While the power of solar has been known for centuries, solar panel technology has only existed since the 1950s but has revolutionized energy. Solar is a magnanimous solution to one of the most daunting tasks facing us as a global community: meeting future energy demands without compromising our natural resources. Here are reasons why solar power is important.
Not just renewable, sustainable
Solar is an energy source that requires no fuel, no moving parts and produces zero annual emissions. That’s not to say there aren’t still supply chain questions, but the majority of mass in solar systems come from readily recyclable materials: glass, aluminum, copper. Heck! Even the silicon solar cells themselves are recyclable to a degree.
While you can’t just take your old panels and throw them in your mixed recycling, the future of recyclable solar is looking bright thanks to companies like Bellingham Washington’s Itek Energy, who pushed for legislation to provide the public a convenient and environmentally sound way to recycle all modules. Itek Energy has also implemented the novel “solar breeder” model for manufacturing their product, whereby they create new solar panels with energy produced by solar, further eliminating environmental harm from their final product. Companies like these, who are working to close the loop on their manufacturing processes, eliminating waste and emissions associated with production, and incorporating their stakeholders into their vision, are what pose to make solar a truly sustainable technology (which surprisingly has also rapidly become the most cost effective).
Another reason solar is revolutionizing the energy industry, and the reason it could so rapidly start to pencil out for utilities as an energy source, is its longevity and durability. Not only does solar produce emission free energy with zero fuel inputs all year round (when weather permits), it does this for years on end, with little to no maintenance. So many years, and so reliably, that the industry standard warranties that have arisen guarantee self-sufficient power production for 25 years on average! The graph below shows the guarantee of as much as 80% production at year 25 after leaving the factory. Also, while warranties guarantee to year 25, most panels’ effective lives are now pushing 30-40 years.
Beyond longevity, people see framed glass modules with complex electronics inside and assume it to be a fragile technology. This may be true of the cells themselves, which tend to be brittle outside for their encapsulating frame and glass. However, once assembled, most panels are designed to withstand 1-inch hail in winds up to 50 mph, as well as stay together in hurricane force winds (which is precisely what we are trying to accomplish here with Solar Para Niños). We needed a technology that was not only environmentally friendly and cost-effective, but something robust enough to survive conditions that effectively decimated Puerto Rico’s existing electrical infrastructure. Don’t believe me? Check out this article about the National Renewable Energy Lab facility’s experience 70mph winds and “ping pong ball size” hail.
Now on to the question on everybody’s mind, what’s the bottom dollar? All this great technology has to cost me an arm and a leg, right? Wrong. Thanks to module (panel) prices dropping over the past 10 years, improvements in technology creating greater efficiencies in products and installations, government incentives and utility net-metering programs, solar is now a cost-competitive form of electricity production at almost every level (its main competition now being natural gas and wind) as of 2017 according to Lazard (see below). Especially in regions with the solar resource like Puerto Rico has, systems can pay themselves off rather quickly, some in a short number of years, meaning many years to come of cost-free electricity. They are a large capital investment up front, and we can get into the financial aspects later, but they ultimately save large sums over their lifetime (again, 25+ years), and hedge against the inevitable inflation of utility rates as other resources become scarce or the target of carbon legislation.
These are just the main sampling of benefits that we plan to bring to Hogar Albergue para Niños Jesús de Nazaret with Solar Para Niños. We aim to provide not only greater financial independence to this group by reducing their monthly bills, but also greater energy independence and peace of mind that, should the worst come their way again, their access to the power they need to operate their daily lives won’t be compromised.
By: Ian Berg
Photo courtesy of Pexels.com