Solar energy: renewable or not?
- The issue: As more people are interested in conservation and renewable energy, the question remains, “is solar energy renewable or nonrenewable?”
- Why this matters to you: If you are interested in getting solar panels for your home because it reduces your carbon footprint, then you need to know if solar energy is renewable.
- The bottom line: Solar energy is a renewable resource, but the instruments and processes that we use to capture and convert solar energy into electricity are not.
You’re thinking about getting solar panels for your home. You know solar energy can help you save money, be energy independent, and reduce your carbon footprint. When you’re looking to make a significant change like going solar, you want to ensure that your actions will have a lasting impact on your home, wallet, and the planet. So you may be asking yourself, “Is solar energy a renewable or nonrenewable resource?”
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.
Solar energy systems work by using sunlight to provide thermal and electrical power for residential, commercial, and industrial locations. The amount of energy generated through solar energy systems depends on the amount of sunlight gathered daily.
However, there are also two types of solar energy systems:
- Passive solar energy systems
- Active solar energy systems
Passive 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.”
For example, 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
Active solar energy systems are made up of external mechanical or electrical equipment that converts sunlight into usable energy. These are the types of solar panel systems that are more costly. Active solar energy systems are manufactured and require three main parts: panels, pumps, and storage tanks.
Like passive solar energy systems, active systems are partially made up of non-renewable materials such as silicon and aluminum. You will typically find these types of solar systems on homes or as solar panels on RVs.
Homeowners looking to buy or lease solar panels may also find these resources helpful:
Is solar energy a form of green energy?
Green energy is different from renewable energy. Green energy is a term for natural resources that can replenish themselves. Solar, wind, nuclear, and biomass are all forms of green energy, but not all of those forms of energy are necessarily renewable. Luckily, solar energy is both a renewable and green energy source.
Solar is a renewable form of energy
Solar energy is a renewable resource, but the instruments and processes we use to capture and convert solar energy into electricity are not. Put another way, 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? That said, whether you’re talking about passive or active solar energy systems, it’s entirely valid to refer to solar energy as renewable.
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