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
1, 2 https://www.seia.org/solar-industry-research-data
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