Sun’s Energy – Harnessing Our Future

The basic scientific definition of solar energy is the radiant light and heat from the sun.

More commonly we think of solar energy as the collection devices we use to collect the sun’s energy namely solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal collectors, and passively designed solar buildings.

How Much of the Sun’s Energy Reaches Earth?

According to research by Stanford University, twice as much solar energy reaches the earth in one year as the energy contained in all of the world’s non-renewable resources such as natural gas, oil, coal, and uranium.

Looking at it another way, Earth receives in one hour more of the sun’s energy than humans use in one year [source: Nature). We sometimes hear people objecting to the use of solar energy because it is not “efficient enough.” With so much of the sun’s energy hitting the planet, for once we can afford to waste some of it through inefficiency. And the beauty of that “waste”? Zero negative environmental impacts from a “solar spill”.

How Much of the Sun’s Energy Reaches Washington?

As we’ve explored in other places on this website, Washington receives more sunlight than Germany, the current world leader in installed solar energy capacity. Enough of the sun’s energy reaches our state to cover 100% many of our customer’s home’s energy consumption each year even on the west side of the mountains.

How Much of the Sun’s Energy Reaches My House?

At this point we have to give you answers like “Well, it depends.” On this blog, I’ve explored just what it takes to estimate the amount of solar energy hitting your roof.  If you don’t time to read the other post, I’ll summarize:

We start with a solar site evaluation to assess your home’s ability to capture the sun’s energy. Seattle solar companies like us, use a device called a Suneye to get a precise measurement of shade, and then we take that information and feed it into a 30 year history of weather data for your house. After those two steps we can estimate very accurately how much power you can produce with your rooftop solar.

How Much of the Sun’s Energy can I use?

You can use everything your system produces, and any excess gets sent out to the grid to power your neighbor’s homes.  Here in Washington State the way our utility agreements and production based incentives work encourage you to not produce more than 100 percent of your annual consumption. You can learn more about “net metering” over here.