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Why is solar energy renewable?

The sun can light your home, power your life, and fuel the rest of the world too — all without being depleted. Sounds like nature’s best energy source, right?

Why is solar energy renewable?

If you’ve read Is Solar Energy Renewable?, you know solar energy is the ultimate renewable energy source because as long as the sun shines, we can draw from it. It’s also a clean energy source because it doesn’t cause pollution.

Solar is so abundant that the amount of sunlight covering the earth in just an hour and a half is enough to power the entire world for a full year (if we were to capture it all)!

What are the sources of renewable solar power?

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is used to generate electricity for power plants. These plants are designed to concentrate the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity for mass use. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity day or night. Unlike power plants that use natural gas to supply electricity, CSP plants don’t burn fuel.

Solar Photovoltaic or Solar PV is the most common solar technology used for rooftop solar. Photovoltaic refers to the process that converts sunlight into electricity: voltage is created in semiconductors as they are exposed to photons (elementary particles of light). There are two forms of solar PV systems: crystalline silicon panels, which are typically used in home installations, and the less common thin film strips. Solar PV only produces electricity when the sun shines, but home batteries can store extra energy during daylight for use at night or anytime you need it.

How can solar energy be more eco-friendly?

We’ve talked about how solar energy itself is renewable and clean, but let’s take a look at the carbon footprint of materials involved:

  • Photovoltaic Panels use limited resources like copper, nickel, cadmium and silicon. Processes to mine, extract and separate these minerals do contribute to pollution. In areas lacking governance, they can also mean hardship for miners.
  • Disposing of solar panels isn’t easy yet. They have a long lifespan, typically 25-30 years, but do need to be handled correctly once they’ve reached that end. Right now, it can be expensive to recycle them, and more measures are needed to prevent the possible leaching of chemicals.
  • Lithium-ion home batteries (which are often combined with solar panels for backup energy storage) also contribute to the demand for a mineral that is both difficult to mine and recycle.

So does the environmental impact of these materials outweigh the benefits of solar energy? Scientists have answered this question by defining energy payback time (EPBT) — the amount of time it takes for a solar system to generate enough clean energy to “pay back” the energy it took to produce the materials. Most rooftop systems realize their energy payback within 1-4 years. To put that into perspective, think about a system built to last 30 years. After that short EPBT, almost 90% or more of its lifespan is marked by clean energy only!

The future of solar energy is bright

It’s undeniable that we need strong alternatives to fossil fuels if we want to protect our planet. Solar energy offers a solution that’s already far less impactful to the environment and continues to improve. We’re optimistic about the coming advancements in cleaner production processes, governed practices and improved recycling.

The personal benefits of solar energy are also clear: you can reduce your carbon footprint, contribute to a better future for your family, and save money doing it. Want to learn how much you could save? Talk to a Baker Home Energy Solar Professional today.

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