Residential solar panels on townhome in Richmond, Virginia

Everything You Need To Know About Solar Energy

Learn everything you need to know about solar energy and why it can be a great solution for you. Call us today to find out the best solar solution for your home or business.

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Solar Energy Guide:
Generating Renewable Energy Through the Sun

What is solar power? It is simply sun-generated energy that can be used as an electric or thermal energy source. The sun can be harnessed in different manners, but the most known and used one is through a PV system, or photovoltaic solar panel system, which simply converts sunshine into electricity. Solar energy is also often used to heat indoor spaces or fluids, especially in thermal applications, so that’s why a lot more private homes and businesses have installed solar hot water systems to make the most of the sun available to them and use the latest technologies.

Residential, Commercial and Community Solar

Want to find out more about solar power? You can install solar systems either for residential, commercial or utility purposes.

Residential systems are typically installed on top of a roof or ground-mounted on land and range between 5-15kW depending on the size of the property and electric usage.

Commercial projects are installed at a greater scale than residential and can vary in size and cost depending on the location, property type, etc., but their main purpose is to provide sustainable and economical on-site solar energy to power businesses and nonprofits.
Utility solar projects are much bigger installations demanding a large amount of megawatt (MW) serving a large number of utility customers.

Not every consumer interested in solar has a property fit for solar or can afford to install on their property due to various factors. Thankfully, community solar can be a good solution that helps connect utility-scale solar projects to residential consumers. These community solar farms are usually built in more central locations and interested consumers can sign up to the community solar project without having to install a panel system on their property. Community Solar will be available in Virginia in 2023. Dominion Energy has several Green Energy programs to consider if rooftop solar isn’t right for you.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

A solar panel is made of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass case, and wires that transfer the electricity onto the silicon. Silicon (number 14 atomic on the periodic table) is a chemical element that can conduct, absorb and convert sun rays into electricity. When the sunlight hits the silicon cell, the electrons in it start moving and flowing electric current.

When light hits a silicon cell, the light causes electrons in the silicon to be set in motion, initiating a flow of electric current. This process is called the ‘photovoltaic effect’ and it basically explains how a solar panel works.

Originally, discovered in 1839 by Edmond Becquerel, the photovoltaic effect basically uses semiconductors (or specific materials) to create electricity when exposed to sunlight and that’s what the science of creating electricity from solar energy is basically about.

Below are some steps that explain the PV process further:

  • The silicon solar cell absorbs the sun’s rays.
  • When solar radiation comes in contact with this silicon cell, the electrons start moving, generating an electric flow.
  • Wires attached to this cell catch and conduct this direct current electricity to the solar inverter which then turns it into alternating current electricity.

A Brief History Of Solar Power

Back in 1954, Bell Labs developed the first silicon PV cell that we know today. Although they weren’t the first to use solar energy, as it had been previously produced and used through various methods, solar energy started to be taken into consideration as a viable source of energy to power devices. Historically, solar cells converted electricity at an efficiency rate of 4%, however, nowadays solar panels reach around 20% efficiency and more.

Although solar energy had a bit of a slow start, it recently has had a boom thanks to federal incentives and policies which helped make it more affordable and widely available. To date, solar energy has enough capacity to light up 11 million households in the USA, out of 126 accounted for. 

The Cost Of Solar Energy

Thankfully, the cost of installing solar panels has decreased exponentially, together with the technology and efficiency improvement. As an example, the cost of installing a solar panel system has reduced to more than 60%, and it is only bound to fall even further in the future. Depending on your location, you may be able to take advantage of different incentives and rebates that can help you install a solar system at a much lower rate. Available across the US, the ITC (Investment Tax Credit) is one of the main incentives available to potential customers, giving you the chance to deduct 30% of the cost of your solar system from your taxes. Different states and utility companies may offer more incentives such as net metering, which can only help you save money on your solar system. 

Solar Energy Is A Renewable Power Source

As long as there is sunlight, solar energy is a sustainable, renewable, and affordable source of energy that can effectively be produced anywhere. As the sun produces limitless sunlight, then the potential is limitless itself. 

It is easy to compare solar energy with non-renewable energies such as fossil fuels. Because it took the earth thousands of years to form fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal, the resources are limited and bound to deplete sooner rather than later. Using renewable sources of wind, solar, or hydropower energy is the answer for a cleaner future. Since there will always be sun on the earth’s surface, there will be limitless solar energy to be used. 

Although the USA is still using a considerable amount of fossil fuel-generated energy, renewable energy sources are slowly catching up and becoming part of the nation, thanks to the growing technology and the decreasing prices. 

Should You Go Solar?

There are different options available when it comes to switching to a sustainable, greener energy source such as solar. You have to consider several factors before the installation to ensure that your property is suitable for solar panels. Questions such as ‘How much am I spending on electricity, ‘Do I own the house I live in?’, ‘What is the type of the property I want to install a solar energy system on?’, ‘Do I have a suitable roof in terms of size, angle, condition?’.

If you have a high electricity bill, then solar could be a great option and could save you a lot by switching to solar energy. Also, if you live in a single-family, owned property then it’s much easier to install than a rented or multi-family unit.. Lastly, a roof in good condition, southern-facing, and with a lot of direct sunlight would be the best fit for a solar panel system. But don’t worry! Even if you don’t check all the boxes above, you may still be suitable to make the switch. And if solar doesn’t make sense for you, we will tell you!

Solar Energy, Battery Storage, Electric Vehicles And More

Solar power has been rapidly growing across the states and worldwide, which has also led to the growth and proliferation of other green projects, such as the boom in energy storage systems and electric vehicles. Both are increasing their popularity with the public every year and are only bound to increase even further.

As solar panels technically can only generate power when the sun is shining, you need a solution for when it’s dark or during colder, cloudier times. Storing sunlight soon enough became a priority and the introduction of solar batteries to store the surplus electricity that can be then used during sunless times has solved this issue. Not to mention that solar-energy storage solutions are suitable for all kinds of solar system installations and can bring extra benefits such as low-cost power, energy reliability and grid resiliency. 

Electric vehicles are another product that has seen a boom too, thanks to their low fuel costs, low maintenance costs and obviously being a great, green alternative to other vehicles using fossil fuels. You can see why electric vehicles are here to stay and will become a crucial piece of the automobile industry in the future. Obviously the more popular these vehicles become, the more electricity will be needed, which is great news for solar energy! Solar energy can provide vehicles with cheap, reliable, and constant power directly from a natural resource.

It is easy to see why solar power is one of the most convenient, reliable, and cleanest ways to keep powering up our world. 

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Solar Panels on Townhome Rooftops near the James River in Richmond

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