Sunlight is an incredible gift that we all receive each day. Mankind has recognized its’ energy and harnessed it through out time. Homestead Alternatives has had hands on experience with the benefits and limitations of solar heating, since the late 1970’s. We have saved thousands of energy dollars for our clients and ourselves. We have also seen solar collectors freeze and break, window seals fail, UV protected plastics discolor and government incentives come and go. While new labels have been placed on the design ideas of the 70's and 80's, the basics of early Greek and Roman solar architecture, combined with modern building materials, still provide the building blocks for good solar design.
In the late 70's and early 80's, many solar projects were designed and installed so that the owner could maximize tax credits. These credits created a thriving solar industry that all but expired with the government incentives. It was noted, at the Department of Energy Passive & Hybrid Solar Energy Update Meeting in 1980, that “Residential passive has the potential to achieve great success, but it could also falter if not properly developed and marketed”. With nearly thirty years to evaluate the effectiveness of those projects, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff before investing our money. Government programs should be built around the success stories and not a current popular political buzzword. The long term success of conservation and alternative energy development should be our goal. I would not want to see a million (just for kicks) "Haliburton Solar Water Heaters" installed for three years and then discontinued with the tax credits, just to prove that Americans are “green'.
The power of the sun is delivered to every location on earth, free of charge. We must consider the benefits of placing our alternative energy generators at the point of use, as transportation costs make up a considerable portion of what the end user pays for energy. I believe that this idea is unpopular, because it makes it hard for someone else to bill us for energy. While it is economically impractical to create all of our energy needs at every home site, we can create substantial savings.
Photovoltaic technology is theoretically able to convert up to 25% of the sunlight to D.C. electricity. In areas that do not require large amounts of energy for heating, this is a viable investment. It also invites big business to participate and make a profit. (G.E., Sharp, Kyocera, etc.) When your energy consumption is weighted towards heating a space, you must address your insulation and optimize your solar heat gains. A passive solar collector (sunspace, trombe wall, etc.) can be up to 70% efficient in converting sunlight into heat. When properly designed, your sunspace will avoid overheating during the warmer months and collect the proper amount of sunlight as you move through the heating season. You can make this a component of new construction and have a relatively small increase in cost.
As our natural resources are
depleted, we will have to bear the burden of rising energy costs. When the environmental impacts of the way
that we create energy are considered, we would be totally irresponsible to neglect
the benefits of solar heating. The biggest improvements, in the passive solar industry, has been improved efficiencies for insulations, windows,
doors and accepted construction practices.