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Solar Energy Facts

There is a lot of misinformation out there about solar energy facts. There are many so-called alternative or green technologies out there gaining attention as well. Other forms of renewable, sustainable, alternative energy sources include wind power, photovoltaics, biofuels, biomass, hydro power, tidal power and wave power. Solar energy remains the most popular type and many federal, state and local governments are working to make it even more accessible to more people.

Solar energy is defined as radiant light and heat from the Sun harnessed by humans for a wide range of burgeoning technologies. Solar thermal energy is defined as a technology which harnesses solar energy for heat. Solar thermal energy is different from photovoltaics – photovolatics convert solar energy directly to electricity.

The USA Energy Information Administration defines solar thermal collectors as low, medium, or high temperature. Low temperature are flat plates most often used to heat swimming pools. Medium temperature collectors are also usually flat but are used to heat water for residential and commercial applications. High temperature collectors concentrate sunlight using mirrors or lenses and are most often used for large-scale electric power production.

Some facts about solar energy and solar thermal energy specifically include that the average household using an electric water heater spends an average of 25% of home energy costs heating water. Solar water heater owners save 50% - 80% annually on utility bills. And 4-8 years is the average “simple payback” on a solar water heater that has been well designed and correctly installed.

Simple payback is defined as the length of time required to have an operational solar water heater in order to recover (through reduced or eliminated energy costs) the initial investment costs of the equipment and installation. This concept is bandied about quite a lot when discussing the cost-benefits of “going solar.” Detractors want people to think it is too cost prohibitive – too expensive – too obscure, etc, etc. If you want to think that, there is plenty of information available to back you up. Conversely there is plenty of information about how cost is literally a small price to pay for the benefits.

Other solar energy facts about solar thermal include that it is non-polluting. Electric water heaters expend carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and other air pollution and waste. Replacing an electric heater with a solar one, the electricity displacement over a 20-year period of time represents more than 50 tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions.

Photovoltaics keep growing by providing power for developing countries. According to statistics from the United Nations, more than 2 million villages worldwide are still without electric power for refrigeration, lighting and other basic needs. The U.N. estimates the cost of extending utility grids remains prohibitive – too expensive.

A one kilowatt PV system generating 150 kilowatt hours of energy each month:

• prevents the mining of 150 lbs of coal

• stops 300 lbs of carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere

• keeps 150 gallons of water from being wasted

• keeps nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide from being released into the environment

• can provide a reliable source of energy in a remote village in an underdeveloped country


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