Harvesting Electricity from the Sun Puts Money Back in your Pocket

A look at why solar energy works so well.

Harvesting electricity is easier than harvesting vegetables in a garden.  There’s no weeding, no tilling, no fertilizing, no pesticides, and no watering.  All the labor is in the system design and installation.  The best thing about sunshine is that it is absolutely free and we can count on the sun rising every day to provide solar energy.  That’s why plants rely on photosynthesis for survival.  Conversion of solar energy to electricity is economical and a properly designed solar electric system is very reliable.  Once a system is installed, the only thing you need to do is figure out how to spend the money that you are no longer paying to Long Island Power Authority.

Powerful energy is produced by the sun from nuclear fusion of hydrogen.  Solar energy travels through space, penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere and supports life as we know it.  Solar cells are silicon semiconductors that absorb sunlight and cause electrons to flow.  This is the photovoltaic effect, or using English, this is the light electric effect.

The electrons are gathered using a grid of metal strips.  This flow of electrons is direct current electricity.  The amount of electricity is increased to a useful amount by connecting many solar cells together to create a solar module.  A solar electric system includes solar modules assembled to make up a photovoltaic array, brackets to hold it in place, wires to connect it, and an inverter to make the electricity useful in your house.  

There are a variety of semiconductor materials available and many different manufacturers of solar cells and modules.  Several rail or bracket systems also exist. In addition, there is a range of technologies for inverters; you can use a large inverter for the entire array or microinverters, which accompany each module.  These are the details that determine how much electricity will be produced and how long a solar electric system will last.  Quality counts.

Here’s how we got to where we are now:  The large rectangular modules are most common for rooftop and ground mounted systems due their durability and reliability.  Their life will far exceed that of a thin film or laminate photovoltaic material.  Wear from weather is limited since the photovoltaic cells are encased in sealed glass with rugged metal frames around the edges.  Metal frames enable strong attachment to the rails.  The size is convenient and allows for portrait or landscape orientation.  This allows flexibility for a layout that is helpful with the variety of roof sizes and shapes.  When solar modules are installed using a modern rail system, the result is a continuous photovoltaic array with no gaps between the modules.  Eliminating gaps ensures that the shingles on the roof beneath the array are preserved from wearing due to weather and sun.  

A quality system will produce electricity for more than 30 years and a system can be installed for less than $10,000, which will produce more than 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year of electricity.  More than half of that money comes back to you in your 2011 tax return, if you pay income tax.  With a final price of less than $5,000, you can see why these things are popping up on rooftops all over the place.  Many roofs can fit more, and it’s a more a matter of what your checkbook can handle.  Prepaid electricity is an investment that continues to pay back year after year.  Producing electricity using free solar energy is a winning Sustainability Solution.


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