So, you're interested in making your home a green home. If so, you're probably wanting to know the facts about solar energy for homes. You've come to the right place!
But have you thought about all the possibilities you have with solar energy? Most people only think of solar panels generating solar electricity for their homes. But there are many other ways you can use solar energy in your green home.
A Few Solar Energy Types
To help you explore your solar energy options, this article will describe the four most common solar applications for homeowners:
When we think of solar energy for homes, solar electricity is the first thing that comes to mind.
Solar electricity is created using photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. Since an individual solar cell doesn't generate much power, they need to be combined into solar panels. Most homes will require more power than an individual solar panel can provide, so just as with solar cells, solar panels can be combined into solar arrays in order to provide additional power.
But a photovoltaic system is more than just solar panels. It also includes additional components such as power inverters, charge controllers, and electric meters to allow for the transfer of the solar electricity from the solar panels to the different appliances in your home that use the electricity. These components form what is known as the "Balance of Systems" or BOS.
PV systems can either be stand-alone or grid-tied systems. A stand-alone system provides all of the electricity for your home. Since the Sun doesn't shine all of the time, a stand-alone system uses batteries to store the electricity generated by the solar panels.
A grid-tied system complements the electricity you receive from your local utility. With a grid-tied system, your home will use the solar electricity generated by your solar panels when the Sun is shining. But when your solar panels are not generating electricity, you will use electricity from your local utility. These systems can also use batteries as a backup for when the local utility has a blackout.
Solar heating is another form of solar energy for homes.
There are three solar heating applications you can use in your home:
Solar Space Heating
Solar Water Heating
Solar Pool Heating
Solar space heating can use active or passive methods to heat your home.
Active solar space heating uses mechanical equipment such as pumps, fans and blowers to help collect, store, and distribute the heat throughout your home.
Passive solar space heating uses your home's design elements to capture and distribute heat. For example, a passive solar home's south face will be unshaded and have many windows that will allow sunlight to fall onto thermal mass inside the home.
Sun Path For Solar Home Orientation
The house described in these pages uses passive solar heating – you can see how the many windows in the sunroom-office have been performing their job recently. In fact, one of the factors in favor of purchasing that house was its southern orientation.
As with solar space heating, solar water heating also uses active or passive methods to heat your home's water.
In active solar water heating, water is circulated by pumps.
There are two passive solar water heating solutions: thermosiphons and batch heaters.
A thermosiphon uses the principle of natural convection to create a flow that transfers the solar heated water to your water tank.
A batch heater places the water tank outside the home, but inside a solar collector in order for the Sun to heat the water directly.
Solar water heaters are also used to heat water for swimming pools.
Solar blankets are a passive method to collect thermal energy for your pool. In addition, they reduce the amount of heat loss your pool will experience due to evaporation.
There are three approaches to solar cooling that you can use in your home:
Passive Solar Cooling
Solar Thermal Cooling
Passive solar cooling is another approach to solar energy for homes. It uses passive solar design techniques to minimize the impact that the summer sun has on your home. The appropriate use of overhangs and landscaping elements are two examples of passive solar cooling techniques.
Solar thermal cooling is mostly used in commercial settings, but is becoming more common in residential applications. Solar absorption cooling and solar desiccant cooling are the two solar thermal cooling techniques most applicable for homeowners.
Solar photovoltaic cooling simply uses a photovoltaic panel to generate electricity to power a standard electrical cooling appliance. This approach is also used to power solar attic fans to help with the ventilation and cooling of your homes attic space.
There are two types of solar lighting you can use for your home:
Outdoor Solar Lighting
Outdoor solar lighting uses photovoltaic panels to generate solar electricity. This solar electricity is then stored in a small battery. When a sensor on the light indicates that it is getting dark, it uses the stored solar energy from the battery to power a small light bulb or LED. Garden lighting and pathway lighting are two examples of outdoor solar lighting.
The second type is daylighting. Daylighting is a passive solar energy application that uses natural lighting to illuminate the interior of your home. It's one of the easiest applications of solar energy for homes. This can be accomplished by positioning and sizing your home's windows. For rooms that do not have windows, a solar tube or a skylight can be used to bring in natural light.
Explore Your Solar Energy Options
As you can see, solar energy for homes is a vast subject and there are many ways you can use solar energy in your own home. As you plan out how your green home will come together, consider which solar energy applications would be best for your home.
One of the best ways to make sure you are making optimum use of your available funds while meeting your solar energy needs is to create a Solar Energy Master Plan.
Michael Martinez is the editor of Solar Energy At Home, a website that provides practical information for homeowners about residential solar energy. You can find a step-by-step guide to creating your own Solar Energy Master Plan at Getting Started With Solar Energy.
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