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What Makes Solar Energy “Green”?

Whenever solar energy is brought up, it’s often referred to as “green.” The only problem with claiming solar energy is green energy is that everyone seems to have a different opinion on what makes solar energy green, or any energy source green for that matter.

 

So what does make solar energy green and is solar energy the best form of green energy?

 

What is Green Energy?

Most energy sources require fuel to be burned in order to convert the fuel into usable energy. This process causes “carbon emissions” to be released in the atmosphere, which damage and weaken the ozone layer, which provides our skin with some protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

 

Carbon emissions are also said to cause major climate changes around the world. This is why the focus has been put onto green energy sources, which release significantly less carbon emissions. Sources of this type of energy typically include wind, water, solar, geothermal, and waves.

 

So what is green energy? To keep it simple, any source of energy that releases little to virtually no carbon emissions or other pollutants into the atmosphere fits the category of “green.”

 

What Makes Solar Energy Green?

Now that we know what green energy actually is, it’s time to look at what actually makes solar energy green. This can be best understood by examining the process in which solar energy is produced.

 

To start, solar energy from the sun strikes solar panels, which are coated with a thin silicon film containing protons and electrons. Once the sunlight strikes the solar panel, it creates an electric charge that is collected and processed. Since the charge is direct current to begin, it is easily converted by an inverter, and then transported to the electrical grid system.

 

That’s the entire process. What isn’t mentioned is anything related to burning whatsoever. That’s what makes solar energy green.

 

Solar Energy – The Perfect Energy Source?

However, solar energy is still far from perfect. As many reports have indicated, there are some deficiencies that need to be made. For example, the manufacturing process of solar panels does cause a fair amount of pollution because of the chemicals involved in the process. Cadmium and mercury are both removed and both chemicals are considered highly toxic. This is why manufacturers are legally obliged to dispose of the waste using specific processes.

 

Another area of improvement is to make solar panels have a longer shelf life. As of right now, the shelf life of a solar panel is around 30 years, which is great, but it could be improved upon at least a little bit. However, we can find more efficient ways to make harness more solar energy, the better for us as a society.

 

For now, solar energy still remains a growing source of green energy. It’s becoming cheaper and more readily available to the average homeowner, and we can only hope it’ll be the preferred source of energy to meet our demands in fifty years before climate damage becomes irrevocable.

What is Renewable Energy?

As global energy demands continue to rise exponentially, it’s become very apparent that renewable energy sources need to replace oil, coal, and other dirty, non-renewable sources. At some point, the damage to the environment will become irreversible and production won’t be able to continue to meet demands if they continue to rise as they currently are.

 

So what’s the solution to our growing energy problem? It’s very simple – investment is needed into cleaner renewable energy sources.

 

What exactly is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is defined as energy collected from resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. This would include energy sources like sunlight, wind, waves, tides, rain, and geothermal heat.

 

Essentially, the name tells it all. Renewable energy is energy that we won’t readily run out of any time soon. After all, the sun is going to stop burning for another 5.6 billion years and we’re not going to run out of wind any time soon. It will continually provide energy for centuries if we commit to it.

 

Renewable energy is already used to generate electricity, in air/water cooling and heating, in transportation, and in rural energy services. However, renewable energy only accounted for 22% of the world’s global energy according in 2014 according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).

 

Advantages of Renewable Energy

While oil and coal still dominate the energy industry, it’s clear that renewable energy will eventually take over. It has to in order to prevent irrevocable environmental damage, and at some point, we will eventually run out. Even if that time doesn’t come for another two hundred years, it’s better to switch from non-renewable energy to alternative energy sources like wind and solar sooner than later. Here’s why:

 

  • Renewable energy is cleaner: Wind, solar, water, and geothermal energy have virtually zero carbon footprints. Sure, the manufacturing process to make wind turbines or solar panels does have a small carbon footprint, but modern advancements in technology continue to limit this footprint.

 

  • Homeowners can save tens of thousands of dollars: Even the average homeowner who installs solar panels on their home can save thousands of dollars over their lifetime. Although the costs continue to vary from year to year, some homeowners have saved $20,000+ on electric bills by switching to alternative energy sources.

 

  • Renewable energy is a huge boost to the economy: Here in the United States, investment in renewable energy has helped prop up the economy. Jobs in the oil industry lost overseas are beginning to be replaced in the solar or wind energy fieldsr.

 

  • A safer, more reliable electric grid is possible: Wind, especially could help create a more reliable and resilient energy grid. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, many have pointed out that solar and wind installations survived major damage whereas installations reliant on coal or oil were shut down completely.

 

Renewable energy provides us with an endless supply of clean, safe energy. We as a society must continue to invest into it so we can protect our environment and our health, and so we can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil for good.

California Solar Rebates

Living in California isn’t always as glamorous as it may sound. The cost of living in California is one of the highest in the country, next to only New York and Hawaii. Everything is expensive in California, from real estate, to a cup of coffee, to essential utilities like electric.

 

This is why many Californians are making the switch from traditional electric utilities to their own individual solar power systems. While the cost of solar power was once expensive, the price has come down significantly over the past few years. Now, it’s affordable for the average homeowner to consider solar power, and in California there are additional tax benefits.

 

California Solar Rebates

 

California was one of the first states to institute a solar rebate program in 2005 under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, on a per household basis, California solar rebates are among the highest in the country.

 

The main solar rebate program in California is known as the California Solar Initiative. Rebates vary according to utility territory, system size, customer class, and performance and installation factors. Rebates are said to decline in “steps” based on the volume of solar megawatts.

 

There are two ways to receive an incentive based rebate on system performance. There’s either an upfront payment based on expected performance paid as a lump sum, or a monthly payment based on actual performance over a period of five years.

 

Expected Performance Based Buy Down (EPBB)

 

The EPBB incentive is a one-time lump sump incentive paid up front for customers with smaller systems. Residents are paid their rebate using an EPBB calculator that considers major design characteristics of the system, such as panel type, shading, orientation, and solar insolation available by location.

 

Once the EPBB calculates expected performance, it will determine the total expected performance of the setup. It will then put residents in one of the incentive step levels and pay the rebate based on the total watts produced times the payout per watt.

 

Performance Based Incentive (PBI)

 

PBI is given on larger setups and is required for all setups greater than 30kW as of January 2010. Residents with smaller systems can opt-in to PBI but it generally pays out slightly better to take the EPBB rebate and not have to worry about it.

 

PBI works by calculating actual performance over the course of a five-year monthly period (60 months in total). The incentive is paid on a fixed dollar per kilowatt-hour of generation basis and is paid out monthly for five years total.

 

Other Rebates

 

California offers other solar rebates for solar water heaters as well. Purchasing a solar water heater that displaces an electric water heater can receive a rebate up to $1,250, and this number increases to $1,875 if a solar power water heater displaces a natural gas water heater.

 

 

How to Apply for California Solar Rebates

 

Receiving a rebate for a photovoltaic system does require homeowners to jump through a few hoops. First, residents need to have an energy efficiency audit of their home in order to maximize the efficiency of what’s already there. After the audit is completed, a solar installer registered with the California Energy Commission must apply for the incentive on behalf of the homeowner.

 

Once these two steps are completed, the state will sent notice of approval to the homeowner. The homeowner then has a year to install or have the system installed. When the system is installed, paperwork must be sent to the state and the rebate will be sent immediately for the EPBB rebate and monthly payments are sent for the PBI rebate.

 

Solar Energy Tax Credit

 

In addition to California solar rebates, residents living in California are eligible for the federally available solar energy tax credit. Extended in 2015 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, residents can receive a 30% rebate on qualified expenditures for installing solar power on their home.

 

Taken directly from the Department of Energy page for the tax credit, residents can earn up to a 30% tax credit based on when they install a system on their home. Here’s how it breaks down:

 

  • Residents earn a 30% tax credit on expenditures if the system is installed by 12/31/2019.
  • Residents earn a 26% tax credit on expenditures if the system is installed after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2021.
  • Residents earn a 22% tax credit on expenditures if the system is installed after 12/31/2020 and before 01/01/2022.

 

The IRS also notes that there is no maximum credit for systems placed in service after 2008, and that even homes that are not the taxpayer’s principal residence are eligible for the credit. In other words, a summer or vacation home is still eligible for the credit even if the credit is used on the primary residence as well.

 

California residents who use solar water heating for their property are also for a tax break. The same rates for solar power also apply for solar water heating. However, the solar water heating for swimming pools or hot tubs is not eligible for the credit.

 

Advantages to Solar Power in California

 

California is one of the best states to purchase a solar power system in the United States. This is for a number of reasons, like these:

 

  • California has the perfect climate for solar power: California, Hawaii, and Florida have the sunniest days out of all 50 states. This maximizes how much solar power can actually be generated by the setup.

 

  • Electric costs in California are otherwise high: Purchasing solar power in California can save homeowners well over $100-200 in utility bills a month. Compared to other states, homeowners who switch to solar power in CA tend to save the most.

 

  • Some residents can earn money from selling back electric: In some instances, California residents have been able to actually get paid for their solar power system. Some utility companies purchase excess electricity generated from solar power homes.

 

 

These reasons, along with the generous California solar rebates are why purchasing solar power in California so much sense. California leads the United States in solar power consumption, and the state is arguably the most committed towards clean, renewable energy. We can only hope more states will catch on in the coming years so our reliance on fossil fuels ends for good.