Solar energy is a growing segment of our power generation mix, and it will play an important role in the future of energy production. Producing power with solar panels has two big advantages over fossil fuels: it is both renewable and cost-effective.
Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most abundant renewable resources, meaning it won't ever run out or be in short supply. In just one hour, enough sunlight shines on the earth's atmosphere to hypothetically provide electricity for every person on earth for a year. We simply need to build enough solar panels to capture even just a small portion of this energy.
A renewable energy source is any source of energy that replenishes naturally on a human timescale. Non-renewable energy sources like coal and oil aren't considered renewable because they form over hundreds of thousands of years, which makes them unable to replenish at the rate humans use them today.
Solar energy reaches us via the sun's rays, while fossil fuels come from ancient carbon-rich remains on earth. So, as long as the sun is shining, solar energy will be around. (For reference, NASA scientists say the sun is about halfway through its lifetime, which means that we have about 4.5 billion years to take advantage of solar energy.) Solar energy is a remarkably dependable energy resource and will always be available for us to use.
In addition to being renewable, solar energy is typically labeled a "green" source of energy due to the lack of harmful environmental side effects associated with its use. While fossil fuels release greenhouse gases and other particles into our atmosphere, generating energy from solar panels is a zero-emissions process that can take place anywhere the sun shines.
Many people are concerned with the environmental effects of manufacturing solar panels. Like any manufactured product, making quality solar modules takes resources and energy, which means that solar energy production has at least some environmental impact. The good news is that this impact is minimal in comparison to the benefits of the zero-emissions energy produced with solar panels. Studies have shown that it only takes a few months for a solar panel producing energy to "cancel out" the impact of manufacturing it.
The environmental effect of producing solar panels is decreasing year after year with the introduction of better panel technologies and designs. For example, solar panel efficiency is increasing dramatically every year. This means that solar panels are becoming much better at converting sunlight into emissions-free energy, and the relative environmental cost of producing panels compared to the clean energy they generate is shrinking rapidly.
Solar panels can also be recycled, and the components within them repurposed, further lowering the overall environmental footprint of solar energy. Similar to panel efficiency improvements, panel recycling processes are continually getting better, further reducing the lifetime impact of solar energy.
Find the best price for your solar energy system on EnergySage
Solar energy is an environmentally responsible method of generating power and also makes financial sense. The best way to shop for solar is to look at multiple offers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, where you can solicit quotes from pre-vetted solar installers in your area and compare them side-by-side. If you're curious about the environmental and monetary benefits of going solar, you can use our Solar Calculator to see how your property can benefit from a solar installation.