solar energy renewable or nonrenewable

Is solar energy renewable or nonrenewable?

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Solar energy is a growing segment of our power generation mix, and it will play an important role in the future of energy production. Producing power with solar panels has two big advantages over fossil fuels: it is both renewable and cost-effective.

Is solar energy renewable?

A renewable energy source is any source of energy that replenishes naturally on a human timescale. Non-renewable energy sources like coal and oil aren’t considered renewable because they form over hundreds of thousands of years, which makes them unable to replenish at the rate humans use them today. Solar energy is a renewable resource, meaning it won’t ever run out or be in short supply. We simply need to build enough solar panels to capture it.

Solar energy reaches us via the sun’s rays, while fossil fuels come from ancient carbon-rich remains on earth. So, as long as the sun is shining, solar energy will be around. (For reference, NASA scientists say the sun is about halfway through its lifetime, which means that we have about 4.5 billion years to take advantage of solar energy.) Solar energy is a remarkably dependable energy resource, and will always be available for us to use.

How green is solar power?

In addition to being renewable, solar energy is typically labelled a “green” source of energy due to the lack of harmful environmental side effects associated with its use. While fossil fuels release greenhouse gases and other particles into our atmosphere, generating energy from solar panels is a zero-emissions process that can take place anywhere the sun shines.

Many people are concerned with the environmental effects of manufacturing solar panels. Like any manufactured product, making quality solar modules takes resources and energy, which means that solar energy production has at least some environmental impact. The good news is that this impact is minimal in comparison to the benefits of the zero-emissions energy produced with solar panels. Studies have shown that it only takes a few months for a solar panel producing energy to “cancel out” the impact of manufacturing it.

The environmental effect of producing solar panels is decreasing year after year with the introduction of better panel technologies and designs. For example, solar panel efficiency is increasing dramatically every year. This means that solar panels are becoming much better at converting sunlight into emissions-free energy, and the relative environmental cost of producing panels compared to the clean energy they generate is shrinking rapidly.

Solar panels can also be recycled and the components within them repurposed, further lowering the overall environmental footprint of solar energy. Similar to panel efficiency improvements, panel recycling processes are continually getting better, further reducing the lifetime impact of solar energy.

Find the best price for your solar energy system on EnergySage

Solar energy is an environmentally responsible method of generating power, and also makes financial sense. The best way to shop for solar is to look at multiple offers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, where you can solicit quotes from pre-vetted solar installers in your area and compare them side-by-side. If you’re curious about the environmental and monetary benefits of going solar, you can use our Solar Calculator to see how your property can benefit from a solar installation.

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Categories: Solar 101

About Jacob Marsh

Jacob is a researcher and content writer at EnergySage, where he focuses primarily on current issues–and new technology!–in the solar industry. With a background in environmental and geological science, Jacob brings an analytical perspective and passion for conservation to help solar shoppers make the right energy choices for their wallet and the environment. Outside of EnergySage, you can find him playing Ultimate Frisbee or learning a new, obscure board game.

3 thoughts on “Is solar energy renewable or nonrenewable?

  1. Dave

    The fundamental questions have been sidestepped. While the suns rays will continue on a human timescale, how many solar panels will we need? What will the impact be as we mine for the components? Are the components (specifically, the photovoltaic materials that react to sunlight by creating electricity) rare or abundant? How much do we have access to with current technology, and how much can we surmise new technologies will give us reasonable access to? Can those materials be recycled (I presume that once the electricity has been generated in the reaction, that we would have a difficult time reversing the process and recycling the photovoltaic materials)? What are the environmental impacts of the byproducts in solar panels after they are no longer useful to us?

    This article may have been written on a timetable, which is fine. I’m simply not aware of any document that takes these questions seriously, or has put much real thought into solar and what it means to be renewable.


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