The world has an increasingly voracious appetite for energy, and this is a resource whose demands must be met or else there may be consequences. For a long time, fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, and even coal, have powered steam locomotives and tractors and fueled power plants. Burning these fuels would boil large quantities of water that are forced steam to flow through narrow tubes, and this pressurized steam would rotate turbines to create energy. Today, such methods are still used, but using solar energy has become a strong competitor for a number of reasons, and solar companies are working hard around the world to meet more and more energy needs through solar panel installation instead of fossil fuels. Some nations around the world have announced goals for using solar energy, as part of a global “go green” initiative that is strongly rooted in phasing out fossil fuels. Done a large enough scale, many argue, using solar energy can drastically curb harmful emissions. What are some of the statistics about commercial solar energy, and how do solar panels work?
Using solar energy is done because homes and larger power grids alike have energy needs, and understanding the amount of energy needed every day, and for what, can help companies and homeowners decide when and how to get solar panels put in place. For residential homes, for example, nearly 54% of the energy bills go toward heating and cooling, especially in winter and summer when climate control is needed for a home. A working heating and cooling system will not consume an undue amount of power, but in worse scenarios, the home’s insulation may be thin or missing, windows or doors may be drafty, or the heating and cooling system may be clogged with filth or be very old. In these cases, the system will be overworked to compensate for constant loss of cool or hot air or the clogged air ducts and fans, and this can rapidly use up a lot more energy than the homeowner would want. Any responsible homeowner will fix drafty windows and doors, replace the insulation, and repair, clean out, or replace a faulty HVAC system to put energy consumption levels back on track. And for commercial buildings, heating and cooling will also use up a lot of power, in addition to lighting or running a large number of electronics such as computers, fax machines, and copiers in an office space. If nations and cities are phasing out energy that comes form fossil fuels like traditional power plants, what replaces them? A strong option is using solar energy.
Using solar energy offers a number of benefits for both private homes and commercial buildings and facilities. Solar panels used to be relatively new technology and were thus expensive and built in limited numbers, which practically made them more of a novelty than a serious source of power. But it can widely be agreed that the prototype phase is over; using solar energy is a practice spreading far and fast, and improvements in the technology and reductions in cost have made solar strongly competitive today. In particular, using solar energy has grown about 20% per year over the last 15 years, due to those steady drops in price and rise in efficiency, making it an attractive option for many. Today, around 1.3 million solar installations can be found across the United States, and all together, they have a capacity of a massive 40 gigawatts. What is more, the Solar Energy Industries Association has estimated that 1 megawatt of power is enough for 164 homes, meaning that those 40 gigawatts can power 6,500,000 American homes, a staggering number that may increase in the future.
Solar panels can be installed onto the roofs of individual homes to power that single building, and this is a popular option for those in sunny parts of the country such as Florida and California. In fact, excess power can be sent to the nearest power plant, meaning that a home gives power rather than receiving it. On a bigger scale, hundreds of such panels may be set up in “solar farms” across the country in large enough areas with sunlight, providing power for private homes and public buildings alike.