Living On the Sun
by Ryann Rich
Okay, so I don’t literally mean living ON the sun, I mean, adapting and harnessing it into our everyday lives. Admit it, you love the sun. You love stepping outside on a brisk fall afternoon and feeling it beam on your face, you love lathering up in tanning oil and laying underneath it on a hot summer day, you love seeing it shine through your bedroom window in the morning, and you love watching it twinkle in the snow. The sun is here, every day, even if we can’t see it, it’s there and that is the true beauty.
Solar power is the future. Solar power systems derive clean, pure, sustainable energy from THE SUN. The amount of sunlight that strikes the Earth's surface in an hour and a half is enough to supply the entire world's energy consumption for a full year. That’s a lot to get excited about.
Traditional methods of electricity that are sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and natural gases, which release harmful greenhouse gases, carcinogens and carbon dioxide into the air, are finite. The earth’s production of fossil fuels cannot keep up with our demand for them; with every passing day they are depleting and eventually they will run out. The sun however, is completely renewable, it will never run out... and if it does, well, we have bigger things to worry about than powering our homes. The sun provides a constant and consistent power source that can deliver electricity for our world indefinitely without contributing to global warming.
Obviously, this is one of the most important benefits of solar energy. The United States places second in the world in annual carbon dioxide emissions just behind China. Going solar immensely reduces our carbon footprint! According the Energy Informative, the average residential solar system can offset about 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in 20 years. Solar panels are composed of photovoltaic cells which convert sunlight into direct current electricity throughout the day. Then an inverter converts the direct current electricity into alternating current electricity and then the electrical panel sends power to your lights and appliances. All that means is by harnessing the light from the sun there is no burning of anything, thus no greenhouse gases or other harmful emissions are released into the air. It is completely pollution free.
Now you might want to pull up a chair because the benefits of solar power don’t stop there. Additionally, solar power systems reduce our dependence on natural resources, both foreign and domestic. By reverting away from methods that require natural resources we considerably shrink our need for them, which protects the resources and the land they lay beneath (but that is a blog for another time.) Secondly, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that in 2016, the United States imported approximately 10.1 million barrels of petroleum PER DAY. By evidence of these numbers, not only does our environment suffer but so does our national security and our economy.
So, solar energy is great for the environment and it has the potential to be great for our nations well-being as well as our economy, but now you’re asking, “how will it benefit me personally?” Solar power not only saves the trees, the birds, and the seas, but it saves your wallet too. According to the Energy Informative, adding solar panels to your home can save you well above $100 a month in many states. Add those savings up for 20-years and that’s $30,000 plus!
Utility costs have been on the rise over the past 10 years, and it doesn’t look like they are coming down anytime soon. As the EPA imposes more regulations, as its regulation of carbon dioxide emission from power plants increases, the costs to consumers inflate. Solar power offers homeowners both short and long-term savings. Many solar power companies offer “Pay-as-you-go” financing options. This essentially means that the solar power company owns the solar panels on your house and you simply pay the solar provider for the electricity which is still considerably less than you pay your utility company.
Now you’re saying the savings are great and all, but what if I told you that solar electricity increases home value? By lowering the energy cost of the home, solar panels increase the house’s attractiveness on the market. A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that homes with solar panels will sell 20% faster and for 17% more money. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says that the sales price of the average home increased by $17,000 with solar panels.
Now, all these ‘pros’ don’t come without ‘cons.’ Solar energy systems do typically cost a pretty penny to install. The concept of solar energy is still a relatively new one. We’ve done the research, we know the potential is there, now the problems lie in the technologies and fully developing our capabilities for harnessing this free energy. The trick is that the technology must be able to capture the sun’s energy, store it and convert it to usable electricity at a reasonable cost.
New incentives by both government and private projects have risen to help middle-class communities to “see the sun in a different light.” Recently, the government in my home state, Michigan, has launched a program called the Alternative Energy Solar Project in aiming to bring solar power to middle-class communities for little to no cost to the home owners. In 2015 Congress approved an extension of the solar panel tax credit for the next 5 years. This tax credit allows homeowners who convert to solar energy to deduct 30% of the cost of installing solar energy systems from their federal taxes. Thanks to this bill, homeowners saved on average over $5000 on the cost of going solar in 2017.
Solar power has the potential to help us lead greener lives, now it’s up to us to take advantage of it.