How Does Solar Energy Compare to Other Renewable Energy Sources?
There are several different reasons why more and more people are choosing to install solar panels and harvest the energy from the sun for their personal or commercial use. Of course, we are seeing an increase in awareness of the need to reduce our carbon footprints, and using solar energy is a great place to start. There are, however, other reasons why solar energy is a great option.
In a world where there is growing unreliability in the sourcing of energy and fossil fuels, creating your own energy from renewable energy sources can be not only useful but essential for many people and businesses. In addition, by sourcing your energy yourself from renewable sources, there are massive financial savings that can be made - especially when considering industrial solar power.
But renewable energy sources are not purely about solar energy. Other green energy sources are available that can also be useful. Wind, tidal, wave, and geothermal energy are just a few of the energy sources that can be renewable and used either on a personal level or by countries to supply energy to their populations.
Solar energy is harvested using photovoltaic panels that essentially absorb the energy from the sun, converting it into energy that can be used in our power systems. Solar panels are usually installed on the roof of a building for individual use, or in massive solar farms for a greater reach. Despite the unreliable weather in the UK, solar power can be a very useful and effective source of renewable energy.
Wind energy is harvested using wind turbines. They take the movement in wind and convert it to usable energy. Wind turbines can be installed on an individual level but there are also wind farms located in windy areas of the UK as well as out at sea. The fact that we are on an island means that we consistently have strong winds, meaning that this is generally a reliable energy source.
Tidal energy takes advantage of the constant tides in the sea to produce energy that can then be converted into useful energy. The equipment required to do this is rather costly, and tidal energy is only really an option for mass production and not possible on an individual level. Being islands, however, there appears to be great potential for tidal energy in the UK.
Another renewable energy source with great potential for island countries is wave energy. This works in a similar way to tidal energy except it uses the movement of seawater as a source of energy that can then be converted into useful energy. Being islands surrounded by water, wave energy is a good option for the mass production of renewable energy, but, again, not really an option for individual use in the UK.
Geothermal energy uses the heat that is generated naturally by the Earth to heat up water which can then be converted into energy once that it has turned into steam. Harvesting geothermal energy requires the technology to do it and the right geology for this to be possible. It can be a particularly effective renewable energy source in volcanic areas such as New Zealand and Iceland but not so simple in the UK.
Comparing Renewable Energy Types
When it comes to comparing the different renewable energy sources for the individual domestic or commercial customer, there are several different aspects that need to be considered:
- Installation and maintenance cost
- Ease of installation for customers
- Effectiveness as an energy source
- Impact on the wider environment
- Any other considerations
Installation, Maintenance, and Generation Costs
Whilst it should be noted that one of the benefits to using renewable energy is that the raw energy is free at its source, there are, of course, expenses to the process of harvesting converting, and distributing the energy into usable energy in our homes and commercial buildings.
According to Your Guide To Renewable Energy, when different renewable energy sources were considered (taking initial capital, ROI, maintenance, and fuel into account), the most cost-effective of the renewable energy sources in the USA in 2019 was geothermal ($0.37/kW-hr), closely followed by PV solar ($0.38/kW-hr). In the UK, given the geography of the land, it is likely that solar energy would be the most cost-effective.
On an individual basis, only solar panels and wind energy are viable in the UK. Having a combination of the two would, of course, be beneficial, but the solar panels would be less expensive than a wind turbine for energy that you would generate.
Solar installations will normally last a few years longer than a wind turbine. Once set up, they require minimal maintenance – general solar panel cleaning every 12 to 24 months is advised.
Renewable energy comes from natural resources, meaning that its supply is, to some degree, at the mercy of Mother Nature. This means that wherever you are based, the reliability of the energy source that you are using must be considered. For example, somewhere that has very little wind or calm seas might not benefit so well from wind or wave energy respectively.
In the UK, we have a steady supply of wave and tidal energy given that we are surrounded by seas. Despite what we might think, we also have a good supply of solar energy and wind energy. We do not, however, have the natural geography that is required to produce significant quantities of geothermal energy.
Whether you are looking to use renewable energy for personal, commercial, or mass population use, there are plenty of things to consider. On a personal level, however, installing solar panels appears to be the most cost-effective and efficient way of creating green energy in the home and commercial building.