Solar Energy Facts: A Clean and Sustainable Energy Source

An Exploration of Solar Energy Facts: With a great deal of investment, cooperation, education, and hard work, Solar Energy has come to contribute a significant amount to the electicity needs of our species. The potential to aid the sustainable requirements of our future could be even greater.


By Ana Yong

Table of Contents

Introduction to Solar Energy

According to alliedmarketresearch.com, the solar industry was priced at $53,916.0 million in 2018, and is expected to hit $333,725.1 million by 2026. Therefore, it is no wonder that many countries are getting in on the photovoltaic bandwagon.

In addition, the benefits of solar energy are well-known; from being a form of sustainable and renewable energy to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

solar panels

What is Solar Energy and How is it Generated?

According to National Geographic, solar energy is any power “generated by the sun” and can be extracted directly or indirectly for use. It is collected via solar panels which convert solar power into electricity. As the amount of energy collected by solar panels differs according to the quality of these panels, their prices also vary accordingly.

The World Economic Forum, in an article entitled “The future looks bright for solar energy” dated 16 January 2020, commented that the cost of solar energy has decreased drastically over the past 10 years, and new expertise will raise the efficiency of solar energy and further reduce prices. Solar power will shortly be indomitable in comparison to fossil fuels.

Life Span of Solar Panels

As stated by energysage.com, solar panels last between 25 to 30 years. The quality of panels used also makes a difference as the efficiency tends to degrade as time passes. Therefore, the amount of electricity that can be produced also decreases.

How to Calculate the Costs

According to energysage.com, if an average American family uses 10,649 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, they would be paying almost $1,450 for electricity which is based on 10,649 kilowatt-hours x $0.1360 per kWh.

Note: $0.1360 per kWh was the national average power rate as at October 2020.

Compare this amount with the up-front costs you would be paying to install a solar panel system and additional electricity expenditures required in case your system does not offset your power usage completely, taking into account that the system would last for 25 to 30 years.

solar panels in the mountains

Top 5 Countries With The Largest Installed Solar Power Capacity

In an article with the same title as the heading above dated 13 July 2021, nsenergybusiness.com listed the following countries based on solar power generated in 2019:

1. China – 205 GW

At the end of 2019, the number one spot went to China with 205 Gigawatts (GW) of harnessed solar power which generated a total of 223.8 Terrawatt hours (TWh).

Largest Solar Farm in China

According to YSG Solar, China’s largest 2.2 GW or 2,200 MW solar plant is found in Qinghai Province which was built by state-owned Huanghe Hydropower Development and began operations in September 2020.

How China Succeeded in the Solar Business

According to an article dated 16 February 2021 entitled “Solar Energy in China: The Past, Present, and Future”, China first started exporting solar panels to Europe in 2004, in particular, Germany as a very lucrative form of export industry. However, this source of revenue soon dried up because of the 2008 international financial crisis. Hence, in order to promote the solar power industry, the Chinese government offered subsidies.

To cut a long story short, Carbon Brief mentioned in an article dated 12 August 2019 that solar energy in every Chinese city was cheaper than grid electricity and this was made possible through a blend of technological improvements, price reductions, and government assistance.

2. United States of America – 76 GW

The world’s second largest solar panel system in 2019 generated 93.1 TWh of electricity with an estimated increase of solar panel installations in the next 10 years to harness approximately 419 GW of solar power. The more active U.S. States supplying electricity to the domestic market are California, Texas, Florida and Virginia.

Largest Solar Farm in the U.S.A.

The largest solar farm in the United States is Solar Star which is capable of powering in excess of 250,000 homes. At the time of completion in June 2015, it was the largest solar plant in the world comprising of 1.7 million solar panels occupying more than 13 square kilometres (about 142 football fields) in the counties of Kern and Los Angeles, California.

Community Solar Projects

Community Solar is a communal-driven project that aims to provide neighbourhoods with renewable energy without the need for mounting solar panels onto rooftops as well as incurring upfront charges to set up a solar panel system or maintenance costs to clean and keep the panels in good working condition.

This happens when various solar developers and investors build solar farms in different neighbourhoods to generate solar energy. This energy is purchased by your usual utility supplier who then provides the solar power to you through their power grids. You may be staying in an apartment building without your own roof and still have access to clean energy.

When a customer signs up for this project, he will be allocated a certain number of solar panels based on his energy consumption for the previous year. The amount of solar power collected by these panels vary month to month and this is discussed further in the article.

The infographic below explains how this works. To view the video, click here.

How Community Solar Works / solar energy facts
Source: How Community Solar Works

Various Price Plans

a. Fixed Discount Rate

Under this plan, customers are given a predetermined discount rate (usually 10%) on the monthly utility bills. Assuming that the solar panels allotted to you generate enough electricity and your current month’s bill is $100, you would receive a $100-credit on your bill. Independently, you would receive a $90 bill from the solar garden (after the 10% discount) which saves you $10.

b. Fixed Electricity Price

This plan allows customers to secure a pre-set electricity price (which could be below the current utility rate) for the duration of the contract. Since electricity prices are expected to increase in future, it is beneficial if you could enjoy a predetermined charge instead of using the 10% discount rate.

When the number of solar panels allotted to you over or underproduce

If the solar panels overproduce the amount of power you use, this is what happens. Using the same example of $100 as the current electricity bill, you will still receive the $100-credit on your utility bill and any additional credits will be brought forward to the following month.

However, if your panel underproduced and only generated $95 worth of energy, you would still receive the $95-credit on your bill but you would need to pay $5 to your utility provider. You would also pay the $95 solar credit to the solar farm after enjoying the 10% discount or whichever price plan as agreed in your contract. Taking the 10% discount as an example, you would need to pay $85.50-worth of solar credits (after discount). Therefore, your final bill is $90.50 ($5 + $85.50). To find out more, click “What If My Energy Usage Changes After I Join a Community Solar Program?

If you are staying in America and wish to find out if you qualify for the community solar scheme, click here.

Savings

According to energysage.com, a typical household is able to save between $10,000 and $30,000 over the lifecycle of a solar panel system. And how much one can save depends on:

  1. Exact hours of sunlight per day,
  2. Dimensions and position of the roof, and
  3. Local electricity rates

For a list of the top 10 U.S. cities suitable for solar energy and the top 25 U.S. cities that have benefited from solar panel installations, click here.

To calculate the number of solar panels that you need, click here.

Cost of Solar Panel Installation

The average cost (after federal taxes) is $12,000 but you can obtain a smaller system for about $5,000 while a high-end structure would cost $40,000 or more.

For more details on federal and state incentives, electricity requirements, types of panels, location and buying options, click here.

solar panels in residential area

3. Japan – 63.2 GW

In 2019, the 63.2 GW of solar power generated an overall 74.1 TWh of electricity. Solar power and other renewable energy sources became more popular after the 2011 Fukushima tragedy which resulted in the Japanese government cutting back on participation in nuclear energy. However, as a result of the phasing out of a generous government subsidy, it is estimated that the use of solar panel systems would start to contract in 2022. But despite this, it is predicted that installed photovoltaic volume could reach 100 GW by 2025.

Largest Solar Farm in Japan

The largest solar farm, called SoftBank Yakumo Solar Park, occupies 132 hectares of land near the town of Yakumo in Hokkaido which can generate 102.3 MW of solar energy that can supply 27 MWh of electricity. The energy generated is expected to meet the needs of 27,965 households yearly.

Cost of Solar Energy

An article entitled “Solar energy to gain cost advantage in Japan” by argusmedia.com dated 13 July 2021 stated that since solar generation costs are expected to fall further, solar energy may be preferred over thermal and nuclear energy by 2030.

The Trade and Industry Ministry of Japan had predicted the output costs for solar power for trade use to be from ¥8s/kWh to ¥11s/kWh in 2030 contrasted with ¥12s/kWh in 2020, based on the capacity of 250 kW of electricity.

On the other hand, output costs for the household sector were projected to be from ¥9s/kWh to ¥14s/kWh in 2030 compared to ¥17s/kWh in 2020, based on the capacity of 5 kW of power.

Note: The Japanese currency is the Yen: ¥. One (1) Yen is divided into 100 Sen.

4. Germany – 49.2 GW

Being the top European country participating in solar power utilization, the 49.2 GW generated 47.5 TWh of electricity in 2019. The German government also intends to increase its solar panel installations to collect 100 GW by 2030.

Largest Solar Farm in Germany

According to an article entitled “Germany’s largest solar park begins feeding power into the grid” dated 25 November 2020 by pv-magazine.com, this is a 187 MW solar power plant created by Germany utility company, EnBW. The entire construction, which costs €100 million, was carried out without any government grants or subsidies. The site is in Werneuchen, Brandenburg near Berlin.

Cost of Solar Energy

Clean Energy Wire’s article, “Solar power in Germany – output, business & perspectives” dated 16 April 2020, mentioned that according to the Research Institute Fraunhofer (ISE), producing one kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity would not cost more than 3.7 eurocents (€0.037), depending on the structure of solar panel installations and the amount of sunlight available. This is because the expenses related to equipment and installation tumbled by 75% from 2006 to 2017 in addition to government subsidies amounting to more than €10.3 billion in 2018.

5. India – 38 GW

India’s fifth place in 2019 amassed 38 GW of power which produced 54 TWh of electricity. Being the world’s third largest greenhouse gas producer, the Indian government is looking into creating more policies to promote the use of renewable sources of energy. One of their ambitious plans is to be able to accumulate 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 with solar being the main renewable energy source to be deployed.

Largest Solar Farm in India and the World in 2021

In 2021, India jumped to first place with the world’s largest solar plant called Bhadla Solar Park. It occupies 14,000 acres and generates 2.25 GW of electricity. It is situated in the rural community of Bhadla in the Jodhpur District of Rajasthan. To find out about the 15 largest solar farms in the world as at 16 June 2021, click here.

Cost of Solar Energy

According to loomsolar.com, the average rate of solar panel installation for 2021 is about Rs. 7 per watt with additional charges for internal wiring linkage ranging from Rs. 1,500 to 2,000 and an annual maintenance cost of Rs. 10,000 per kilowatt. For a list of solar panel installers, click here.

Note: The official currency is called the Indian Rupee. 1 Rupie is divided into 100 Paise.

Solar panels in farming fields

Disadvantages of Using Solar Power

While solar power is definitely a viable source of energy, here are some disadvantages associated with it.

(i) Initial High Cost

For some, the initial cost of installation may be too high to bear even though a standard solar panel system lasts 25 to 30 years and results in long term savings.

(ii) Weather Dependent

This is especially true when the only energy source is the Sun. Often, you would find households using power provided not only from solar panels but also from conventional utility grids.

(iii) Solar Panel Deterioration and Maintenance

How much you spend on maintenance also depends on the number and quality of solar panels installed.

(iv) Disposal of Old Solar Panels

As these contain lead, cadmium and other toxic chemicals, disposing them at landfills would only pollute the soil. Hence, special ways of getting rid of solar panels are practised.

Although the list of disadvantages is not exhaustive, we should be aware that even a sustainable source of energy like solar does come with shortcomings.

Last Word

Solar power is a sustainable source of energy which requires some initial financial outlay but the benefits outweigh the costs and there are huge savings in the long run.