Since 1953 when the first solar cell was made by scientists at Bell Laboratories, people have been working to harness the sun’s power for practical, everyday uses. Today, even as solar panels dot rooftops and roadways around the world, solar power accounts for only about .5 percent of the world’s energy supply. But with a continued focus on developing renewable energy, some predict that solar could provide as much as 22 percent of the world’s power supply by 2050. Whether you’re ecologically conscious or just looking for ways to save money, solar power is an option worth considering.
Looking for a way to help the planet? Or just want to lower your monthly electricity bill? Well you can generate your very own electricity by installing solar panels on the roof of your home. When the sun is out, you’ll generate enough power to offset, or even fully replace, the electricity you get from your poles & wires company.
The costs and benefits of solar electricity depend on how much electricity you regularly use, the amount of solar power you can generate in your region, and solar technology installation costs in your area. The average installation comes in at about $25,000 (before incentives), and is typically warrantied for a lifespan of 20 – 25 years. Use a solar estimator to get a better understanding of costs and to determine your “breakeven” point. And research the federal and local incentives available in your area to help offset the setup costs.
Solar Hot Water
Whether you heat water for daily use or for something more exciting like a hot tub or pool, solar water heaters are an effective way to reduce power consumption and costs. Solar water heating systems use a water storage tank and solar collectors to heat water that is then pumped to your house (or pool, or hot tub), so you’ll need a sunny spot on your property to place your tank. Although solar water heaters cost more to install, you can save up to 50 percent – 80 percent on your regular heating bill.
Are you a camper, backpacker or sports enthusiast? Consider some of these other solar devices, which will lighten your load while you’re out on the trail:
- Solar ovens work by concentrating available sunlight into/onto a cooking surface and (slowly) cooking your food.
- Solar Fabrics, now under development, can be used to charge your phone, tablet or GPS unit, replacing that bulky (and heavy) battery pack
A Sunny Future
Even as the first generation of solar power technology continues to spread in popularity, scientists are already working on the next wave. Ideas such as solar paint and ink will completely change the way we think about tapping into the sun.
Solar power provides fantastic opportunities to save money, reduce consumption, and preserve precious natural resources.
Thanks to the Oregon Department of Transportation for its photo of the Baldock Solar Highway site.