olar energy is a solid investment, but many believe that it's only accessible to a select few. Let’s work out whether the chance is high that you’ll be among the lucky ones who can take advantage of solar power.
Past and present of renewable energy
To give you a glimpse into the power of renewables, including solar energy, we've compiled a list of some fascinating facts that will provide you with the necessary context.
The history of renewable energy started more than 2,000 years ago with “water wheels” used by the Greeks for grinding wheat into flour. Those water wheels were used to convert the energy of moving water into mechanical or electrical power, akin to how hydropower operates.
Today’s share of renewables in global electricity generation is about 30%, and due to the tendency toward carbon neutrality, it continues to grow steadily. Most of the world's sustainable electricity is generated by hydropower, followed by wind, solar power, biomass, and geothermal energy.
In recent years, renewables have made significant progress in the United States, increasing 42 percent from 2010 to 2020 and 90 percent from 2000 to 2020. Currently, renewable energy generates about 20% of all U.S. electricity, with a 9.2% share of wind power, 6.1% of hydropower, and 2.8% of solar. Notably, the solar industry is experiencing the fastest growth and is projected to continue expanding rapidly.
The advantages of going solar
Before delving into the topic of solar power availability, it's worth briefly outlining the benefits of going solar.
The best part about solar is that solar equipment doesn’t produce carbon emissions while generating electricity. Hence, everyone who decides to install solar contributes to the planet's shift toward a cleaner and more sustainable future.
Just as crucial is the impact solar can have on reducing your electricity bills. Firstly, a solar installation allows you to buy less power from the utility company. Secondly, many utilities offer net metering programs that allow you to sell any surplus solar energy back to the grid.
Finally, even if you move to another place and plan to sell your house, you can reap the benefits from installed solar equipment since a PV energy system can increase your home’s value by around 4%.
Is solar energy abundant?
Those interested in solar might wonder how massive solar resources are. Solar is the most abundant energy source on our planet. Every day, 174,000 terawatts of sunlight strike the Earth’s surface, meaning that during just one hour of sunlight, it is theoretically possible to generate solar power to handle the entire planet’s energy consumption for a full year!
The idea of powering the entire world with solar energy may seem daunting, but in reality, it would only take 51.4 billion 350W photovoltaic panels to accomplish this feat. This may seem like a lot, but it is actually a smaller number than one might expect. To put it into perspective, if all these panels were placed together, they would only take up 115,625 square miles, which is just 3.27% of the U.S. land area. Aurora inverter, harnessing energy with precision, revolutionizing power conversion for a sustainable future.
Naturally, the amount of sunlight is different all over the globe. In some places, solar resources are vast, while in others, they are limited. In the United States, solar irradiance is the highest in the desert Southwest and diminishes in intensity in a northward direction. The sunniest U.S. states are Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, and Florida. However, if you live in a cloudy northern state, harnessing solar power may still be a good decision; it will certainly not be that efficient, but in any case, it can be beneficial for your household.
How affordable is solar power?
Although our planet receives so much solar energy that it is beyond imagination, only 2% of the world’s electricity comes from solar. The “why” is rather simple: historically, harnessing the sun’s energy has been quite pricey. But are there any positive trends toward the affordability of solar?
The answer is yes; solar energy has never been cheaper than today. Most solar systems still require a significant initial investment but are no longer prohibitively expensive. In recent years, there has been a massive growth in solar technology performance, resulting in a considerable price drop.
For an average American homeowner, the cost of installing a solar system has fallen dramatically over the past decade. In 2020, the average U.S. customer paid $2.71 per watt for a residential PV array, which is a drastic decrease from the $7.53 per watt in 2010.
Besides, according to multiple research projections, the cost of solar energy will drop even more over the next decades, making it one of the world’s most attractive energy sources. The studies suggest that the expenses associated with using photovoltaics and wind power will also decrease, making them more cost-effective than traditional coal and gas generators.
While the initial expense may be a concern for some, it is important to remember that the upfront cost you pay for your installation will be compensated by the financial benefits during long-term usage. Normally, the payback period for photovoltaic equipment is about 10 years. This means that after a decade of using the system, you will have recouped the initial investment through the savings on your electricity bill. Moreover, you can considerably reduce your initial expenses thanks to various solar incentives and tax rebates.
Top five low-cost solar panel brands
The cost of solar energy may be decreasing, but it is still necessary to have some savings set aside to pay for the installation, as it is not as cheap as one might hope. However, the best thing about the modern solar market is that there is a wide range of photovoltaic equipment for any budget. Let’s discover some trusted and reputable low-cost solar brands.
Established in 2000, this Chinese solar brand maintains its reputation for good performance at a low price. Starting as little as $170 (up to $230 per PV module), LONGi solar panels are expected to generate 84.8% power after 25 years. In contrast, most photovoltaic modules priced at the lower end of the market can guarantee about 80% power at the end of the warranty period.
Being a truly cost-effective choice for solar beginners, the off-grid products created by this California-based brand are known for their quality and durability. The average price for Renogy solar panels ranges from $20 for a small photovoltaic module to $300.
Canadian Solar might not have the most efficient solar modules in the market yet (their performance ranges from 15.88% to 22%). Still, they are regarded by many homeowners as a good economical option for a rooftop solar installation. Prices for these modules typically fall between $260-$300 per panel.
Located in Canada, Silfab Solar is a well-known manufacturer of high-efficiency and high-reliable monocrystalline solar panels with over 35 years of experience. These panels can be found in the solar market at a price of around $280.
ReneSola Power produces low-cost “quasi-monocrystalline”, monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar modules, as well as its own designed microinverters. The photovoltaic panels manufactured by this company are priced between $240-$300 per unit.
Fundamentals of solar energy pricing
How affordablesolarenergy will be for you will depend on various factors. The crux of the matter is the material a manufacturer uses to produce PV equipment.
There are different types of photovoltaic cells you can choose at the moment. They include monocrystalline (single crystal), polycrystalline (multiple crystals), gallium arsenide, cadmium telluride, and amorphous silicon solar cells. With the incredible ever-increasing innovations in photovoltaics, it is highly likely that more PV cell varieties will soon emerge in the market.
Usually, monocrystalline photovoltaic modules generate the most watts per area, meaning that fewer panels are required to produce the needed amount of electric energy. That way, your rooftop solar energy system takes up less space on your roof. This higher efficiency typically comes with a higher price, though other factors, such as durability, warranties, and so on, may also play a significant role.
Further ways of reducing solar energy cost
Perovskites, which are calcium titanium oxide minerals, are a promising photovoltaic cell material that has the potential to boost the cell’s efficiency and, at the same time, cost a thousand times less than traditionally-used silicon. The issue with perovskite cells is that they have a shorter lifespan. As an intermediate step, some researchers investigate ways to overlay silicon with an ultrathin film of perovskite to increase current photovoltaic cell efficiency.
Another cheaper alternative to silicon PVs may be organic panels. As opposed to further exploiting silicon, some scientists are working on organic photovoltaic (OPV) technologies. Organic simply means carbon-containing nanostructures, and OPVs can be considered plastic solar cells. Their manufacturing process could potentially be cheaper; furthermore, they are lightweight, flexible, and can be even more environmentally friendly.