Get Started and Save Energy
What is “solar energy”? Basically it’s the light and heat we have on earth that comes to us everyday free from the sun. As the sun rises it’s rays light up the sky and it’s energy falls on earth. Millions of gas explosions happen on the sun every second. Those explosions carry with them energy to grow plants and make life on earth possible.
Ancient people have known for forever about the wonderful miracles of sunlight and how it effected us all every day. Until Benjamin Franklin came along we didn’t understand electricity and he was the first to pull electricity from lightning. Scientists have found new knowledge, too, like how to make electricity from the energy we receive from the sun. Making electricity from sunrays is called “photovoltaic” or “PV” for short. Scientists have been making photovoltaic electricity from sunlight for about 60 years.
There are other very important ways humans can use sunshine. One way is directly or passively. We can all stand in a sunny window to feel warm in winter. We know we can step into the shade to feel cooler in summer. That’s “passive solar”. We can warm up food inside a box-like oven by putting a clear lid on it and setting it outside in the bright sunlight. More importantly we can build our homes and businesses to use free energy from the sun. All we have to do is to orient the structure correctly and include a little thermal mass to soak up warmth during the day and release the warmth slowly at night. There is a simple relationship between windows and thermal mass. Each home and each climate has it’s peculiarities so we’ll stick with what’s best in New York State.
Warming water is another great way to use the sun. Have you ever felt the warm water that comes from a hose left in the sun? The sun’s energy gets trapped inside the water and we call that heat “solar thermal”. Scientists have designed plenty of ways to heat water using the sun. Now everyone can trap the sun heated water inside a holding tank and use the water when they need it. Apartments and hospitals need lots of hot water so these are excellent applications for solar thermal.
If you are interested in installing a solar hot water system check out this website: www.fsec.ucf.edu/solar/install/dhwinstl/dhwinstl.htm
You’ll find articles at www.HomePower.com
For years and years the solar industry in America has sat by and developed while the country relied on fossil fuels. There is a whole industry out there and it is booming in places like Japan and Germany and Spain. Much reading can be done on the web and many non-profits like the American Solar Energy Society have online bookstores.
Today we need to reconsider what it means to use energy. Should we continue to use older technologies to heat our homes, heat our water and run our appliances? Can we shift to the new technologies? Why do we want to change? How much will our lives change if we adopt newer technologies we have never used before? Will it be too hard to do? How much will it cost?
Ready to investigate purchasing solar panels?
Locate solar installers nearby with www.FindSolar.com and ask them to come out and make recommendations. Look to your electric bill for your electricity usage and expect to install about a 2.5 kilowatt (kW) system.
Photovoltaic panels cannot be in the shade for more than 20% of the day. Panels must face the sun and be at about a 45 degree angle. ( Panels on a tracker move everyday to follow the sun more completely). They system hooks into the electric meter and provides electricity to the house for about 4.5 hours per day as long as it is not very cloudy.
Panels come in sizes that range from pretty small (think solar calculators) to about 1000 watts. Today there are several companies making panels. Evergreen Solar, Sharp, and Kyocera to name a few. Panels are actually rectangular boxes with a cover made from special solar cells. These cells are made from polysilicon just like computer chips. There are newer technologies that make electricity with plastic and paint.
Figure you will need about 250 square feet of unshaded space facing southwest. Permits may be required. Your installer will give you more details.
And, there’s the inverter. Solar panels produce DC electricity. A converter must be installed to convert the DC to AC. Inverters lose some of the power they receive from the panels so think about appliances that can run on DC. Also, get the inverter with data-capture and install it where it will be cool and dry.
Moving on to the cost. You can expect to pay about a dollar per watt for the panel and a little less that for the installation. Figure $15,000 after incentives for a medium size home. The installation company should be taking care of the paperwork with New York State to get the rebates and tax credits. The federal government is offering up to $2000. See www.nyserda.org for details.
With the rebates the homeowner saves about 35% or even more. Financing is available. Remember your electric bill has historically gone up and with the system in place it will go down and at the end of the payments you own your own power generation.
Try the clean power online calculator at www.consumerenergycenter.org/renewable/estimator.
Commercial properties benefit from 40 - 50% rebate on any system smaller than 50 kW.
How many watts do most homes use? Think of your home and how much your electric bill is. Now, if you have an old refrigerator and old incandescent lights, you use too much electricity! Since refrigerators usually use the largest amount of electricity it’s important research before spending otherwise you’ll need to spend lots of money to buy lots of panels to run appliances that run on lots of electricity. So, what to do?
Energy efficiency! Today homes need to be oriented to face the sun correctly and use the sun’s unlimited energy basically for free. Appliances are available which conserve energy buy using less like the new 6 watt refrigerators. Investigate appliances very carefully. Big, old refrigerators, hot water heaters and old heating systems use too much juice. And, there are new roofing products, radiant heat in the floor, ground source heat exchangers and more. None of us learned all this in school, it’s new, but it is time to adapt. See more ways to increase your personal energy efficiency (Ways To Save Energy). And, check out the websites listed on the right.
How Much Electricity Do You Use?
Think about a meter. Every home has a meter, every business has one, too. There are water meters, electric meters and gas meters. There are gas meters on cars, trucks and buses. Today you can make investments in energy efficiency by slowing down every one of those meters. Another way to picture it is as a pollution meter also called a “carbon footprint”. A carbon footprint represents the energy pollution each person, home or company makes every day. Using energy from fossil fuels has gotten us into a predicament. We need to watch the meter run backwards, not forwards.
Solar panels can make the meter run backwards. The solar installer is responsible for notifying the electric utility when it is all hooked up and ready to go online. If your solar panels make more electricity than you use, then the electric meter will spin backwards.
Commercial properties are out of luck when it comes to net-metering in New York State. There is a reason why: our utilities in certain districts have special protectors. The protectors shut the system down when voltage is going the wrong way. It’s technology to help with black-outs. There are communities that have fought to have net-metering and won regardless of the surge suppression technology.
Renewable Energy can replace coal, oil and gas.
For millions of years the earth has followed a cycle of warming and cooling. But, nothing like this. Every 800,000 years Earth has warmed up a tiny bit then quickly cooled. In the last five years we jumped completely off the charts. Burning coal, gas and petroleum produces and extraordinary amount of pollution. Too much pollution has accumulated in the atmosphere suddenly. Our carbon footprint needs to be cut in half immediately.
To get a picture of how much carbon comes out of fossil fuels is important. Carbon is measured in tons and it comes out of every tailpipe and every smokestack. Everyone wants the comfort that electricity provides. How can everyone keep using electricity at record rates? Population is growing and countries want to industrialize and succeed economically.
In many regions of the world people spend the bulk of their day gathering firewood often at great personal danger. A solar cooker can be a ticket to freedom if introduced carefully. In many societies it has been a custom to spend time gathering firewood and going for water. These tasks are part of the social fabric. To say here is this box, put your bread and food into it and stick around because it’s going to do all the leg-work for you is unbelievable. See www.solarcookers.org for more information.
There are huge costs to continuing to burn tremendous amounts of fossil fuel: dirty air effects our health and the need to secure dwindling reserves has led countries to wage war.
Utilities have benefited for a long time from government subsidies. Their true costs are hidden as they spill toxic fumes into the air by the mega-ton. They are the sole provider. We rely upon them.
At the same time when we want bigger houses homeowner’s associations are up in arms against photovoltaic and solar thermal panels. They ruin the neighborhood. Be sure to check with yours. And, keeping panels clean does improve their look and, more importantly, their function. Yes, they can have a sprinkler system installed to do the cleaning job automatically.
Air Conditioning/heating system/unit(s) in best working order – leak check, proper size, programmable thermostat, clean filters.
Attic fan, whole house fan, ceiling fans, fans use less energy than AC.
Awnings keep heat off the house and people – very effective cooling.
Compact fluorescents – location sensitive, $ vs. quality (get decent ones)
Circuit rider – smoothes out electricity and motor behavior for your whole house or business
Drive the speed limit, no racing starts, stay out of heavy traffic by using public transportation, etc. Ease up and keep rolling rather than stop-and-go.
Enable energy conservation programs on computer
Energy Star efficient appliances
Electric lawnmowers or the newer, better push mowers
Electrically charged leaf blowers and weed whackers. Switch back to a rake.
Insulate hot water heater (check temperature)
Landscape for passive solar results in the living areas and low water usage.
Limit cars in the center of the city.
Limit trips to the store by car.
Off peak rates – variable electric rates could make it cheaper to run appliances after the peak electric usage ends for the day.
On-demand water heaters work well in some locations.
Phantom loads – chargers (“wall warts”) that stay warm all day burn electricity: TV’s, portable phones
Plug-in cars and electric vehicles (“EV’s”)
Public transportation with good bus shelters and places to park or lock up bicycles. Bike racks everywhere.
Radiant heating in floor ($.23/ sq.ft.installed)
Renewable energy: wind, water, sun, geothermal and biomass can be harnessed to provide energy.
Sidewalks that are well maintained.
Soffit vents to vent the attic space. Ridge vents are even better.
Tire inflation – extremely important to know and check
Weather stripping around doors and windows
Windows with double or triple glazing installed with correct insulation around them. Storm doors and storm windows help, too.