What is solar energy?
Solar energy is the energy that is generated when sunlight is converted into warmth or electricity. This process takes place in solar panels. Direct solar warmth is generally generated in a solar boiler, in which the sunlight heats up water that is pumped through by an electric pump. Solar energy is sustainable since its generation does not require fossil fuels. Along with water, wind and biomass the sun is one of the most important sources of renewable energy when it comes to replacing fossil fuels. This transitional process is called the energy transition. Like any renewable energy source solar energy has many benefits, but also various drawbacks. This article covers both.
Benefits of solar energy
The generation of solar energy is completely emission free, depending on the deployed technology. The only greenhouse gases during the entire process are emitted during the production of the solar panels. However, after a while this emission is compensated since solar energy causes a significant reduction in the need for energy gained from fossil fuels.
Solar panels may require an investment at first, but this will be paid off within seven years through the money saved on your energy bill. In addition there are various subsidies available for private individuals, which will be elaborated on further into this article.
For entrepreneurs solar energy can form an interesting alternative to fossil fuels. Of course here too the financial benefits of solar energy play an important role, as well as a variety of benefits in regards to work permits and opportunities. In environmental zones, which are subject to strict rules regarding local emission and thereby cause regular gensets to be unusable, solar panels can form a suitable alternative.
Bredenoord offers two alternatives based on solar energy: the Mobile Solar Plant and the Mini-SunBox. The Mobile Solar Plant can take over the power supply of a diesel genset. Another important benefit of solar energy is that the entire process takes place in silence. Solar energy enables quiet and emission free operation and is therefore an interesting opportunity for construction projects or festivals taking place in the inner city.
Drawbacks of solar energy
Although solar energy has many operational, environmental and sometimes financial benefits there are also various drawbacks that must be taken into consideration. For private individuals the high cost of the panels and their installation can be the decisive factor in the consideration of whether or not to purchase them. However, solar panels are a long term investment and should be seen as such. Although acquisition costs may be high, through the saving in energy costs the panels will recoup themselves within a few years.
One of the biggest drawbacks of solar energy is the fact that the availability of energy cannot be adjusted to the demand. Solar energy cannot be generated when the sun does not shine, so on overcast days or at night another energy source must be available for backup. For private individuals this is usually the grid. When solar panels are connected to the grid the owner is required to report this to grid management. Grid management ensures stable and reliable energy and should therefore be informed of the amount of connected solar panels. This aids in the determination of where and when maintenance is necessary and if certain connection points must be reinforced. This is becoming increasingly challenging.
Lastly, space is usually a problem when deciding whether to purchase solar panels, since they require quite a lot of it. This is mostly solved by installing them on roofs, but when this isn’t an option they must be placed on land, which is usually at the cost of farmlands, especially when it comes to setting up solar fields.
Subsidies and arrangements
Most governments are positive towards solar energy and are interested in stimulating its generation. To make solar energy interesting for both private individuals and businesses there are a variety of subsidies and arrangements, which vary per country, along with the laws surrounding renewable energy.
Companies operating in the field of energy generation are required to generate a certain share of their electricity from renewable sources. This is usually more expensive than the generation of non-renewable electricity. However, various systems were set up to make renewable energy more appealing to generate.
In Belgium, Romania and Sweden the regular tariffs are also paid for green energy. In addition to that these countries work with a system of certificates. For every predetermined amount of renewable energy they generate, power plants receive a certificate. It is permitted to trade in these certificates, meaning a power plant that only generates energy from fossil sources can fulfil its obligations by buying certificates from plants that generate renewable energy. This trade in certificates ensures a break-even to the system.
All other EU countries use a system based on a feed-in tariff for sustainable power. This system requires the price of generation to be paid for green energy. This compensates the difference in generation costs between renewable energy and energy from fossil sources.
Solar energy in the Netherlands
The Dutch government is working on the energy transition and aims to meet national, European and international targets concerning sustainable energy and slowing down the increase in temperature. Using solar energy instead of fossil energy contributes to both of these goals. To stimulate the purchase of solar panels private individuals can get back the VAT they paid over their panels.
Another tactic is the arrangement of net metering. Under this system the solar energy delivered to the grid is offset against the energy taken from the grid at another time. During the day solar panels often generate more energy than is necessary, while at night this is reversed. The tariff paid for the solar energy delivered to the grid is the same as the tariff individuals would have paid for the energy themselves. This regulation is in effect until 2023 and will slowly be deleveraged then.
After that a feed-in tariff will be in force. The tariff paid back by energy companies will be considerably lower. This is the actual energy price, before delivery costs and taxes. The compensation varies per energy deliverer, so it will be relevant to compare several companies before making a decision. To compensate for the difference between this tariff and the tariff from net metering there will be a feed-in subsidy. Owners of solar panels will then receive the lower tariff from energy companies and this feed-in subsidy from the government. This measure ensures the recouping time of the panels will remain set at seven years. The exact details of this arrangement are not yet set in stone, but the overall plan has been mapped out.
Solar energy across the border: developments in Germany
When it comes to sustainable energy Germany is taking drastic measures. Germany started closing down nuclear power plants in 2011, with the goal to be completely free of nuclear energy by 2022. The government also decided to shut down the industries of coal and ignite in the long run. This project, known as the Energiewende, aims to realize a reduction in greenhouse gases of 40% in comparison to 1990. In 2050 this should have stacked up towards 80-95% Additionally, in 2020 a share of 35% electricity from renewable sources must be reached.
To achieve this the German government has begun large scale investments in solar and wind energy. In 2016 Germany held the third place in the global ranking for capacity in both wind and solar energy. In 2016 7% of all energy was generated by solar panels. However, Germany faces one massive problem: a lack of storage capacity. Right now it is not possible to directly use or store large amounts of generated energy. As such Germany must still frequently use coal plants to make up for the energy that used to be delivered by nuclear power plants.
Another issue in Germany’s solar energy is the difference between the place where energy is generated and the place where it is needed. Most solar parks are located in the north or east, while south and west remain behind. This is a problem since most of Germany’s industry is based in these areas, which makes the energy demand here considerably higher. One of the solutions that are currently under consideration is the installation of power cables from the north to the south of Germany.
Solar energy in the industry
An important benefit of the use of solar energy in the industry is that solar installations can be set up temporarily and flexibly, combined with batteries. Bredenoord offers various options. The aforementioned Mini-SunBox and Mobile Solar Plant are transportable energy generators that can be used without a set infrastructure. Bredenoord can also provide the other parts of a solar installation.
The Big Battery Box can store up to 600 kWh in solar energy, which can be used when the sun isn’t shining for a while. For full power certainty it’s possible to connect a solar installation to a genset. This genset will only run when the solar panels cannot meet the energy demand. With the combination of solar panels, the Big Battery Box and a genset you will be assured of reliable power with the smallest environmental impact possible. Feel free to contact us for more information.