Since the opening of the first electric company in 1882, electrical power has become more and more common, and today it is such a normal part of our lives that we do not give a second thought to flipping a light switch or opening a refrigerator. However, in recent years, the ways that we can produce that electricity have increased.
Natural gas is far more efficient for generating electricity than solar power. However, new research is happening every day to increase the efficiency of solar energy. Solar energy is also rapidly becoming more affordable and is predicted to soon cost nearly the same amount as energy produced from natural gas.
Because electrical power is so important in today’s modern society, and because our planet’s resources are so finite, more people than ever are looking into sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Today, the goal is to tell you absolutely everything you need to know about solar power versus natural gas.
Producing Electricity With Solar Power
Solar panels generate electricity by absorbing photons that are produced by sunlight. When solar panels absorb photons, electrons separate from the atoms and bounce around inside the solar cell. This movement of electrons produces direct current electricity.
Because alternating current electricity is what is needed to power a building, solar systems are equipped with an inverter. Direct current energy produced by solar panels flows into this inverter where it is converted into alternating current electricity which is used to power homes and businesses with solar energy.
How Natural Gas Is Used to Produce Electricity
Natural gas pipelines are running underground all throughout the United States. These pipelines carry natural gas to power companies which they then use to generate electricity.
Power companies use natural gas to produce electricity by burning massive amounts of natural gas and using the heat to boil water. The boiled water produces steam which turns the blades of a turbine that is connected to a generator. The generator then spins magnets which generate electricity.
Once electricity is generated by a power company it passes through power plants and is funneled into power lines in the main electrical grid. This grid provides power to homes and businesses.
Advantages of Solar Power
When it comes to solar power the advantages are abundant. The most obvious of course is that unlike other energy sources solar power is sustainable.
Since the sun will not begin to burn out for more than five billion years, solar energy is a renewable resource that we can depend on to lead us into the future.
Little to No Maintenance
Solar panels themselves need almost no maintenance at all because they simply stay in one place. The only maintenance that is generally required for a solar energy system is cleaning, keeping the wiring in good condition, and changing the inverter every five to ten years.
Solar power will greatly reduce your energy bill. It could eliminate your energy bill completely depending on the way you choose to set up your solar energy system. If you are using solar panels for a large business, you may actually get paid for the extra energy that your system produces and channels into the electrical grid.
Investment In the Future
One of the biggest advantages when it comes to solar energy is that it is an investment in the future. Advances in solar technology are happening rapidly and soon solar panels will be more effective and able to produce more electricity. Solar energy can also be used in places where there are no other forms of electricity.
Advantages of Natural Gas
Natural gas may not be the best option for energy production, but it does have a great many advantages.
Natural gas the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels. This is not to say that natural gas does no environmental harm. Natural gas releases carbon monoxide and water into the air when it is burned which is harmful to the environment, however, it releases less carbon monoxide than any other fossil fuel including:
- Tar Sands
- Oil Shales
- Heavy Oils
Natural gas costs far less than other fossil fuels as well because it is more plentiful. Natural gas is one of the few fossil fuels that exist in the United States in substantial amounts. This means that we do not have to rely on foreign oil supplies to produce natural gas which makes it far more affordable than other fossil fuels.
Safe, Clean, and Easy to Store
Less soot is produced when burning natural gas than any other fossil fuel. It is also much safer than other fuels. Natural gas can be stored in tanks above or under the ground, which means it is far easier to store than other fossil fuels as well.
Infrastructure In Place
A major advantage of natural gas is that the technology to produce it already exists. We have been harvesting fossil fuels for about 200 years and the same technology is used to produce natural gas.
Natural gas is also popular because it is versatile and can be used to make many things. Some other things that can be made from natural gas are:
Disadvantages of Solar Power
Solar energy is by far the better energy choice for the environment, however, like anything it does have its disadvantages.
The number one disadvantage of solar energy is the price tag. Solar energy systems can be very expensive to install when you include the price of all the components. Purchasing a solar energy system means paying for:
- Solar Panels
Only Generates Power While the Sun is Out
Solar panels only produce electricity while the sun is out which means that at night, they are not producing power. Batteries can be bought which store the extra power that your system produces throughout the day for you to use at night, however, these batteries can be quite expensive.
Location and Weather Dependant
Solar energy systems are also very dependent on your location and weather. The one thing that solar energy systems have to have in order to work is the sun. Solar power will still work on cloudy days or when it’s raining or snowing, however, it will be less effective and produce less energy.
Takes a Lot of Space
A solar energy system will also take up much more space than most people imagine. It can take anywhere from 20 to 40 solar panels to power one house and they may not all fit on the roof. This means setting some panels up in your yard or settling for a system with fewer panels and producing less energy than you may have originally planned.
Disadvantages of Natural Gas
Natural gas is generally an inexpensive source of power which makes it a natural favorite for energy production, however, natural gas does have some serious disadvantages.
The pipelines that they run to supply natural gas are quite expensive. It costs millions of dollars per mile to install natural gas pipelines. These expensive pipelines also have to be regularly maintained and replaced or they can cause terrible explosions.
Not a Renewable Resource
Natural gas is not a renewable energy source which means that someday it will run out completely. It is commonly estimated that we will run out of natural gas in 100 years or less.
Emits Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse emissions are another major problem associated with natural gas. Because natural gas is a fossil fuel, it produces carbon monoxide when it is burned which can be harmful to the environment.
Flammable and Explosive
Natural gas is extremely flammable so it also has the potential to be quite dangerous. If any sort of malfunction or leak occurs it can have deadly consequences. Over 200 severe gas explosions occur in the United States every year, killing 15 people per year on average.
Monthly Price of Solar Power
A common misconception when it comes to solar energy is that you will no longer have an electric bill. Solar panels only produce energy during the day while the sun is out so at night you will need an alternative source of power. There are two different ways to get power overnight if you have a solar energy system.
- Batteries can be purchased for your solar energy system. These batteries store extra power throughout the day for you to use at night, but they can be very expensive. Solar system batteries can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 and will need to be replaced every 5 to 15 years.
- Net metering is when your solar energy system remains connected to the main power grid and the extra energy your solar panels produce is sent through the grid which you get credit for. Your system, in turn, pulls power from the main grid to give you power at night.
It is unlikely that your system will produce enough extra energy to cover your entire night time usage, however, which is why you will likely still have to pay some electricity costs.
The price of your monthly electric bill will vary depending on the size of your solar energy system and how many solar panels you have. Based on national averages you should see energy savings between $70 and $100 per month after installing a solar energy system.
Monthly Price of Electricity Made from Natural Gas
The average price of electricity generated using natural gas can be anywhere from $100 to $200 depending on your location and the price per gallon of natural gas at any particular time.
Natural gas is the most common source of electricity in over 16 states and produces over a third of all electricity generated in the United States. The price of natural gas can fluctuate greatly depending on a variety of factors. This fluctuation in price can make it difficult to calculate the average monthly cost of electricity produced from natural gas.
Natural gas electricity prices also vary from state to state depending on environmental factors such as population density.
Installing Solar Power
Unless you live in one of the few cities that’s connected to a solar energy farm, chances are you will need to install your own solar energy system if you want to use solar power.
The price of installing a solar energy system can get pretty hefty. Depending on the size of the building it can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000 including installation. In many states, however, installing a solar energy system is a credit that you can claim on your federal taxes.
Believe it or not, solar energy system prices have actually dropped drastically in recent years. In 2010 the price to install a solar energy system in a home was about $53,000. It now takes only about 9 years for your solar system to pay for itself in energy savings when before it would’ve taken twice that long.
Solar energy systems are so pricy mainly because of the expensive materials that are used to make solar panels. The price of a solar energy system also includes batteries, inverters, wiring, and mounting.
Installing Natural Gas Electricity
Because natural gas electricity is simply the electricity already wired to your home, there are not any installation costs. The only expense you will pay to get electricity through your power company will be an activation fee when you have your electricity turned on for the first time in a new home.
Not all electric companies use natural gas to generate the electricity they provide. Electricity can also be generated using coal or nuclear fission. If the electricity in your area is not generated using natural gas you cannot have natural gas electricity installed.
Is Solar Energy Bad for the Environment?
Connections have been made between solar energy and greenhouse gases. This is because some of the materials needed to produce solar panels have to be mined which produces greenhouse gases, however, solar panels create far more clean energy than it takes to produce them.
Because solar panels are also made with some dangerous materials, there are some potentially harmful, toxic chemicals used in the process of making them. As long as these chemicals are being disposed of properly by manufacturers this is not dangerous.
There are a few different components used to make a single solar panel. These components include:
- Aluminum Frame
- Silicon Cells
- Copper Conductors
- Polymer or Plastic-based Backsheet
- Plastic-based or Polymer Film
- Tempered Glass Surface
To be completely clear here, solar panels are not producing any greenhouse gasses or toxins of any kind while they’re generating electricity. Having a solar energy system or being near solar panels is not a danger to your health in any way.
Is Natural Gas Bad for the Environment?
Natural gas is a fossil fuel and therefore it is bad for the environment. Natural gas may be the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels but this does not mean that it is clean. This simply means that in comparison to other harmful substances, natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases.
Natural gas releases carbon monoxide into the air when it is burned which can be seriously harmful to the environment. Natural gas production is also one of the main sources of harmful methane gas.
Methane is a very harmful greenhouse gas and producing natural gas releases methane into the atmosphere. In order to produce natural gas, we have to drill and extract natural gas from wells. It is then transported in pipelines which can result in methane gas leaking into the atmosphere.
All in all, while natural gas may be a cleaner-burning fuel than petroleum or oil, it is still responsible for large amounts of carbon monoxide as well as methane gas, both of which are very harmful greenhouse gases.
Do Blackouts Affect Solar Power?
Because most solar energy systems are still connected to the main power grid, if you lose electricity for any reason your solar system will lose power as well. This is a preventative measure, taken to ensure that no power is running to any electrical lines that may be being worked on during blackouts.
Unfortunately, this means that your solar energy system will not work in any situation where you might lose power. Typical situations where you might lose power could include:
- During severe storms when damage can be inflicted on electrical power lines.
- When you have winter weather like ice or snow which can damage power lines.
- Blackouts, rolling blackouts, or when the electric company shuts off power due to overuse.
- When vehicles involved in traffic accidents unwittingly do damage to electric poles or junction boxes.
- Anytime the electric company is dealing with malfunctions such as blown transformers or damaged power lines.
The only situation where a blackout would not affect a solar energy system would be if you have a system with batteries for nighttime energy usage that is not connected to the main power line. Having your solar energy system disconnected from the main power grid is rare unless you live in an area where there is no main power grid available.
Do Blackouts Affect Natural Gas Electricity?
Because natural gas electricity is provided to your home through the main power grid, any blackouts in your area will cause you to lose power.
The only way to keep your electricity up and running during a blackout if you have natural gas electricity is with a generator. Generators run on fuel and not electricity which is why they will function properly even when power is out.
How Long Will a Solar Energy System Last?
Solar panels last an average of twenty-five to thirty years. This is not to say that a solar energy system will stop working after that time. Solar panels become less effective and efficient over time, therefore, while the system will still work it will not work as well as it should.
Batteries for a solar energy system will only last for five to ten years before they need to be replaced. This is generally the most expensive cost associated with maintaining a solar energy system. Inverters for a solar energy system will last anywhere from five to ten years before they need to be replaced.
While components of a solar energy system will need to be replaced periodically, solar energy itself will not run out for billions of years. Because solar energy is produced using the sun, we will have solar energy for as long as the sun is still burning.
How Long Will Natural Gas Last?
The biggest concern with the lifespan of natural gas today is when we will run out of it. Once we have depleted our supply of this non-renewable fossil fuel, electricity produced by natural gas will become a thing of the past.
Right now, we have an estimated 90 to 100 years’ worth of natural gas left in the United States. This is of course a very rough estimate based on figures that are constantly changing. How long natural gas will actually last will depend on a multitude of factors including:
- Annual rate of consumption
- Imports of natural gas
- Additions to natural gas reserves
- Exports of natural gas
Another factor to consider here is the declining demand for natural gas. As more renewable energy sources are developed, and solar and wind power become more popular, it’s likely that consumer demand for non-renewable forms of electricity will drop. With less electricity being produced from natural gas it may last longer.
Maintaining a Solar Energy System
One thing that makes solar panels so attractive to consumers is the fact that they require so little maintenance. The only regular maintenance solar panels need at all is to be periodically cleaned. This is done with simple soap and water, however, be sure to never kneel or stand on solar panels while cleaning them as this will cause damage.
Solar panels need to be cleaned about twice a year to work as efficiently as possible. If the surface of a solar panel is dirty, it will not absorb as much sun causing it to produce less energy.
If you live somewhere where snow is common you may be wondering how to keep your solar panels from getting covered in it and not absorbing energy. Thankfully, solar panels don’t just absorb energy from the sun, they also absorb heat. Solar panels will get warm even in cold weather and melt any snow that accumulates on their surface.
The only other maintenance that a solar system requires is for the wiring to be checked periodically for damage. While the wiring of a solar system typically lasts for years, it can sometimes be damaged by exposure to the elements, so periodically checking any solar energy system wiring for damage is a good idea.
Maintaining Natural Gas Electricity
Maintenance of any outdoor equipment or power lines used for electricity will be done by your electric company.
The only in-home maintenance required for electricity produced by natural gas will be changing out plugs, switches, or breakers, that may stop working or short circuit after many years of use.
Because electricity is dangerous no matter how it is produced you should never attempt to replace electrical components inside your home yourself unless you are properly trained. Any electrical work inside your home should be done by a certified professional electrician.
Efficiency of Solar Power
When it comes to solar energy, efficiency has increased rapidly over the years. The first solar cells were invented in the 1800s and were less than one percent efficient. The first effective solar panel wasn’t invented until 1954 and even then it was still only about six percent efficient.
The solar energy systems that we have today are generally anywhere between nineteen and thirty percent efficient. This is an incredibly high number considering how rapidly this technology has advanced in recent years.
Research is continuing on how to increase the efficiency of solar panels every day. Some lab tests have even gotten as high as forty-six percent efficiency. The materials used to make solar panels of higher efficiency are generally very expensive so it is currently not cost-effective.
Efficiency of Natural Gas Electricity
With efficiency percentages as high as eighty percent, natural gas is, without doubt, more efficient than solar energy. Natural gas is currently one of the most efficient ways to generate electrical power.
The other side of the natural gas coin, however, is that it is a non-renewable resource. While solar energy may be less efficient, it is abundant and sustainable. Natural gas on the other hand is more efficient but will most likely run out sometime in the next one hundred years.
The price of solar energy has been consistently dropping for the past decade or so and the efficiency levels have been rising. This pattern is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as solar energy systems become more readily available to the general public.
When it comes to investing in the future of our planet, we have to look towards renewable and sustainable resources like solar power. Resources that can serve as viable replacements for our planet’s non-renewable energy sources that we are so quickly depleting.