Introduction: Going Solar
Green is the color of the new decade. From government incentive programs to grass-roots community efforts, an increasing urgency to conserve and protect our natural resources is sweeping every corner of society. The promise of a brighter future for generations to come, coupled with the much more immediate financial benefits available, has just about everyone today "going green."
Indeed, in sharp contrast to the more-is-more trends of previous decades, the average home buyer today seeks a house that is smaller, more functionally practical, and definitely greener. Today, homeowners are trading luxuries such as home theater systems for energy efficient appliances, and these changes in desirability of certain features are reflected in the price tags of new homes.
One of the most appealing newer upgrades to improve the energy efficiency of homes is the installation of solar panels. By harnessing a free, renewable and limitless source of energy, solar panels provide a highly attractive alternative to traditional energy sources. In addition to their environmental benefits, they also enable a homeowner to combat the ever-increasing shortages and costs of public utilities – and in fact, at times, to be paid back.
Solar technology takes advantage of a natural phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect. In the simplest terms, solar panels capture photons of light emitted by the sun and subsequently transfer electrons between two materials. The result is a buildup of voltage between two electrodes that can be stored or released as energy. In a typical solar panel system, a series of photovoltaic cells is connected through conductive wires to an inverter, which converts the generated current from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). The alternating current can be modified in frequency and voltage, it can be used immediately, or it can be stored in a battery.
Solar energy systems for the home are available in a variety of modules and selecting the best model for a given indication requires careful consideration of the options. They can be crystalline or thin-film, photovoltaic or thermal, grid-tied or off-grid. They are also modular systems and the optimal size and capacity of a given system will depend on the specific energy requirements of the space to be powered, and calculators are available with which to estimate those requirements.
In addition to powering homes, solar panels are available to power a number of other devices as well, from mobile phones to recreational vehicles. While utilizing the same basic concept as home or industrial solar panels, solar devices for other purposes vary widely in size, energy capacity and cost.
The expenses associated with solar panels are predominantly purchasing and installation costs. While prices of solar energy have come down in recent years, and a number of incentive programs are now available to encourage their purchase, solar modules still remain quite expensive. However, these initial expenses must be weighed against both money saved in the long run on utility bills and also the potential property value increase of a solar-powered home.
Between today’s incentives for going green and recent improvements of solar technologies, conversion to solar power is an option that increasingly makes financial and environmental sense. As a powerful bonus, freedom from dependency on the power companies is finally on the horizon.
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