Solar energy, a renewable and nonpolluting source of energy and heat, offers a wide array of benefits, both to the planet and to individual homeowners. It does not emit greenhouse gases or cause harm to ecosystems. The heat and energy from the sun are free, renewable and unregulated. Solar modules require very little maintenance and can last a lifetime. As demand increases, solar is also slowly getting more ...
Heating and cooling your house takes energy, and for most people that means paying the power bill. For those who live in solar homes, however, that might not be the case. A solar home is one that makes use of solar energy to provide all or part of its power, heat or light. You can buy a new solar home or convert your existing house to use solar energy.
According to Greek mythology, the sun god Apollo drives his chariot across the skies each day, from one horizon to the other, distributing daylight from dawn to dusk. If you have dreamed of harnessing the sun, modern technology is steadily making the process more attainable, streamlining and simplifying equipment to meet the somewhat more pedestrian needs of mere mortals.
Using solar energy to generate electricity is not the only way to take advantage of free energy from the sun to heat your home. If you live in an area that receives a large amount of direct sunlight most of the year, you might be able to save a significant amount on your home heating bills by switching to solar heating.
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If you spend the time and money to keep a backyard pool running, you want to use it as often as you can. Unless the water is heated, though, taking the plunge some days just won't be inviting, and heating a pool is both expensive and energy intensive. Fortunately, the sun can provide the energy you need to replace some or all of the electric or gas components of a conventional pool-heating system.
Solar ovens cook food by concentrating the sun's rays on a cooking vessel to heat it. Using a solar cooker lets you cook without using fossil fuels or producing any pollution. Because they are inexpensive to build and require no electricity or other fuel, solar ovens are particularly useful on camping trips. (See References 1)
Solar ovens are solar-powered contraptions used to cook food. Solar ovens retain heat from the sun and focus it in a container that holds the food and traps the gathered heat. There are a variety of methods and designs for achieving this effect. The three main categories of solar ovens are box ovens, parabolic ovens and panel ovens. (See References 1)
The amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth each hour is equivalent to the amount of energy used by humans worldwide each year (see Reference 1). Solar power's vast potential makes it one of the most promising sources of clean, renewable energy --- but like any energy source, solar is not perfect. It comes with specific benefits and drawbacks.
Solar water heating systems use the energy of the sun's rays to heat water before it enters a standard gas or electric water heater. By reducing the amount of power needed to run the standard water heater, a solar water heating system can reduce the average family's hot water bill by 50 percent. (See References 1)
In some parts of the world, people spend more money on fuel to cook food than they spend on food itself (see References 1). Solar stoves and ovens can put an end to that practice, because they require no fuel to operate, using passive solar energy to heat food and water. You can use solar cookers, too, and even make them yourself at home.
The use of solar radiation for energy is an ancient concept, but recent concerns about the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels have made solar energy a hot topic. Modern solar energy technologies harness the heat generated from the sun to power residential and industrial heating and cooling systems through the use of photovoltaic, or PV, panels. Also known as solar cells, these devices capture and convert solar power into electrical energy. How this energy is collected and distributed defines the difference between active and passive solar collectors.
The walls, doors and windows of your home help to keep out the natural elements and to prevent heat and cool air from escaping. Structural features can also be designed or adapted to capture, store and allocate energy from the sun in order to provide heat to your home in winter, or to repel the sun's rays to keep your home cool in summer. Additionally, small solar electric systems can be used to provide your home with consistent and clean power.The extent to which you are able to make use of solar energy depends on whether you are building a new home or modifying an existing one, and how far you are willing to reasonably go to explore the possibilities of alternative energy.
Sunshine and swimming pools are a natural combination, but you may not realize just how efficiently the sun can heat your pool. You've noticed how much warmer the water is in July than in September, because the summer sun is close enough to penetrate the depths of the water. A solar heating system can harness the power of the July sun all year to keep the water warm and dramatically extend the swimming season without using an excessive amount of energy.
Solar energy is a growing, renewable alternative to coal, oil and natural gas. Nonrenewable sources are not only limited but they also create pollution and contribute to global warming. Residential solar energy design concepts and systems vary in function and affordability. Harnessing the sun's energy and heat can save you thousands of dollars in utility bills, lessen your overall environmental impact and help decrease U.S. dependence on imported fuel sources. (See References 2.)
Using the sun for cooking reduces the need for the coal, wood and natural gas that power traditional stoves. A solar cooker is portable and can be taken on a camping trip to replace charcoal, wood or kerosene. Poultry, fish, vegetables and stews cook safely in a solar stove with little danger of overcooking. A solar cooker can preserve foods through drying, if properly ventilated to allow moisture to escape the cooking box. A well-insulated solar stove, with reflective panels, reaches temperatures of 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and can pasteurize water in addition to cooking food.
Many of us take clean drinking water for granted, because getting a glass of pure water is usually as simple as turning on the faucet. In developing countries or in survival situations, however, fresh, clean water is a luxury. Solar distillation is a means of converting contaminated or brackish water into potable water. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water; 2 million people die every year from diarrhea, many from unsafe water (see References 4).
Solar energy has the potential to dramatically change the way the world gets its power. Enough solar energy falls on a 100-square-mile area of the southwestern United States to power the entire nation (See Reference 1). While solar is among the world's cleanest forms of energy, plans to develop utility scale solar farms have raised concerns about potential environmental impacts.
Solar energy warms the water in swimming pools, heats homes and can be converted into electricity. It does all of this without generating greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide or burning fossil fuels. You can explore solar power by harnessing some of the sun's energy and combining it with the natural curiosity of kids to do some experiments at home.
Although some environmental factors affect solar performance, solar lights work outdoors throughout most of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (see References 1). Many solar lights are self-sustaining, or "stand-alone" systems. These convert sunlight into electricity during the day, store the electricity in batteries, and draw from the batteries to power light fixtures after dusk (see References 3, page 1).
Solar Cooking International has helped people the world over to develop creative ideas for solar cooking, especially in areas where conventional power sources and money are limited (see References 1). The best solar oven designs are the simplest, collecting sunlight in enclosed spaces to optimize their heating and cooking power. You can build your own solar cooker, based on an easy design with inexpensive materials, to create an efficient do-it-yourself solar oven for clean, green outdoor cookouts and environmentally conscious entertaining.
Making use of solar energy is by no means a new concept. But the increased emphasis in recent decades on making more efficient use of solar energy has caused homeowners to think seriously about optimizing solar usage, both for saving money and preserving the environment. If you are not quite ready to make the leap into a self-sustaining solar energy system, you can still benefit from the power of the sun. From no-cost to low-cost, the ways for homeowners to harness the sunshine are myriad.
Windows account for up to 60 percent of the cost of cooling a home in the summer. Most of that cost is the result of solar gain --- ultraviolet radiation that enters through the glass and collects inside the house as heat. Interior shades can slow down solar gain, but do not stop heat transfer from the sun hitting the outside of the windows and walls of your home (see References 3). External protection from shades and awnings cuts down on both solar gain and heat transfer because they keep the sunlight from hitting your window (see References 3).
Solar energy is one of many green technologies that homeowners can utilize. Roof-mounted solar collectors can generate electricity, or they can provide heat for air or water. Whether you are interested in reducing your household's negative effect on the environment or you are just looking for a way to lower your monthly utility bills, solar is an alternative energy source that offers advantages over fossil fuels.
An ever-rising electric bill is powerful motivation to consider adding an alternative-energy system to your home. Solar is the most viable alternative for most homeowners; however, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of 2009, only 8 percent of the nation's energy came from renewable sources, and only 1 percent of that 8 percent came from solar energy (see References 5, Fig.1.2). Many homeowners are put off by the initial cost of installation --- and the fact that creating an efficient solar energy system is much more complex than slapping down a few solar panels. But with a greater understanding of the benefits and limitations of home solar, you can get the most out of your system, eventually zeroing out your electric bill or selling excess electricity back to your utility company.
Solar energy systems are broadly divided into passive solar and active solar technology. Passive solar design uses no additional power, instead relying on architectural design to heat stationary thermal mass (see References 1). Active solar technology stores the sun's power as either heat or electricity (see References 3), which is later distributed wherever it is needed.
One way to save money on your heating bills and reduce your family's carbon footprint is to take advantage of the free energy produced by the sun every day. Solar energy has many uses around the home, from generating electricity to providing heat, and in certain parts of the country it can provide a significant amount of energy. Knowing the basics of the many home solar systems on the market can help you make the right choices for your particular needs.
Many homeowners and renters can benefit from lower heating and cooling bills by installing solar window film. It blocks ultraviolet rays, and helps regulate heat loss and gain year-round. Unlike older, mirrored window film, new choices range from nearly invisible to colorful. It isn't the best choice for everyone. Consider your climate, neighborhood and the type of windows you have before investing in solar film for your home.
For homeowners who want to go green, integrating energy-efficient solar technologies into home construction can reduce dependence on public utilities and make use of renewable energy. Also called passive solar design or climactic design, an effective solar home collects and distributes heat in the winter and keeps it out in the summer. New construction as well as existing buildings can be outfitted with passive solar technologies, according to Energy Savers. (See References 1)
Solar pool covers can have surprising benefits. Chesaning Union School in Michigan, for example, reduced its energy costs by 55 percent, saving $9,000 a year, simply by installing a solar pool cover (see References 1). That level of savings is not unusual. Anyone can save on energy, water and expenses related to heating by installing and correctly using a solar pool cover.
Until recently, if you wanted a home solar-power system, you had to install a set of large photovoltaic panels on the roof or in the yard. But nowadays you have more choices, including low-profile solar tiles that can be integrated with standard siding or shingles. While solar tiles are a clear aesthetic improvement, they're a new technology that's still very much under development; they will continue to become more viable with every year's advances, but currently they may only be practical for some homeowners.
If you live in a farmhouse surrounded by open space, you are uniquely situated for harvesting energy from the sun. Even during winter months, you can reap enough solar energy to power up your indoor electrical system, heat water for your morning shower, warm up your family room, and light up your home's perimeter. You may even generate surplus electricity to sell back to your power company. While solar equipment is often high-tech, much of the technology can be installed by a skilled do-it-yourselfer.
With a range of methods, solar energy can provide an electric- and gas-free alternative for cooking -- though the techniques required are a little different than cooking with a traditional stove. Frying an egg using different solar cooking methods is a cheap and highly visual way for kids to learn basic solar energy principles through hands-on experience.
The Federal Investment Tax Credit is available to commercial solar energy projects. The credit provides up to 30 percent of the total project cost in tax deductions. The tax credit is available under U.S. Code Title 26, Section 48a3 and covers solar water heating systems, photovoltaic panels, solar heating and cooling equipment and other qualifying projects.
Solar tubes provide an energy-free way to light a room or hallway. The reflective tubes run from your roof through your ceiling to direct sunlight into your home. The end tube sits flush with your ceiling and is covered by a diffuser. Depending on which style you choose, diffusers can soften the sunlight, create a spotlight effect or disperse the light in patterns. Solar tubes are designed to require little maintenance. However, your room will be less bright if your diffusers are dusty or dirty. Cleaning them twice a year will keep your room well-lit. (Ref 1, 3)
An oil spill is a catastrophic event in the environment. It can negatively affect both plants and wildlife, while causing human suffering and economic losses. An oil spill needn't be on the scale of the Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon disasters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 200 million gallons of used oil are disposed of improperly each year. While the effects on animals have received much media attention, oil spills also destroy plant life because the oil can impair a plant's ability to carry out basic life functions, such as photosynthesis. (References 1)
Solar power isn't a perfect fit for every type of home. One side of the roof must face the south or southwest, and the roof's slant or pitch must be at an angle that presents optimal exposure to sunlight. Preparing your roof for solar panels means removing every possible barrier to the installation. The homeowner or a certified professional must get onto the roof for a thorough inspection, and then perform the appropriate maintenance and adjustments before the solar panels can be installed.
While you're probably familiar with hybrid vehicles, another emerging technology offers a different take on fuel-efficient driving. Solar cars operate by using sunlight as an energy source. The premise is simple: by harnessing sunlight, a vehicle can operate on a clean source of energy, free of greenhouse gas emissions. Though you won't find solar vehicles at your local car dealership, several car companies -- including Ford and Mazda -- have explored the possibilities of bringing solar power to the consumer. Many solar car innovations have come from solar car racing, which has been around since the 1980s (See References 1).
Rice paper lights have enjoyed a long history as decorative illumination, but the light source and power source have changed over time. Early rice paper lights were illuminated by candles, but in the last century, manufacturers began offering strings of lightweight electric rice paper lights. More recently, these became available as battery or solar powered LED lights. Freed from the restraints of fire safety concerns and electric wiring, solar powered rice paper lights can add subtle illuminating beauty to residential back yards.