Saturday, July 14, 2007

Solar Panels

Now that I have my little business cards with my EcoBroker® designation proudly displayed, the most common question I have heard is “We have been thinking about putting up solar panels. Where would we start with that?”

That depends on what you want to accomplish with your solar panels. Do you want to
1. Generate Electricity,
2. Generate Heat, or
3. Generate Light?

Of course, you do not have to stick with just one of these goals. Read through the following options, explore the websites and the combinations of techniques and technologies that are best for you will become apparent.

If you want your electricity meter to run backwards (you cannot actually bring your bills to zero or lower), your most economical first step is to adjust your energy consumption first. That is a whole other blog entry. Until then, check out this children’s game from the UK that covers the basics in a much more fun way than reading a blog. My Abodo

1. Generate Electricity

If you are generating electricity, your solar panels are called photovoltaic (PV). Most of us in the South Bay are not concerned with living off of the city electrical grid and have no need for storing electricity in batteries. Generally what happens for an existing residential home is a retrofit of a BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) system. You may fit it onto your roof or locate it separately and connect it to your home electrical system by cable.

2. Generate Heat

If you are generating heat for your home (usually heating water in residential instances), your solar panels are plates usually painted with selective coatings that absorb and retain heat. Here in the SF Bay Area, this is an effective way to cut down on fuel bills from heating water. The solar collector is usually mounted on the roof and is connected to a circuit containing water. The headed liquid flows around a circuit to warm the main hot water tank or swimming pool.

3. Generate Light

If you are using sunlight to generate light in your home, consider implementing passive solar techniques. Passive solar is the absorption of solar energy in a building to save on heating and cooling costs. Windows are placed on a south-facing wall with an architectural feature that absorbs heat behind it. An overhang over the south-facing windows enables low angled winter sunlight to enter, while shading the home from the sun in the summer. Windows on the east and west sides of the building help to generate ventilation for summer cooling. I never have to use an air conditioner to keep my home cool using these methods during our summer heat waves.

If your home is not appropriately oriented for passive solar heating, light can be brought in to your home to lower electricity bills from lighting. For this, look into light shelves, skylights, and light tubes.

Have the Government Help You Pay For It

Now that you have a rough idea of what systems you want to look into using, make sure you pick systems and products that are approved by the government so that you can get your rebates. For up to date information in financial incentives for solar panel installation, make sure you check out the following websites:

PDF file from the Department of Energy about financing solar panels

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency
SEIA PDF file with information on federal tax credits for solar systems
Go Solar California: the state government website on solar system incentives

Don’t Forget Your Sunglasses

This should be enough information to enable you to research your own needs for solar panels. If you are still confused, need help finding financing, or want help finding qualified solar panel installers, feel free to email me.

1 comment:

maxmsf said...

great overview G. There is so much history and so much going on right now in the field, that solar still seems pretty mysterios to most people-- this helped clarify how to start thinking about it. - maxmsf