Solar power is finally getting its moment in the sun. On July 3rd, pilot André Borschberg completed a record-breaking flight from Japan to Hawaii, flying 7,200 km in a plane fuelled completely by solar power. The Netherlands have also been at the forefront of innovation, and recently developed and installed colourful sound barriers along a stretch of highway that not only reduces noise pollution but also absorbs light and converts it to energy. Across the pond in North America, Texas recently claimed the title as the provider of the world’s cheapest solar power, while Ontario is now home to a solar farm in the Rideau Lakes region that can generate enough power for more than 2,000 homes. Small nations are also making huge strides in clean energy. By 2020, Barbados will be one of the world’s top five leading users of solar energy on a per capita basis, proving that you don’t have to be a superpower to innovate in the field of renewable energy.
Solar power is quickly becoming an important component in the drive for clean energy solutions. “Not only is a 100 percent renewable energy economy necessary to combat climate change, it actually may be cheaper than the status quo,” explains Greg Beach of Inhabitat.
“A conversion to solar energy would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. Amidst these obvious benefits and rapid innovation, why aren’t more people making the switch to solar energy?
So many rooftops in Toronto for solar panels!
Barriers to Solar Energy
There are a number of barriers that continue to impede the implementation of solar energy systems more widely. One obstacle to the clean energy economy is the technological challenge of developing storage batteries. “The sun may shine strongly on a home rooftop, but if there is nowhere to store this energy until peak-demand in the evening, the system is not effective,” says Beach. The lithium ion battery is too inefficient for reliable energy storage, too expensive, and the manufacturing process is too complex. However, scientists are quickly developing new processes to decrease costs, increase durability, and provide more reliable solar energy storage in the near future.
Additionally, our environment can often act as a barrier to the implementation of renewable energy sources. Alexandros George Charalambides’ Ted Talk discusses some of the difficulties behind harnessing solar energy. In his opinion “the real culprit is clouds,“ which make solar power difficult to control and change the way light is absorbed by solar panels. “Depending on their type and location relative to the sun,” explains Charalambides, “[clouds] can either increase or decrease the amount of electricity produced.” His lecture is not meant to deter people from investing in solar power, but to help improve understanding and drive innovation in the field.
There are also many misconceptions surrounding the renewable energy source that have prevented homeowners from making the switch. Some are under the impression that the technology is still too expensive, while others believe that solar panels are aesthetically unappealing and would prefer not to install them on their roof. Below we’ve created a list of benefits to both debunk some of the misconceptions of solar energy and help you understand the advantages of this clean energy resource.
Harness the power of the sun to create solar energy
Solar Energy is a wise investment
According to the US Department of Energy, solar power is “no longer an option only for the wealthy, but an opportunity for anyone looking to gain control over monthly utility bills, and make a long term, low risk-investment.” Over the last 15 years, the average cost of solar energy for residential homes has fallen and it is now one of the most efficient energy resources and a safe investment. Not only do many solar panels have a 25 year warranty, but they also save on electricity, can earn you tax credits, and can even increase property value.
You don’t always need a backup system
Contrary to popular belief, solar power does not require a conventional backup system. According to SolarEnergy.net, homeowners who have used solar energy systems for over 10 years have used solar energy for 100% of their needs.
Still, most homes in Canada operating on solar power are not fuelled entirely by the sun. Fortunately, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island all have net metering systems in place. In many cases, homes are still connected to the grid, and any excess and unused energy harnessed from the sun is put back into the grid. This means that in the evening when the sun is down, you’re actually using credited energy which offsets the cost of power drawn during this time!
Solar panels aren’t ugly
Many people believe that solar panels are a huge eyesore, taking up huge chunks of your roof space. Fortunately, innovations in solar energy have created smaller panels with layers of overlapping cells, resulting in smaller and less cumbersome panels. In Canada, a company called Solar Shingles is producing solar panels that easily blend into the contours of your roof, eliminating the need for the traditionally large and clunky PV solar panels.
Solar panels are durable
Unlike systems that strive to harness wind power, solar energy systems have no moving parts, and are therefore less susceptible to damage. This reduces maintenance fees and also ensures that your household is running smoothly.
Solar Energy is economically and environmentally sustainable
Solar energy can also be an economically sustainable option for low-income families. The White House recently announced several new measures that seek to extend access to solar energy for low-income communities and renters. These community solar projects will not only supply low-income families with lower electricity bills, but will also help create jobs in the solar energy sector. These changes come with a pledge to install 300 megawatts of solar and other renewables in federally subsidized housing developments by 2020.
This clean energy resource is also a form of sustainable environmental development. For UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, sustainable development and climate change are “two sides of the same coin.” Ki-moon recognizes that small vulnerable countries “are on the climate frontlines” and see the effects of climate change every day. Now countries like Barbados are not only making strides in the climate change sector with their solar power innovation, but also making waves in the sustainable development sector.
As governments, builders, and developers continue to make energy-efficient construction a priority, and Passive Houses begin to appear on the market, solar energy will only continue to grow in importance. Homeowners should get informed and learn how investing in solar energy can create a cleaner and more sustainable planet for future generations, while saving a few dollars in the process.