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Solar Energy Facts

Solar energy accounts for less than 1% of power generation worldwide but the technology is growing rapidly in terms of sophistication and adoption. Despite the popularity and high media profile, there are basic solar energy facts that many people are unaware of.

One of them is the fact that there are two types of solar power. First, there is solar electric power, which uses photovoltaic cells to convert solar radiation into electricity. Alongside that, there is solar thermal energy, which uses the sun’s energy to heat water when it is pumped into solar panels, keeping water warm for around 24 hours. Another solar energy fact that is largely ignored is that solar power only works on sunny days. Both photovoltaic and thermal installations are typically fitted to the roof of the house; they also work on cloudy days. Besides, solar energy can be collected and stored in batteries.

One of the biggest technological challenges in solar panel technology is to increase the rate of conversion of sunlight into electricity. Solar energy is measured in kilowatt-hour (kWh). 1 kilowatt equals 1,000 watts. Meanwhile the sun generates 1,366 watts of direct solar radiation per square meter, which is much more than we need. The big breakthrough for solar power will come when we find a way of tapping that huge amount of power constantly hitting the Earth in a very efficient way.

Another myth surrounding solar energy facts is that it is expensive. While it’s true that upfront costs are relatively high (starting from $10,000 for a home system), the return on investment (ROI) is 100% or more. Solar panel systems are designed to last for 25 years or so, so the amount of free energy they will generate will pay for the costs of the equipment. Besides, different jurisdictions offer a mix of federal, state and local utility incentives for homeowners interested in solar power, which help offset initial costs.