When we think of solar power innovation, we usually don’t think of the 1800s. While most of us see solar-powered energy as a distinctly modern invention, its origins actually began in 1839 with a French physicist named Edmond Becquerel.
The History of Solar Power
Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, an energy collection process that converts solar power energy into electricity. This discovery was followed by similar advances and subsequent patents by mathematicians, inventors, and scientists like Augustin Mouchot, Charles Fritts, Alessandro Volta, Edmond Weston, Aleksandr Stoletov, Harry Reagan, and more. Read more about their advancements HERE.
Energy Crisis 1970s
Fast forward to the late 20th century – the Solar Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1974 was passed to make solar energy more accessible and affordable to those who invested in it.
This act was passed in direct response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. High gasoline consumption, declining domestic oil production, and an embargo on foreign sources in oil like the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), led to a dramatic increase in gas prices. Governments around the world were faced with finding other less expensive, more sustainable forms of energy.
Energy Crisis 2000s
Higher oil prices and concern over declining fuel reserves have plagued the aughts. Global recession, the fluctuation of the dollar, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and political conflicts have affected the price and availability of sources that we have come to rely on for energy.
Solar Power: The Search for an Alternative, Cheaper Form of Energy
Both crises led to new and renewed interest in alternative forms of energy. Solar panel technology offered a way to cut down on the reliance on fossil fuels while saving consumers on energy bills at the same time.
What are Solar Panels?
A solar panel is a panel consisting of cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The sun is the most powerful, unlimited source of light on the earth! As more sunlight reaches the panels, more electricity is generated. Once converted, you can use that energy for:
- Water heaters
- Outdoor lighting
- Ventilation fans
- Swimming pools
- House-wide power
Pros of Solar Panels
Solar panels are a highly efficient source of energy and allow for decreased dependence on unsustainable energy technologies and sources (like fossil fuels). Adding panels can also lower utility bills. Among the advantages:
- Solar panels are low maintenance and only require bi-yearly cleaning.
- Reduced electricity bills: The more energy your solar panels produce, the cheaper your energy bills will be. Certain cities and states offer monetary incentives for the surplus energy that goes back into the grid.
- Energy Efficiency: The only renewable energy source you'll need is the sun.
- Opportunity: Solar energy can be used to power your lights, security, HVAC, and much more.
Cons of Solar Panels:
The decision to add solar panels to your home isn’t completely straightforward – what decision nis? Consider all the facts:
- Weather dependency: If your home doesn’t have sun exposure, your solar panels will not create energy. Solar panels will work differently in Phoenix, Arizona than in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, a place that doesn’t see the sun from November to January.
- Initial investment: The costs of installing solar panels, can be high but the return on investment (ROI) consistently outweighs these costs in the form of a lower utility bill.
- Space requirement: Residential solar panels can take up room. The number of panels you need (and roof-space) depends on how much power you require. However, hybrid power options exist that rely partially on solar energy and require fewer panels.
What are PV cells?
A photovoltaic or PV cell is used in the photovoltaic process that Becquerel discovered in 1839. These cells are coated with a semiconductor layer, which grabs onto the energy produced by the sun and converting it into electricity
How PV Cells Work With Electricity
When the sun’s rays hit the solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. The resulting energy creates an electrical current that synchronizes with an electrical field in the PV cell, which generates electricity flow.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost With Installation?
The average total cost of solar power installation is between $15,000 and $35,000 ($3 -$5 per watt). The variation in price has to do with where you live, what solar power company you choose, and the kind of system you go with. The average home with a system of 4 kW should cost about $15,000. A larger home requiring a system of 8 kW with more panels would end up closer to $30,000.
Solar Energy Savings
While installation costs run high, the savings over a 20-year period are between $20,000 to $42,000 (on a survey of 9 states). That’s $1,000 to $2,100 per year.
How the Cost of a Solar Power System is Measured
A larger solar power system means a higher cost, while a smaller solar power system requires less cost. This total cost of a solar power system isn't based on just the solar panels.
The cost also includes equipment like wiring, inverters, and mounting hardware. Solar installation and permits account for about 35% of the total cost. Sales and operational costs, which include monitoring, maintenance, and repairs, account for 15% of the total.
Shopping for Solar Panels for Your Home? Here’s What You Need to Know
When shopping around for solar-powered options, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the common terms associated with this energy. Click Energy.gov for a glossary of solar energy terms. And talk to a professional who can walk you through pricing and the process of installation.
Installing solar-powered energy is definitely not a Do-It-Yourself job. If you want it done right AND safely, contact your local Mister Sparky and speak to one of our experts!