grid in down-times.
Epishine is hoping to get rid of disposable batteries by mass-manufacturing flexible and powerful solar panels that can be installed in any portable device.
Erthos specializes in installing utility-scale solar panels in a way that can be done using half the cost and and third of the space as traditional installations.
Beyond Silicon is building solar cells that combine both silicon and perovskite materials.
Swift Solar is working on developing perovskite and silicon solar cells.
SolarSquare is bringing the residential solar revolution to India.
Heliatek is a German-based developer of flexible organic solar cells that can be incorporated into future building designs.
Sunew is a Brazilian-based company manufacturing organic solar cells.
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Must-Have Solar-Powered Devices for Your Next Camping Trip
Stay self-sufficient on the road with everything from a solar-powered generator to self-charging string lights.
When you’re boondocking, or camping off the grid with limited access to amenities, you have a few different options to keep your rig running and devices charged. Some are more convenient than others. You can run your vehicle or generator to create a charge, you can drive into town to recharge your battery packs at a coffee shop, or you can become self-sufficient. Solar-powered products are widely available, providing a self-sufficient, clean energy option.
Harnessing the power of the sun also saves money. From portable solar-powered generators to self-charging string lights, you can turn roadtripping into a luxurious experience with these devices.
Tips for Purchasing Solar-Powered Devices
As solar-powered devices become more popular, it can be difficult to know which products are worth purchasing. There are a few qualities that can help you to determine which devices might support long-term use.
Does a solar panel charge at the same rate as a standard electrical outlet? How much power does the solar panel produce? Answer these questions prior to your purchase, and keep these tips in mind when shopping for solar-powered devices:
- Evaluate charge time and output. For example, the Jackery Solar Generator 1000 (listed below) takes about 8 hours to charge from 0 to 100 percent, using two solar panels. The resulting charge can keep large electronics fueled for the day, or small electronics charged for a week.
- Make sure your devices have a dust-proof, weather-resistant layer. Those of us who camp and live on the road tend to put our gear through the wringer. Make sure that your solar-powered devices are equipped with technology that extends their life—even when exposed to dusty or wet environments.
- Look for a manufacturer’s warranty. Many solar power device manufacturers include some type of warranty, which adds an additional layer of protection.
- Temperature controls. Most, but not all, solar-powered devices naturally have built-in temperature control features to protect the delicate components of your electronics. To avoid shorting out your electronics or potentially causing a fire, make sure that your device has emergency shut-offs or temperature controls.
Solar-Powered Camping Products We Love
Jackery Solar Generator 1000
Portable Power Station Explorer 1000
The Jackery Solar Generator 1000 comes with everything that a basic camper needs to stay self-sufficient for weeks at a time. It’s a portable power station with solar-powered capabilities, and users can choose how to recharge the generator. You can plug it into the auxiliary power outlet of your vehicle as you drive, and it’s compatible with a conventional wall socket. But it’s especially impressive when you pair it with two SolarSaga 100 solar panels. On sunny days, the solar panels can fully recharge the generator in about 8 hours, leaving you with 1,000 watts of energy.
The Jackery Solar Generator 1000 is equipped with AC outlets, two USB-C ports, and a quick-charge 3.0 port. You can expect this device to power laptops, small appliances—like a refrigerator or a coffee maker—and more. A refrigerator that’s less than 1,000 watts can be powered by the Jackery for nearly 7 hours. The Jackery can also charge a cell phone about 100 times, a drone 17 times, and a standard laptop about eight times before dying. It’s easy to use, utilizes green energy, and fits behind the driver’s seat in most vehicles.
SunJack 15-Watt Foldable Panel Charger
Foldable Solar Panel Charger
Campers don’t necessarily need a full-blown generator to charge small electronics like radios, cell phones, and headphones. Instead, you can rely on the SunJack 15-Watt Foldable Panel Charger to power your adventures. This foldable panel packs down to about the size of a tablet. It weighs 1.8 pounds and comes with two USB ports that can easily charge battery packs for later use. The waterproof layer on the solar panel helps protect your device from dust and water, making it useful in varied environments.
While some solar panels take much longer to charge devices compared to conventional wall sockets, this panel charger provides high-speed solar charging that’s on par with the speed of wall outlets. This device comes with a 1-year warranty and a satisfaction guarantee policy.
MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights
Set the mood at camp with stringed lights, like the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights. These lights come with an 18-foot-long cord that can easily be installed at campsites, around an RV door, or inside the RV. It comes with 10 nodes along the cord and lasts as long as 20 hours on a single charge. It can be recharged with the small solar panel that’s installed on the back of the storage container, or with a quick-charging USB port that takes about 6 hours.
The battery pack can also be used to charge other electronic devices, like phones or tablets. This set of lights weighs 11.3 ounces and can safely operate in temperatures that range from 32 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. The solar lights are splash-resistant, so they can handle showers and light storms thanks to overcurrent protection.
LuminAID Sunfox Solar Speaker
When you camp with limited resources, you don’t usually find yourself jumping to power an electronic speaker, but you can with the Bluetooth-powered Sunfox Solar Speaker. This speaker comes with a small built-in solar panel that yields 20 hours of playtime. It’s designed for outdoor use with the included IPX6 waterproof rating and a sand-proof design.
At 8.6 ounces, the speaker offers high-quality audio and still fits in the palm of your hand. Plus, it’s easy to operate. Charge it with the sun or via a USB port with an outlet or a generator.
LuminAID Solar Inflatable Lanterns
Solar Inflatable Lanterns
LuminAID also makes a lightweight, inflatable lantern that collapses flat for easy storage. When fully charged, the battery lasts for 24 hours. Recharge it via the top solar panel, which takes 10 hours of direct sunlight, or with a micro USB charger, which takes 1 to 2 hours. There are multiple brightness options for both indoor and outdoor use; the light covers a 125-square-foot area. It’s waterproof and attachable to tent poles, backpacks, and more with a convenient handle.
GOSUN Chill Solar Cooler
Keep your food and drinks cool while camping or adventuring with the solar-powered GOSUN Chill Cooler. Instead of using ice to stay cold, the 40-liter cooler works like an off-grid refrigerator. This keeps items from getting soggy as the ice melts. It’s powered by a lithium power bank that can be charged using solar panels, and it also comes with power cords and adapters to plug into AC or DC power when available.
The cooler can run for 14 hours in 80-degree weather, and for 10 hours at 40 degrees F. The actual temperature inside the cooler can be controlled using a touch screen.
Advanced Elements Summer Solar Shower
Portable showers might be the norm for vanlifers, but they can also help conserve water when boondocking in an RV, allowing you to stay off the grid for longer. The portable Advanced Elements Summer Solar Shower has a 5-gallon capacity, a temperature gauge, and an external for toiletries. It takes about 3 hours in direct sunlight for the water to reach 110 degrees F. No matter your camping style, upgrade your portable shower to a solar shower so you can conveniently enjoy warm water on the go.
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At Prospect Solar, we specialize in the design and installation of solar photovoltaic energy systems. These energy systems, also known as “PV” or “Solar PV” for short, are designed to harness the sun’s energy, and convert it into the electricity that your home or business uses.
- When exposed to sun, the PV solar panels produce energy in the form of a direct current (DC) charge.
- This DC charge, the same as in your car, can be measured in units of power, or watts.
- Similarly, you may have noticed “kilowatt hours” on your monthly energy bill. This is a unit of 1,000 (kilo) watts used per hour.
- Commercial solar installs DC black solar panels.
- Solar modules can range in their energy output from roughly 75 watts to 350 watts, with an average output of about 250 watts.
- When solar panels are grouped together, they form an array. The energy potential (or size) of that array is classified by the number of panels multiplied by their output rating (in watts).
- For example, an array of (20), 250-watt solar panels would have energy potential of 5 kilowatts (20 modules x 250 watts = 5,000 watts).
- For size determination, we would call this a “5 kW Array.” If the average home uses 11,280 kilowatts per year, a 5kW solar array would offset roughly 57% of their energy usage.
- With ideal solar access, you can roughly estimate the yearly solar production by multiplying the “kW” size by 1.3. (A 5kW solar array x 1.3 = 6,500 kilowatt-hours per year).
Since solar modules produce a DC charge, it is necessary to convert direct current to alternating current (AC), as to accommodate the commercial appliances and fixtures within your home or business. Inverters regulate the energy produced by the solar modules and adapt it to appropriate levels necessary for your energy usage, and are compatible with single-phase (most residential) and three-phase (generally commercial) applications. Solar inverters make the connection to your existing electrical meter and provide communication on solar production to technicians and other solar equipment, such as monitoring devices (see Monitoring). There are two main types of inverters for solar energy systems, each with their own advantages:
- Central inverters are generally used for arrays that have large amounts of solar access
- Central inverters often are less expensive, and group “strings” of solar panels
- This allows for fewer components of the energy system, and central access to equipment
- Micro inverters are generally used when a portion of an array is temporarily shaded
- Micro inverters are assigned to each individual solar panel
- This allows technicians to monitor and analyze each solar module’s energy production
Solar arrays are most commonly placed on either the roof of a facility or on the ground in a designated clearing. “Racking” refers to the structural systems that secure the solar arrays in place. Since these racking systems are designed to support the weight of the solar panels, as well as withstand hurricane-force winds up to 90 mph, their method of attachment varies based on their mounting style and location.
Prospect Solar can also provide custom-designed solar solutions for racking structures, as well as integrate solar with green roofs (vegetative roofs). In cases of roof mounts, we also have the unique abilities to maintain roof warranties as well as offer remedial roof repair.
Ground mounts are typically made of aluminum racking supported by galvanized steel, and are certified by structural engineers.
- Ideal for applications with open spaces (such as solar for vineyards or farms)
- Allows for larger solar arrays and larger offset of utility bills
- Serves as a solution for roof shading or limited roof space
- Typically attach to ground through concrete pillars or footings
- Some models can serve as solar canopies with parking/storage space below
Ballasted Roof Mounts
Ballasted roof mounts are typically composed of “ballast trays” made of a recycled material such as polyethylene, which helps prevent puncturing of roofing membranes.
- Ideal for applications with flat roofs (such as solar for commercial buildings)
- Allows for minimal or even zero penetrations of the roof surface to preserve roof integrity
- Uses weighted pavers or ballast blocks to secure arrays to roof
- Allows for solar installation on EPDM, TPO (thermoplastic), built-up roofing, and other flat roofs
- Prospect Solar has the unique ability to install solar and maintain waterproofing warranties
Flush Roof Mounting
Flush roof mounting allows for solar panels to be mounted onto homes in a secure and low-profile fashion.
- Ideal for pitched roofs of varying angles (such as solar for homes)
- Allows for minimal penetrations by tying into existing roof framing
- All penetrations are fitted with waterproof flashings, which are sealed and inspected
- Can be installed on composite (asphalt shingle), wooden shake, metal (standing seam), and slate roofs
- Wiring, grounding, and micro inverters (if selected) are tucked neatly below solar panels
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If you desire custom features and premium support, our team has the solutions to satisfy your needs.
Prospect Solar has the expertise to provide custom-tailored, state of the art solar solutions to local homeowners, farms, and businesses. affordably.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Solar energy pros and cons are a hot topic today. As the earth’s most plentiful source of energy, the sun holds enormous promise as a clean and dependable way to power our world.
When the radiant energy of the sun is converted to heat and electricity, it can provide energy to residences and businesses, and even power vehicles.
Now might be a good time to learn about solar energy advantages and explore adding a solar energy system to your home. Then you can decide: Is solar energy worth it?
When considering home energy options, it is important to understand how solar energy works. When sunlight hits a solar panel, a photovoltaic cell turns that light into direct current (DC) electricity. An inverter then converts it to alternating current (AC), which is what most devices in your home use.
Advantages of Solar Energy
The more we can capture the benefits of solar energy, the less we will rely on fossil fuels. Adding a solar energy system to your home allows you to tap into these solar energy advantages:
Solar energy is a renewable energy source and reduces carbon emissions
Solar energy is a renewable energy source, meaning you don’t ever use it up. Solar energy is clean. It creates no carbon emissions or other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases. It avoids the environmental damage associated with mining or drilling for fossil fuels. Furthermore, solar energy also uses little to no water, unlike power plants that generate electricity using steam turbines.
Solar energy can reduce your home’s electricity bill
A solar energy system for your home can reduce your reliance on the grid and help you save on your electricity bill. Some owners of residential solar energy systems may even have excess power that they can sell to the utility. Instead of paying a utility for electricity, homeowners get paid by the utility. You may not have to buy an entire solar energy system to cut your home’s electricity bill. Simply choose solar lights, lights that are powered by the sun instead of your home’s electrical system, to help save money.
Solar power can get you money back through Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)
Some states offer solar renewable energy certificates (SREC). Each one represents a megawatt-hour of electricity generated through solar energy. Electricity suppliers buy these certificates to satisfy their state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, a requirement that a certain amount of their renewable energy come from solar. You can sell SRECs for your system’s output, which is another way to earn money from your investment.
Homes with solar panels installed may improve home value
Home buyers will likely pay more for a house with solar panels installed. Considering solar energy pros and cons, the savings on electricity bills and the money earned selling power back to the utility, all count in the plus column. Residential solar energy systems are highly valued and can increase a home’s resale value. The property value of a home with solar panels can be worth up to 15,000 more than its neighbors.
Solar systems are fairly easy to install and require very little maintenance. Both are handled by your solar provider, if you opt for a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA). Consider this as you ask yourself is solar energy worth it.
Solar panels have low maintenance costs
Solar panels are easy to maintain, as they have no moving parts that wear out over time. Just keep them clean and in good physical condition to keep them working properly. Between their low maintenance costs and average lifespan of 25 years, it can be easy to get your money’s worth when investing in solar panels.
Solar energy can generate electricity in any climate
Solar energy systems can generate electricity in any climate. One of the disadvantages of solar energy is that it’s subject to temporary weather disruption. Cloudy days reduce the amount of electricity you produce. Cold, however, doesn’t affect productivity. Snowfall can actually help your solar system, as the snow cleans the panels as it melts and sun reflected off the snow increases the amount of light hitting your panels. The result is more electricity production.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
The disadvantages of solar energy are becoming fewer as the industry advances and grows, creating economies of scale. Technological advances are helping solar go mainstream. Here are how the disadvantages of solar energy and the pros and cons stack up.
The high initial costs of installing panels
The most commonly cited solar energy disadvantage, cost, is declining as the industry expands. The initial cost to buy and install the equipment is not cheap. Still, if cost is an issue, leasing options may reduce the amount of your initial outlay. If you do choose to buy, you will need to live in your home for a number of years before the system pays for itself. It’s a long-term investment better suited to property owners than renters.
Solar energy storage is expensive
Of the disadvantages of solar energy, the temporary decline in energy production during bad weather has been a major issue. Days with low solar energy, however, are having less of an effect due to advances in battery technology. Old technology for storing solar energy, like lead acid batteries are being replaced by alternatives. Lithium ion batteries offer greater power at a lower cost. Nickel-based batteries have an extremely long life. New technologies, like flow batteries, promise scale and durable power storage.
Solar doesn’t work for every roof type
Not every room will work well with solar panels. Orientation matters. If your roof doesn’t face the sun, you won’t be able to capture enough solar energy. Roofs that angle into the sun tend to work better than flat roofs.
Roofing materials like asphalt shingles, metal and tiles make installing solar panels easier. If your room is made with other materials, installation may be more expensive. Part of what makes energy-efficient roofs is their ability to support solar panels.
Solar panels are dependent on sunlight
It’s obvious that solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity. They won’t produce electricity at night when you need it for light and they can be inefficient during storms and gloomy days. Your solar energy system needs batteries if you plan to fully depend on solar energy to power your home.
Batteries are one of the more expensive components of your system. Unlike solar panels, they do wear out and need careful maintenance to lengthen their lives. Comparing wind power vs. solar power, wind will keep generating electricity at night and during storms, as long as there is enough wind. Many people use both in residential systems.
Constellation Energy and Solar Energy
When weighing the pros and cons of solar energy for your home, there are additional options worth considering. Community solar projects are a great way to get the advantages of solar energy without buying and maintaining a system yourself.
If your home and roof won’t support solar panels or if you don’t have enough money to invest in one, community solar might be your answer. With this option, you agree to participating in a program that allows you receive credits for every kWh generated by the solar facility. You get a credit on your electricity bill proportional to your percentage of ownership in the project’s energy.