Solar Power Benefits You May Not Realize


Solar power benefits everyone. No, I don’t mean everyone in the house that has a solar photovoltaic (PV) setup on the roof. I mean the whole community and society benefits from solar power installations. I’m guessing that pretty much everyone out there realizes that over time, using solar power can save them a significant amount of money on their electric bills. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Going Solar Can Save You a Big Chunk of Change

Years ago when I was growing up, we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that gets a huge amount of sunlight every year. We had a swimming pool in our backyard. Originally, it had a gas heater, but my parents decided to bypass it, except for the Jacuzzi, and install a system of black PVC pipes on the roof as a solar heater. The gas bill dropped quite a bit almost overnight.

Fast forward to the year 2000 when my parents retired to a house in the country in Southern California which is another location that also gets a huge amount of sunshine yearly. The difference is that the climate there is much warmer, and they found themselves using the air conditioner quite a bit during the summer. After a few years of wrangling, I finally convinced them to have solar power cells installed. Now, my father likes to proudly boast that his electric bill, even during the summer, is about five bucks a month, down from over $100.

Some Utilities Will Actually Send You a Check

The typical solar power installation is capable of supplying up to 30 percent more power than the peak electrical consumption of the building it is installed at. Some utilities, like San Diego Gas and Electric, will credit your account when your solar system produces more power than you consume. This credit is carried forward to cover any energy consumption beyond production throughout the year, averaging your bill out over the year.

What happens, however, when you never consume more than you produce? In the case of my parents, I think they get a nice letter from SDG&E thanking them. In other places, the utility will actually cut the consumer a check for the value of extra energy produced, although they usually use the wholesale price instead of the retail consumer price. So, one of the solar power benefits is that it can actually pay you for installing it. This is why I always tell people I consult with to install a few more panels than what the contractor recommends. If your utility doesn’t do this, deregulation says you can switch providers if there is more than one electrical utility in your area.

Solar Power Benefits Future Generations by Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Solar power installations reduce the demand for electricity that is generated through the burning of fossil fuels. This means less greenhouse gases are emitted by the utility to supply you with electrical power, lowering your carbon footprint. This means you can sleep easy at night knowing you are doing what you can to leave an inhabitable planet for your children and grandchildren.

Solar Power Doesn’t Just Mean Electricity Anymore

Solar power being used to generate electricity was in its infancy when I was growing up. Because of this, it was expensive to install. Relatively unknown, but just as beneficial is the use of solar power to heat or preheat your water. Water heaters are the largest consumers of natural gas, another carbon generator, in the house.

Growing up, I used to see stainless steel and aluminum contraptions on people’s roofs with big tube-like structures inside them. I found out these were water heaters/pre-heaters. I also found out that the people that had these installed were saving significant amounts of money on their gas bills every year. We also now know that they were reducing their carbon footprint.

Double Your Solar Power Benefits with CHP

No, in this instance CHP doesn’t stand for the California Highway Patrol, but combine heat and power systems. CHP systems have been in use for a number of years by both utilities and businesses. These systems utilize natural gas to heat water into steam and produce electricity. Once the steam is used to generate electricity, it is then used to heat water, or a building. In commercial applications, the heat can also be used in large chillers to provide air conditioning.

Wait Mike! This is what electrical utilities do and it emits more carbon into the atmosphere! This is true, however, the system mentioned above, although very efficient with a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional systems, does produce carbon.

However, we’re now seeing CHP systems that use solar power to generate the steam that is used to generate electricity. The steam typically turns a turbine that turns a generator. The steam is then used to heat water or the house, reducing the need for natural gas for these purposes.

This type of system is also called cogeneration, because the waste heat produced by the solar panel array is captured and use to heat water. Large commercial systems currently utilize that heat to produce clean drinking water from seawater, but there are smaller systems being developed for residential use that can be used to heat water for use and to provide heat for the building.

One of the main arguments I used to get from my father about solar power was the initial cost. However, with rebates and incentives, that cost can be defrayed. Five years after the installation, the system has now paid for itself two times over.

Photo Credit: Jonbgem