Solar panels aren't the only way to add solar energy to your home. This sustainable energy source can be used in water heaters and lighting. Learn how to go solar!
The end of summer doesn't mean the end of sunshine. Even in cold weather, homeowners can take advantage of the benefits of renewable solar energy. Whether you want to protect the environment, save money on utility bills or add resale value to your home, solar energy is a smart option.
Benefits of Solar Energy
Why choose solar energy? Solar energy is:
- Sustainable and renewable. Other sources of fuel that require exploration must be extracted from the earth and can be depleted.
- Low-maintenance. Once solar panels have been installed and their efficiency maximized, they require very little in the way of regular upkeep.
- Silent. Solar panels don’t make any noise as they convert sunlight into electricity.
- Eco-friendly. Solar electric power plants and personal solar panels don’t produce any emissions or have any other adverse effects on the environment.
- Becoming more affordable. The federal government currently offers rebates and tax incentives that can help offset the cost of installing a solar electric system. Moreover, advancements in the technology used to create solar energy are allowing homeowners to recoup their initial investment (in equipment and installation costs) much more quickly. Consequently, the price of solar power continues to drop and is more and more competitive with traditional sources of electricity. In fact, 37 states in the U.S. now follow Renewable Portfolio Standards. These policies ensure that the public benefits of renewable energy are recognized and include requirements for electricity providers to switch a certain percentage of the power they generate and offer to consumers to renewable sources over the next several decades.
How Solar Electric Systems Work
Solar cells are made of semiconductor materials that absorb sunlight and convert solar radiation (heat) into electricity. One solar cell produces only a small amount of power. Several cells are connected, forming panels or modules capable of generating additional power. A module can output from between 10 to 300 watts of power. Because solar cells are both modular and scalable, homeowners can design solar systems to meet their specific requirements. Solar panels can also be connected to an existing electric distribution system (one that is grid-connected and still uses other sources of electricity), or they can stand alone (off-grid).
Should You Use a Solar Electric System?
Before you invest in a solar electric system, you need to make sure your home receives enough solar energy to meet your needs efficiently and affordably. Does your home have clear and unobstructed access to sunlight most of the day and throughout the year? Your local electric provider can provide a solar site analysis or teach you how to conduct your own.
Ways to Use Solar Energy in Your Home
A small solar electric (aka photovoltaic or PV) system can be a reliable and pollution-free producer of electricity for your home or office. PV systems use both direct and scattered sunlight to create electricity. However, the more direct solar energy that reaches the PV system, the more power it generates. Therefore, while these systems can work anywhere, they function most efficiently in areas of the U.S., like the Southwest, that receive more average sunlight per year.
However, even if you cannot invest in a solar electric system, below are ways to use solar energy around your home.
1. Solar Water Heaters
Solar water heaters can be a reasonable alternative to conventional gas- or electric-powered models. Solar panels heat water, which is then delivered to a storage tank. Homeowners can also take advantage of a specific federal tax credit available for solar water heaters.
2. Outdoor Solar Lights
Outdoor solar lights (such as solar security lights or solar flood lights) use solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Outdoor solar lights store this electricity in special batteries. At night, these batteries power the lights.
Both self-contained units, such as solar security lights and flood lights, and separate solar cell panel units need to be placed in sunny locations. Before purchasing a solar lighting system, check to be sure that the manufacturer provides replacement batteries and bulbs. Also, consider your home's landscaping. Shade from trees and buildings can also impact solar lights' battery charging and performance.
3. Solar Cookers
Whether you make your own or purchase a pre-assembled unit, solar ovens are increasingly popular home appliances. Like an electric-powered crockpot, a solar oven is essentially a slow cooker. Using angled reflectors that direct solar energy into a special chamber, a solar oven heats food to relatively low temperatures over the course of many hours (eight to 10, depending on the recipe). Again, the fuel source is freely available in the form of sunshine.
4. Small Solar Devices
Our rechargeable personal electronic devices may seem inconsequential compared to major appliances like refrigerators, washer/dryers and HVAC systems. However, factoring in all the energy costs associated with our use of these devices suggests that they use more energy than we suspect. A solar-powered phone and tablet charger can be a simple, inexpensive and effective way to begin introducing the benefits of solar power to your family.
Using solar energy in your home is doable, and there are solar units to meet the needs of any homeowner. Whether you're looking to lower energy costs or reduce energy usage, American Home Shield can help protect your budget with our flexible home warranty plans.