A Guide to Solar Power, the Best Alternative to Fossil Fuels

yellow leaves in sunlight - a guide to solar power - the best alternative to fossil fuels

The Earth is a vast and beautiful planet, with numerous natural resources. But within this beauty also exists the human race. And we have been depleting these resources for thousands of years. 

Most of the developed world relies on the use of fossil fuels for everything from operating motor vehicles to powering our homes. Due to the rapid rise of carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, now over 400 parts per million, seeking solutions that mitigate emissions has begun to become prioritized. 

Renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind and hydroelectric power are only a few solutions that can help pry the human race from our dependency on fossil fuels. These sources are unfortunately the subject of worldwide political debate, which has infected much of the information surrounding the use of renewable energy sources. 

Many people are skeptical of any information regarding climate change, and as such, many are also skeptical of the science surrounding the solutions to combat climate change. 

At the end of the day, however, 97 percent of all scientists are in agreement that rapid global climate change is being caused and agitated by the human use of fossil fuels. Regardless of your beliefs on climate change, the consensus is clear and the science points to only one solution, and that is to make the change to renewable energy sources. 

Solar power is one method to utilize in order to help combat the effects of climate change and to reduce our personal carbon footprints. Here, we’ll explore the benefits of using solar power, and why it makes sense to transition to a more environmentally friendly way to power our lives.

The Ancient Roots of Solar Power


At roughly 93 million miles from Earth, the sun is the driving force behind all life on Earth and is responsible for the change in seasons. In fact, in just one hour, the sunlight that Earth absorbs is enough to meet all global energy needs for one full year

Humans have known the power of our sun for thousands of years. Some historians and scholars contend that the first recorded utilization of solar energy can be traced back to the 6th and 7th centuries BCE when humans used glasslike minerals to magnify sunlight in order to light fires.

Additionally, they note that the sun was often the subject of religious and spiritual ceremonies. The U.S. Department of Energy’s “History of Solar” timeline explains that the Greeks and Romans, as early as the 3rd century BCE, were known to use mirrors and glass to reflect and magnify sunlight to light sacred torches. 

In today’s world, however, we largely harness the sun’s immense power for energy production and storage.

Solar Powered Machines


Though the creation of the first solar cell is a debatable part of history, the Department of Energy’s timeline gives us some facts about the development of solar-powered machines. It tells us that:

  • The first use of a photovoltaic (PV) cell is considered to be the satellite Vanguard I, which utilized a small PV panel to power its radio. Today, all satellite and space technology incorporates large PV systems. 
  • Space-age technology is not the only area of human development that utilizes solar technology. This technology also goes far back in human history. In 1891, the first commercial solar water heater was developed by Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp. 
  • Nearly a century later, in 1982, Australian Hans Tholstrup drove the first solar-powered vehicle, driving between Sydney and Perth in 20 days, a distance of nearly 2,800 miles. At the time, this was 10 days faster than the first gasoline-powered vehicle over the same distance. 
  • During the same year, Volkswagen began testing PV arrays mounted on the rooftops of their Dasher station wagons, which generated 160 watts to be used for the ignition system. 

The number of machines and equipment that has been tested and powered by solar energy is large, but no matter the strides made in this technology, it has so far failed to compete with fossil fuel or conventional battery-powered machines.

Advantages of Using Solar Energy


ground mounted solar panels - a guide to solar power - the best alternative to fossil fuels

While humans might be accustomed to using fossil fuels, the use of solar energy is on the rise largely due to scientific advances that have made the technology much more cost-effective, though still on the pricey side. 

One of the major advantages of using solar energy, aside from the money you’ll save on energy, is that the sun is an energy source that cannot be depleted, unless you plan on living for over 5 billion more years when some scientists believe that the sun will finally exhaust its thermonuclear power and die. 

Energy Bill Reduction

You’ll have to decide whether or not your solar system will be connected to the energy grid, or if you prefer to use an off-grid system. Depending on where you live, only one of these options might be available to you. Regardless, you will save big once your system is installed and goes online. 

It’s also good to note that depending on the size of your solar system and your location, you might even be able to take advantage of energy surplus payments if your system is on-grid. This happens when you produce more energy than you use. Some energy companies will actually pay you if this occurs, and this is in addition to the money you’ll save on powering your home through the use of solar energy.

Multiple Applications

Solar power is not just used to power machines through PV cells. It can also be used to provide heat in the form of solar thermal energy. 

Additionally, the technology is advancing and now building materials are available that have both full solar functionality along with passive capabilities, allowing you to use conventional energy alongside your solar system. 

Low Maintenance 

Solar systems actually require little upkeep and maintenance. While you do need to exercise caution when cleaning due to the fragile nature of PV cells, many companies specialize in performing this maintenance for you. 

Solar cells need to stay clean in order to effectively capture the sun’s energy, but these generally only need to be cleaned twice a year in most cases. 

Always Improving 

The technology behind solar power is always changing and evolving, allowing for greater energy storage capacity and greater cost-effectiveness. Advances in PV technology have also made cells more resistant to wear. 

As time and technology have progressed, the effectiveness of solar energy systems has doubled in their electrical energy output. This is only forecast to increase in the near future.

Some Considerations


One big downside to think about when it comes to installing a solar energy system is the current high cost associated with solar system installation. For an American who would like to get started with a solar energy system, one can expect to spend at least $20,000 on a basic system

Unless you have the capital to fund this sort of investment, this is considered costly for most American middle-class families. 

Some other factors to consider are that solar energy cells cannot collect power at night, so to account for this, those who want to go off-grid require large solar storage facilities to store latent energy. This is also a costly investment. 

Additionally, solar cells can be easily damaged. Severe and inclement weather holds the potential for causing major damage to solar cells. Although protective shielding and shutters can be installed, the cost for repairing or replacing damaged cells can be just as expensive as the installation of a solar system altogether. 

But the great news about these considerations is that even though they may be costly upfront, they save you a considerable amount of money annually on energy costs.

Getting Started with Solar Power


You might think you can just go down to your local hardware store and buy everything you need to install your own solar system… Well, while in the not too distant future this may very well be the case, this isn’t exactly how it works in today’s world. 

Solar technology requires knowledgeable individuals in order to install the system and ensure that it’s all put together properly. This typically involves the hiring of a solar installation specialist or hiring a licensed contractor in your area who specializes in solar equipment. If you’re in the process to become a licensed contractor, you can install your own solar panels once you actually become licensed. 

Some people prefer to DIY their own systems, but you would still need a certified electrician on the project if you want to hook your system up to your utility grid.

Regardless, if you’re considering getting started with a solar energy system, you may want to ask for assistance from a contractor as you may have to modify some areas of your home in order to facilitate the installation of your solar system.

Search for Equipment Providers 


people looking at ground mounted solar panels - a guide to solar power - the best alternative to fossil fuels

Not only will you need a team of trained people to install your new solar system; you’ll need to find a company that supplies solar equipment. Many of these companies are familiar with one another, and correspondingly may be able to direct you to suppliers and installation specialists. 

Solar equipment providers can also assist you in deciding exactly what type of system will work best for your home and for your specific area. Depending on where you live and the type of home you have, several options may be available for you to consider. 

Also, depending on the scope and size of your system, an installation may be discounted.

Helping the World Through Solar Power


Today, environmental awareness is on the rise, and for very good reasons. This is the only planet we have and it’s also our only home.

Any effort to help sustain and preserve the natural resources we already have is worth it in the grand scheme of things, as these efforts will only help to ensure the survival of all species on the planet, especially ourselves.

Today, with more and more people seeing the attractive qualities that sustainable living produces, more funding is being made available to explore and refine the technology needed to advance solar power technology. As time progresses, and as our finite natural resources continue to dwindle, this funding is only expected to increase. 

Investing in a solar power system for your home is not just a personal investment, it’s an investment in the preservation of all life on planet Earth. And as more people see the advantages of transitioning from fossil fuels and finite resources, more people are being made aware of the benefits of embracing an environmentally conscientious mindset. 

Sure, you will save money on power if you choose to install a solar energy system. But your reduction in the pollution you’d normally produce from using fossil fuel energy will also help to combat climate change. 

Regardless of your environmental philosophy, conserving our natural resources is an obligation all human beings share. We are the stewards of this planet, and our sun’s awesome power just might be the way to help us heal and preserve this precious place that we all call home. 

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