Solar Energy Facts
Solar energy is becoming more popular all the time (just take a look at all of these solar energy books). This method of energy generation operates without generating pollution. And unlike fossil fuels, it’s not a limited resource. As long as the sun rises each day, there is solar energy available to harvest and use.
Solar power can generate energy that runs everything from watches to your home’s security system, to vehicles. But even if you use solar energy on a regular basis, there are still lots of interesting facts about solar energy that you may not know.
When you have more interesting solar energy and solar panel facts, you begin to see just how amazing this form of energy is. It provides clean, emissions free energy. It can save you money on your utility bills. And it has been around longer than you might have thought.
We’ve gathered ten fun facts about solar energy that can illuminate your knowledge about clean, green solar power.
Solar Energy Fact #1: Solar Panels Cost A Fraction of What They Did in The 1970’s
Some solar panel facts: solar panels were first developed commercially in the late 1950’s, but solar reflectors which harnessed solar energy to light fires might be as old as civilization.
Solar panels that we think of today, however, were made commercially available during the latter half of the 20th century. And during the energy crisis of the 70’s they began to become more popular. Since that time they have enjoyed several technological advances, and prime among them is the reduction in cost for solar panel production.
According to a 2017 report from the Solar Energy Industries Association the average cost of a solar cell is about 40 cents per watt. In the late 70’s that number was about $70 per watt. That is a huge reduction in cost in the past fifty years.
As solar panels have gotten cheaper to produce, they’ve become a staple part of many consumer products. You can easily find outdoor lights, yard and camping equipment that has been improved by the addition of solar panels to generate some or all of their power needs. Those are some interesting solar power facts.
Solar Energy Fact #2: There are Two Types of Solar Energy
Interesting facts about solar energy includes the fact that solar energy can be converted into usable solar power in one of two main ways. (It can even cause solar storms!)
First, there is the kind of solar energy that is used in the majority of solar panels, the kind most people think of when you say “solar power.” This is called direct or photovoltaic (PV) power. Photovoltaic cells collect the photons from the sun’s rays and convert them to electricity that can power lights or home appliances, or be stored in a battery for later use.
The other type of energy is indirect, or solar thermal, energy. Solar thermal collectors use reflecting plates or other similar surfaces to collect sunlight and convert it directly to heat such as that used in a solar oven. Solar panel facts: a solar panel can use either photovoltaic or solar thermal energy, but photovoltaic is more common by a wide margin.
While photovoltaic cells were invented in the 1950’s, solar thermal energy use is perhaps centuries old. There’s evidence of parabolic reflectors being used to start fires or light torches dating back to ancient times.
In fact, if you’ve ever used a magnifying glass to light a bit of kindling for a science experiment, you’ve harnessed solar thermal energy. One of the fun facts about solar energy is just how long humans have been harnessing it for their needs.
Solar Energy Fact #3: Solar Power Plants Last a Long Time
Other interesting facts about solar energy include how long-lived solar panels can be. Most home solar panels are rated to last upwards of 25 years. But, the first solar power plant, known as SEGS 1 and built in 1984 is still in operation 35 years later.
By current estimates, commercial solar panels may have a lifespan of forty years or more. And even if the panels themselves degrade over the course of a half century, new panels can be installed into the existing infrastructure to allow a solar power plant to last with minimal maintenance for decades.
Of course, your home solar panel may not be quite as long-lived as a high-grade commercial one meant for utility use. But even your standard home panels have a generous lifespan of a quarter century or more. And considering that most homes with solar panel installation recoup their initial cost after less than a decade, that is a long life of savings on energy for your home. Those are some compelling solar panel facts.
Solar Energy Fact #4: Using Solar Can Cost Less Than Burning Fossil Fuels
Other interesting facts about solar energy include the way that costs are changing. Solar energy costs are trending downward, while fossil fuel costs continue to trend upwards as mining and drilling costs rise. Based on recent analysis, solar energy is around 4.3 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour) and natural gas can range from 4.2 to 7.8 cents per kWh.
These solar energy facts are averages, and the true cost of solar can vary depending on location, but in general it is as cheap or cheaper than coal, diesel, and natural gas throughout the United States. And as time goes on solar power is likely to get cheaper based on advances in technology.
And the future only looks better for solar panel facts. Technology involved in solar panel production is only getting more efficient. New photovoltaic cell models increase their amount of sun absorption in every generation. And this allows solar power to become cheaper and cheaper, because the source of the energy, the sun, will never run out.
Meanwhile sources of fossil fuels are only becoming harder to access. There is a limit to the oil, gas, and coal available in the earth’s crust. In addition to being a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also a limited resource. As stocks are depleted, and markets change and are manipulated the cost of fossil fuels is only projected to rise.
Soon, solar energy may not just compete with other energy forms, it may easily outpace them.
Solar Energy Fact #5: The World Leader in Solar Energy is China
When we think of solar energy generation, we often turn our attention to the American southwest, particularly the arid deserts of southern California and Arizona. But the world leader in solar energy is actually China. These solar energy facts might surprise you.
China installed nearly four times the volume of solar power plants in 2017 as the United States. There is a wide expanse of land available in China, and regulatory barriers are low.
Since 2013 China has led the world in the installation of photovoltaic cells. And it has been the world’s largest producer of solar power since 2015. Some of the world’s largest solar power plants, or solar farms, are located in China.
Some other interesting solar panel facts about China: it is not only the largest user of solar power. China has also led the world in production of solar panels for over a decade. China’s most productive provinces are split between the more arid eastern half of the country, and the coastal west.
Solar Energy Fact #6: The US Leader in Solar Energy is California
However, within the United States, California is the clear leader in solar energy. The state, which is one of the largest in the country, has some of the largest power plants in the world.
Some solar energy facts about California: About 14% of California’s power generation comes from solar panels (its a good thing that solar eclipses happen so rarely). And the state has a good balance between solar power plants and residential rooftop systems. California also has a program in place that offers certain homeowners assistance in financing the purchase of a home solar energy system at favorable rates.
Solar Energy Fact #7: Utility Companies are Creating Solar Options for Consumers
There is no denying these solar panel facts: the cost of installing a home solar energy system is significant. And it represents a barrier to many people who want to take advantage of solar energy.
However, there are ways to work around these barriers. In a growing number of communities, solar projects are being implemented in conjunction with local utilities. As a utility customer, you may be able to enter into a power purchase agreement for these solar projects. For a small, or no fee, you can agree that the electricity that comes to your house will be purchased by the utility from the solar provider, or be offset in a similar way.
This means that even if you are, say, a renter who cannot install solar panels on your home, you can still participate in solar power generation, and know that clean, green solar energy is powering your lights, electronics, and maybe even your solar water heater.
And the popularity of these projects creates a proof-of-concept for energy utilities that solar power is worth the investment. The more people willing to sign up for solar power provisions from their electric company, the more likely investments will be made by those companies in clean solar power.
Solar Energy Fact #8: The Break Even Point for Investing in a Solar Panel Array is Going Down
Here are some solar energy facts about your home solar investment: we earlier touched on the ever lowering cost of solar panel installation, and the affordability of solar power generation. Well, this, along with tax rebates and other incentives available has reduced the “break even” point further and further.
Solar panels represent a significant cost, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars. But many homeowners make the installation as an investment, knowing that the money they save on energy down the line will eventually pay back the upfront cost. The point when the initial expense has been recouped through savings and rebates is the break-even point.
Some interesting facts about solar energy break-even points: in most areas of the United States, the break-even point had dropped under a decade. Eight years is the national average, and in some places that have particularly high utility costs like Massachusetts and New York, homeowners can reach the break-even point in as few as three years.
And when you consider that solar panels continue to offer savings for 25 or more years, these interesting facts about solar energy can mean decades of significant savings.
Solar Energy Fact #9: Solar Energy Can Power Planes
When we think of solar energy, we most often think of giant solar power plants out in the desert wilds, or home solar panels tacked to a residential roof. But one of the best solar energy facts is how much more this power source can do.
In 2016 a Swiss pilot flew an aircraft named Solar Impulse II from Abu Dhabi and took several months to explore the world. His travel was powered by solar energy via the plane’s wing and body mounted solar panels.
The flight of Solar Impulse II went westward from Abu Dhabi, stopping at many interesting locales along the way. The plane was much smaller in size and lighter than typical private planes, and flew at a maximum altitude of only about 27,000 feet (most commercial planes fly above 31,000 feet). Nonetheless, the solar powered airplane was able to complete the circumnavigation of the globe, including a single flight from Nagoya, Japan to the island of Hawaii which was over 4,000 miles long.
The Solar Impulse project and flight was meant to demonstrate to the world the boundless opportunity afforded by solar power, and the many ways in which it can be applied to provide us with the energy we need for our modern life, while protecting the environment of our fragile world.
Solar Energy Fact #10: Solar Power Plants Can Make an Area More Disaster Ready
Solar power is quick to deploy in emergency situations compared to traditional energy methods. Some solar panel facts for emergencies are that panel installation is not composed of many moving parts, and the process of securing a panel is reasonably straightforward. That means that having solar infrastructure is one of the quickest ways to rebuild after devastating events such as earthquakes or hurricanes.
Take the case of Puerto Rico. When the island was devastated by hurricane Maria in 2017 the Tesla company and others were able to install and begin operating small solar power plants within weeks. Fossil-fuel driven power plants require far more infrastructure and would have taken significantly longer. Even clean wind power could not have been ready so quickly.
And in areas where solar infrastructure already exists, the downtime might be even lower. Solar panels in North Carolina were subjected to this test during hurricane Florence in the fall of 2018. While other power sources failed, solar farms suffered minimal damage and downtime. The power stations were shut down in anticipation of flooding but were able to be turned on quickly once flood waters receded. Only about 1% of the solar panels in the power plant were damaged by wind.
All these fun facts about solar energy point to one thing: solar energy is a diverse power medium that is here to stay. Costs are lowering, panels are lasting longer and getting more efficient, and the desire for solar power is only growing as other power methods become more expensive and their damage to the earth becomes more clear. The future of solar power is bright! (For a closer look at a vital component of solar technology, check out our article on solar inverters here!)