Solar energy systems use sunlight to provide thermal and electrical power for residential, commercial and industrial locations. The amount of energy generated through solar energy systems directly depends on the amount of sunlight that’s gathered on a daily basis. With that being said, is solar energy truly a renewable resource?

The design behind solar energy systems

Individuals have the ability to harness solar energy through two forms: passive solar energy systems and active solar energy systems. Passive solar energy systems are designed without the use of any electronic devices. A structure harnesses solar energy through design elements such as window location, shading, proper insulation and thermal mass (e.g. brick, tile, concrete). According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “passive solar design takes advantage of a building’s site, climate, and materials to minimize energy use.” South-facing windows can catch natural sunlight throughout most of the day. That’s why most residential passive designs implement windows in commonly used rooms such as a kitchen or family room.  However, passive solar energy systems often consist of non-renewable building materials and can require additional time for planning and construction.

Active solar energy systems are made up of external mechanical and/or electrical equipment that converts sunlight into usable energy. They are manufactured and require three main parts: panels, pumps and storage tanks. Similar to that of passive solar energy systems, active systems are partially made up of non-renewable materials such as silicon and aluminum.

Whether you're talking about passive or active solar energy systems, it’s completely valid to refer to solar energy as renewable. The sun is a free, clean and consistent power source that has been producing energy for billions of years, meaning that solar energy is renewable. However, it’s hard to ignore that this source of renewable energy relies – to some extent – on non-renewable inputs.

If we were to deplete the non-renewable resources that are essential to produce passive and active solar energy systems, could we find an alternative way to harness and utilize solar energy?

Looking toward the future of solar energy

When it comes down to it, solar energy is one of the most popular forms of alternative energy; this can be linked to energy reliability, lower utility bills and a more environmentally aware society. According to Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS), residential and commercial passive solar has the ability to reduce energy use – mainly in heating and cooling – up to 90%.  In June 2015, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) recorded that residential active solar grew by 76% over the first quarter of 2014. In addition, the United States installed enough active solar energy systems to power 4.3 million American homes in the first quarter of 2015. As the demand for passive and active solar energy systems increases, you may want to find out if a solar energy system is the right choice for your home or business. But for now, we can confirm that solar energy is renewable.

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