With 2,300 hours of sun in an average year, Central Alberta is one of the sunniest places in Canada. Take advantage of this resource while reducing your environmental impact. Learn how installing a Solar PV System can help you today.
Solar power is usable energy generated from the sun in electric or thermal energy. Solar energy is captured in various ways, the most common of which is with photovoltaic cells that convert the sun’s rays into usable electricity. Aside from photovoltaics to generate electricity, solar energy is commonly used in thermal applications to heat indoor spaces or fluids. Residential and commercial property owners can install solar hot water systems and design their buildings with passive solar heating in mind to fully take advantage of the sun's energy with solar technology.
Solar panels are installed at three main scales: residential, commercial, and utility. Residential-scale solar is typically installed on the roof of homes or in open land (ground-mounted) and is generally between 5 and 20 kilowatts (kW), depending on the size of a property. Commercial solar energy projects are typically installed at a grander scale than residential solar. Though individual installations can vary significantly in size, commercial-scale solar serves a consistent purpose: to provide on-site solar power to businesses and non-profits. Finally, utility-scale solar projects are typically large, several megawatt (MW) installations that provide solar energy to a large number of utility customers.
For solar shoppers unable to install solar on their property, a community project is a viable solar option that directly connects utility-scale solar energy projects to residential consumers. As such, community solar farms are typically built in a central location instead of on any single customer’s property. Residential consumers can subscribe to a community solar project to receive many of the benefits of solar power without installing solar panels on their property.
How does solar energy work?
A solar panel (also known as a solar module) consists of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass casing unit, and wiring to transfer electric current from the silicon. Silicon (atomic #14 on the periodic table) is a nonmetal with conductive properties that absorb and convert sunlight into usable electricity. When light hits a silicon cell, the light causes electrons in the silicon to be set in motion, initiating a flow of electric current. This is known as the “photovoltaic effect”, and it describes the general functionality of solar panel tech.
The science of generating electricity with solar panels boils down to this photovoltaic effect. In 1839 Edmond Becquerel discovered that the property of specific materials (known as semiconductors) created an electric current when they are exposed to sunlight.
The photovoltaic process works through the following broad steps:
History of Solar Power
In 1954, Bell Labs developed the first silicon photovoltaic cell. Although solar energy had previously been captured and converted into usable energy through various methods, only after 1954 did solar power begin to become a viable source of electricity to power devices over extended periods. The first solar cells converted solar radiation to electricity at an efficiency of 4 percent - for reference, many widely available solar panels today can convert sunlight to solar power at above 20 percent efficiency, a number constantly on the rise.
Although the adoption of solar energy was slow at first, many state and federal incentives and policies contributed to driving down the cost of solar panels far enough to become more widely adopted.
The cost of solar energy
Concurrent with an increase in solar panel efficiency, the cost of solar energy has fallen substantially. In the last decade alone, the cost of a solar panel installation fell over 60 percent, and many industry experts predict that prices will continue to fall in the years to come. As you can now register as a micro-generator and sell your excess power back to the grid, a standard home can see a complete return on the initial investment in 5 years and be making money off of their system from then on.
Additionally, several rebates for solar power may reduce the cost of solar energy even further.
Solar energy is a renewable power source
Solar energy is a clean, inexpensive, and renewable source of power that can be harnessed nearly globally - any point where sunlight hits the earth’s surface is a potential location to generate solar power. And since solar energy comes from the sun, it represents a limitless power source. Renewable energy technologies generate electricity from infinite resources. Compare, for instance, producing electricity with renewable resources to doing so with fossil fuels. It took hundreds of thousands of years for oil, gas and coal to form, so every time one of those resources is burned to create electricity, that finite resource is moved marginally closer to depletion. Using a renewable resource - such as wind, solar and hydropower - to generate electricity does not deplete that resource. There will always be consistent sunlight shining on the earth's surface. After turning sunlight into electricity, there is still an infinite amount of sunlight to turn into electricity in the future. That is what makes solar power, by nature, renewable energy.
The current electricity mix in Canada is still made up mainly of fossil fuels like oil and gas. However, renewable energy sources like solar are steadily becoming a more significant part of the country's energy profile as the cost of solar and other renewable technologies continue to be competitive.
There is no better time to go solar with costs down and efficiency up. An average residential PV system can have a complete return on investment in 5 years and generate income in the years that follow.
Solar panels have never been more efficient and have dropped drastically in cost over the last 10 years. By investing in a solar energy system now, you can protect against unpredictable increases in electricity costs. If you are a business or homeowner with fluctuating cash flow, going solar also helps you better forecast and manage your expenses. As a micro-generator, providers with tiered rate plans let you sell the extra power you generate back to the grid during the summer months at a higher rate while locking you into a low rate during the winter months when you may need some power form the grid. The money you can save over the lifetime of your PV system (30 years) can be quite astonishing. An 8-10kw system (which is the usage of a typical detached home) has an average payback period of 7 years. After which, you will be selling the extra power you generate back to the grid and be making money year after year for the remainder of the solar PV system’s lifetime (30 years).
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