Solar energy is one of several forms of renewable energy. This form of power has been recognized as a cleaner and more sustainable method of harnessing and converting energy. What exactly is renewable energy, and is solar energy renewable?
The Earth naturally replaces renewable energy. Since the sun is expected to provide radiation for another 5 billion years, solar energy is considered renewable. Recognized as clean and safer for the environment, solar energy is expensive to implement though it saves energy costs over time.
When considering whether solar energy is renewable, we should take the following into account:
- What makes energy renewable?
- What is solar power?
- Is solar power renewable?
Now let’s look at solar power and renewable energy to ascertain whether or not solar energy is renewable.
What Is Renewable Energy?
We get renewable energy from naturally occurring elements that can replenish themselves. Simply put, sources of renewable energy are all around us. Things like wind, sun, and even grass keep on giving, and we are beginning to learn how to receive and use their gifts appropriately.
Sources of renewable energy include:
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
- Geothermal energy
- Biomass energy
Let’s have a look at these in more detail.
- Solar Energy
Solar energy is the radiation we harness from the sun. The light from the sun is also called electromagnetic radiation.
Different amounts of radiation reach different parts of the planet at varied times, so the amount of energy varies.
The technology that we have designed captures this energy and converts it into a form that we can use.
- Wind Energy
Wind energy is what we can collect from the air that moves naturally. It has been around since about 200BC and was developed in China and Persia, with the use of windmills, which are still used today.
The wind is created by the sun heating different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere, the rotation of the Earth, and even factors like ocean currents, vegetation, and mountains.
We are now able to use wind energy, also known as wind power, for a more significant number of applications because of the invention of wind turbines. Wind turbines work by allowing the blowing wind to turn the propellers on the structure.
The turbine propellers are attached to a rotor which activates a drive shaft. The driveshaft then turns a generator. The energy has then been converted into power we can use.
Hydro means water, and that is what this form of renewable energy uses. Hydroelectric power, or energy, has been used for over two thousand years. In ancient Greece, people would use naturally running water to turn the mills that ground their wheat into flour.
Today, we still use this form of energy harvesting; however, we have developed even more complex methods of doing so.
Instead of relying on nature to determine water flow, we typically have a large water reservoir with a gate and additional reservoir to control water levels, flow, and collection.
We get electricity from flowing water by converting the potential energy of the water as it is about to flow down a hill to kinetic energy as it flows.
The flowing water is used to turn the turbine blades, which generates electricity for us to use.
- Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy makes use of the immense heat that occurs naturally within the planet. It is considered a renewable energy source because the Earth continues to produce heat. Geothermal power plants are typically situated where there is naturally a lot of heat close to the Earth’s surface.
Sites that have active volcanos, hot springs, or geysers can be used to generate geothermal power. Wells measuring one or two miles deep are drilled into the Earth’s crust at a geothermal power plant. Hot water or steam is then pumped up to be used.
We can also use geothermal heat pumps to access the heat from the Earth. This method is suitable to provide hot water and heating for buildings.
- Biomass Energy
Biomass energy is created by burning plant and animal materials. The most common biomass energy source is wood, as it is so often used to make fires.
Plants and animals that are alive, absorb energy from the sun and through bodily functions.
Burning biomass then releases that energy in the form of heat. Technology can convert biomass to biofuels. These fuels can power vehicles like tractors, cars, and trucks.
We are even able to create biofuels from leftover food products. This type of biofuel is called biodiesel. Surplus food products that can produce biodiesel include animal fats and vegetable oil items.
Ethanol is another product that can be made within the classification of biomass. Ethanol is made from products like sugarcane, corn, and other plants.
What Is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a form of energy received in the form of radiation from the sun. We can harvest and convert this energy for use as electricity.
Solar energy is readily available from the Earth since the entire planet receives sunshine, albeit in varying degrees and at different times.
Let’s take a deeper look into what the science of solar power is, how it works and how it benefits us.
What Is The Science Of Solar Energy?
Solar energy is radiation in the form of heat and light that comes from the sun.
The form of radiation that we get from the sun is also known as electromagnetic radiation. The sun generates its heat by a process called nuclear fusion. This is basically like explosions in the center of the sun.
Heat is released through this process and makes its way to the surface. From the surface, it radiates away in waves. The waves are made from a form of energy called electromagnetic radiation, or radiation energy.
These are what reach the Earth, providing heat and light.
We can harness the energy from the sun in various ways, including:
- Passive solar heating: natural processes of using the sun, for example, allowing sunshine to heat a room
- Solar thermal technology: the sun’s heat makes hot water and steam
- Photovoltaic cells: convert sunlight to electricity
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Once the radiation from the sun has reached the Earth, it is a matter of harnessing the energy and converting it into a form that we can use. This is achieved through photovoltaics and concentrating solar-thermal power.
There are various methods available to us to harness and convert the energy we receive from the sun. According to the Solar Energies Technologies Office, enough sunlight reaches the Earth’s surface every ninety minutes to supply the entire world with energy for a year.
Let’s have a closer look at how solar energy is harnessed and used.
We find two main solar energy technologies. These are:
You have likely seen photovoltaics in action more than you realize. This is the technology used in solar panels. It was first discovered in 1839 and worked by allowing sunlight to be absorbed into the photovoltaic cells within the solar panel.
The energy causes electrical flow when electrical charges move in conjunction with the electrical field already present in the cell. Photovoltaics work well for houses since the energy can be converted from DC to AC to power your appliances. Any excess electricity is added to the power grid.
Several incentive programs are available for those who sell their excess solar power back to the utility.
- Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power
Concentrating solar-thermal power converts sunlight to heat by the use of mirrors. The mirrors reflect light from the sun onto receivers. These receivers then collect and convert the light to heat.
It is then converted to electricity for immediate use or storage. This type of solar energy is mainly used in large power plants.
How Does Solar Energy Benefit Us?
Solar energy provides benefits in terms of lower electricity costs, earning money through initiatives, gaining control over your electricity supply, and contributing to a more sustainable environment.
Solar energy can benefit us in several ways. If you have the capital to provide solar panels for your home, then, after the initial expense, using solar energy could substantially lower your electricity costs. There are incentives in place for those who not only use solar power but sell excess electricity to the utility.
There is a federal tax credit for new installations and local, utility, and state-level incentives. These can amount to a few thousand dollars for users.
In countries where power supply is often interrupted, having access to solar energy means taking control of your energy use and availability. Knowing when and how much power you will have could make the difference between having a cooked meal every day, running a successful business, and having a quality of life.
Using solar power means contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable way of life for all on the planet by using renewable energy. Solar energy does not release the same waste as coal-powered electricity.
This means that using solar power technologies allows the carbon footprint of those who use it to be substantially reduced.
Is Solar Energy Renewable?
Solar energy is technically renewable.
The fact that we receive ongoing radiation from the sun makes solar energy a viable option for harnessing and converting the energy to power we can use. Solar energy replaces the use of oil, gas, and coal, all of which are non-renewable.
There are, however, some factors to consider when making a final decision about the renewable nature of solar energy. These factors are concerned with manufacturing solar panels, which use non-renewable resources.
While solar panels’ electricity harnessed and converted allows us to use renewable solar energy, the panels require several non-renewable resources to produce. Let us look into the non-renewable impact of solar energy production.
Solar panels are made from five major parts:
- Aluminum Metal Frame: This is used to mount the solar panel and protect it from the weather.
- Silicon Solar Cells: These use the photovoltaic effect to convert sunlight to electricity that we can use. The solar cells are soldered between glass panels, and they work together to create an electric charge.
- Glass Sheets: This thin glass sheet protects the silicon solar cells and helps create an electric charge. Glass is also used to encase the panel, helping to protect the system and add durability.
- Bus Wire: These are used to protect silicon solar cells. They are covered in solder and can carry electrical current.
- Standard 12V Wire: This wire regulates the energy entering the inverter. This helps keep the system efficient and sustainable.
Implications of using these non-renewable resources
The non-renewable resources used in the production of solar energy systems do not negate the renewable nature of solar power.
To produce the system that enables us to harness, convert and use solar energy, we need to use a few non-renewable resources along the way.
The big question is whether the non-renewable resources used to make a big enough impact to negate the positive effects of using solar energy. The primary materials used are silicon, copper, and aluminum.
Silicon is considered the second most abundant material in the crust of the Earth, second only to oxygen. A typical solar panel will last between twenty-five and thirty years, with some lasting as long as fifty years.
After this time, the glass used in the system will be able to be reused, and the copper and aluminum can be recycled. What this means for the renewable nature of solar energy is that even though non-renewable resources are needed for production and installation, overall, solar energy remains renewable.
The main reason for this is that the materials used can technically be used again to manufacture more systems. Renewable energy is considered energy that does not dimmish as we consume it.
Since the sun is expected to provide the Earth with radiation for another five billion years, it can be considered an ongoing source of energy. That means that solar energy is, in fact, renewable.