Solar panels are becoming more and more commonplace. What was once seen purely on commercial buildings are now increasingly being seen on residential dwellings. So why all the interest. What are they and what are the advantages and disadvantages against other energy sources?
Solar panels are made up of hundreds of cells connected together electrically. These cells are called photovoltaic cells which harness photons (light energy) from the sun. Multiple panels are required to harness enough energy. The placing of the panels is also important. They can be roof or ground mounted. The most advantageous direction for them to be pointing is to the south. The angle of inclination also plays a part, which is why some are moveable or dynamic, therefore being able to capture the optimum energy possible. The panels obviously need to be free from obstacles such as other buildings and trees.
So why use solar energy. The traditional sources of energy such as oil and gas are what are called non-renewable. They are limited. Once these fossil fuels have been used they are gone. Another drawback is that they are polluting and are felt to be partly responsible for global warming. Another downside is in their acquirement. This requires lots of equipment and man power. As quantities diminish new areas need to be found. This will invariably have an impact on our environment and its inhabitants.
Looking at solar energy we know that the sun is a free and so far of unlimited supply. It is not expected to die out for thousands if not millions of years. From what we know it is non-polluting. It also has an advantage over another natural energy source, that of wind power. Wind farms depend on the presence of wind and as we know, this is variable and generally unpredictable at best. So what are the negative points? Unfortunately at the moment solar energy cannot provide total energy to meet requirements. It needs to work alongside electricity. It is estimated that the current level is around 20%. Hopefully as systems are developed this will increase. It relies on the amount of daylight available and this depends on the geographical region. Another drawback at the moment is in availability and cost. It is a relatively new resource and as with most new ventures, they tend to be expensive to begin with. As accessibility and interest increase, the cost invariably diminishes. People also need to be confident that the investment will be worthwhile. They want to know that they will get a return on their initial investment. As mentioned solar panels were once the domain of businesses and companies such as NASA. Now we see more and more organisations such as councils installing them on their properties. The increase in availability of funding schemes also helps accessibility.
Only time will tell if solar energy is the best way forward. Current views are that anything that can save money and also the planet can only be a good thing.