Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert solar energy to electricity. This technology both reduces the carbon footprint and can spin the utility meter backward—which can result in utility company credit. Solar energy is a gift from the sun that is continually raining down upon the Earth. It is the power that drives our entire planetary lifecycle. The sun is responsible for everything we eat and almost all the power we use. If green plants didn’t harness the sun’s energy there would only be a handful of very simple organisms on our planet huddled around deep sea volcanic vents for warmth and food. Given this plentiful, free, renewable resource, it is only natural to want to harness its power directly. This is exactly what we do with PV panels. When a PV panel is exposed to the sunlight, it produces electricity. There are no moving parts, no pollution, and no green house gasses, just electricity.
Solar replaces the need for more coal- or natural gas-derived electricity. Coal mining is an ecological disaster. On top of that, most existing coal plants release many different toxins directly into the air we breathe, from sulfur to lead and mercury. Even the newer plants coming on line, which reduce the toxic pollutants dramatically, still produce massive quantities of CO2, a greenhouse gas and a direct cause of global warming. Natural gas is far more benign but still produces large quantities of CO2 when used to produce electricity. An average U.S. household uses 830 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. On average, producing 1,000 kilowatt-housrs of electricity with solar power reduces emissions by nearly 8 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 5 pounds of nitrogen oxides, and more than 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide. During its projected 28 years of clean energy production, a rooftop system with a 2-year energy payback and meeting half of a household’s electricity use would avoid conventional electrical-plant emissions of more than half a ton of sulfur dioxide, one-third a ton of nitrogen oxides, and 100 tons of carbon dioxide. PV is clearly a wise energy investment that affords impressive environmental benefits.
Health and / or Social Benefits
Besides having the health benefits of access to clean air, water, and land, solar electric energy is an indigenous, homegrown energy source that contributes to national security. The United States is the world’s largest importer of oil and natural gas, which often originate in troubled areas of the world. The Great Plains region, which has been dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of wind” because of its tremendous untapped wind energy potential, offers homegrown energy, which increases national security. Reliance on indigenous resources also reduces the balance of payments that threatens our national economic security. Because of the distributed aspect of solar electric energy, it is less vulnerable than large liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports or large thermoelectric power plants.
Most solar electric systems last 30 years and pay for themselves in 4 to 5 years after tax credits and rebates. That means homeowners can enjoy free electricity for years. If you install batteries to back up your solar electric system, it will provide emergency power in areas with frequent storms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In addition, going solar adds value to your home. According to the Appraisal Journal, a solar electric system increases your home’s value by $20 for every $1 in annual utility bill savings, which means a system almost pays for itself with the appraisal value increase in some cases.
Buying Clean Electricity
Energy.gov Website: U.S. Department of Energy
PV Fact Sheet (PDF)
U.S. Department of Energy Website
Solar Photovoltaic Basics
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Consumer Guide to Solar Electricity for the Home
U.S. Department of Energy Website