When the term "green energy" is brought up in media today, you can probably expect a discussion of solar power in some form. This is due to several factors, such as the low environmental impact of harnessing light, the relative cost efficiency of current technology, and the heavy public campaigns to spread awareness of solar power. However, the subject can appear quite complex at first glance, so here is a primer to help you get acquainted with the basics:
What does solar power mean?
Traditional energy is derived from either physical motion (such as a hamster running on a wheel) or the consumption of energy-rich substances (such as coal or petroleum). Unlike these two methods, solar panels (also known as photovoltaic cells) absorb energy from sunlight, and then convert it to electricity.
A common misconception is that electricity is a source of energy that we use. In reality, electricity is the most common form for us to store our energy in because our public infrastructure is designed around the transportation and consumption of electricity. After we burn coal or petroleum, or after sunlight is captured by a photovoltaic cell, it is converted into electricity to be used later.
Why is solar power preferable to traditional energy sources?
The most obvious benefit that solar power has is its sustainability. While we will eventually run out of coal and petroleum, or at least reach levels that are unable to support our infrastructure, sunlight is essentially infinite. As long as the rays of the sun reach us, we can convert them into electricity.
Another important advantage is that photovoltaic cells are much less damaging to the environment than coal or petroleum. Burning either of those fuels results in damaging pollutants, both locally from factories and on a much larger scale from vehicles.
What are the disadvantages?
In the short-term, a major shortcoming of solar power is the initial expense of installation. While you can save a lot of money by installing solar panels on your roof, the upfront cost can be prohibitively expensive for most families. The cost in the long term might be lower than continued usage of coal and petroleum, but technology does not allow for cheap photovoltaic cells yet.
Second, if you live in an area that does not get a lot of sunlight, you might not benefit very much from solar power at all. Heavy year-round cloud cover can drastically reduce the efficiency of solar panels. You can talk to a company like Sweeney Electric Ltd to get more information.