Basics of Solar Power for Residential Homes
Solar power is an inexhaustible, non-polluting
energy source. It gives us endless amounts of heat and light that can be used
to warm our homes and to generate electricity for our appliances. But solar
power isn't for everyone. There are few basics
of solar power that should be considered before determining whether it
can benefit your residential home.
Generating Solar Power
Solar energy can be converted to electricity in two ways:
- Photovoltaic (PV) / Solar Cells - Solar
panels are like batteries in that they produce direct current (DC). DC can
be used in low-voltage applications, converted into alternating current (AC)
or stored in batteries for later use. To produce sufficient power for a
home, a large open area such as a roof top, is needed for the installation
of multiple solar panels. The area should be open to the afternoon sun and
be free of obstructions and shadows.
- Solar Power Plants - These are large-scale, solar generating power plants
that are beyond the cost of homeowners. These industrial plants are usually
located in arid desert regions and produce electricity by reflecting sunlight
onto a central location to produce steam to turn a turbine and generator.
These installations require large amounts of land area that are free of
obstructions and clouds.
What You Need to Generate Solar Power
Figure out how much energy you need per day and then gauge if
the amount of sunlight shining on the panels will supply enough power.
Since the amount of sunlight is not constant, you need to determine
the availability of sun in your location and how the weather conditions,
time of day and time of year affect the amount of sunlight the panels
will receive. If the amount of available sun isn't sufficient, then
solar power may not be an option in your area.
Passive Solar Heating
Passive solar heating has been used since the beginning of time.
Architects have incorporated solar heating and lighting techniques
into buildings to make full use of the sunlight. It can be as simple
as placing more windows on south-facing walls to collect more direct
and radiant solar heat. This is similar to what happens to your car
on a hot summer day.
Passive solar heating does not use mechanical equipment to move an
air mass but rather relies on the natural convection movement of air
(warm air rises, cool air sinks). As air is warmed by a solar surface
(i.e. south-facing wall or roof), it rises and naturally moves throughout
the interior of the building. Cool air is pulled into take its place
and the heating process continues until the sun stops shining at the end
of the day.
Active Solar Heating
Active solar heating, as opposed to passive, uses a machine to
distribute the warm air throughout a living space. A ceiling fan
is a simple example that moves warm to where it's needed while
bringing in cooler air into the solar heating region to take its
place. These systems can warm an interior faster than relying on
the natural convection movement of air.
What You Need for Solar Heating
Adding solar collectors is very expensive once the building is
constructed and therefore, should be designed into the building
before construction is started. Architects will take into account
the orientation of the home with respect to the sun and will
include more (or fewer) windows to take advantage of the solar
heating. You can affect the amount of solar radiation entering the
dwelling by selecting the appropriate window covering (i.e. thick
drapes or venetian blinds). Also, the amount of roof overhang will
affect the amount of sun that blocked from striking the sunlight-collection
Understanding the basics of solar power can make your home a more
comfortable place while saving money and the environment. As the technology
progresses, individual homes will be able to generate enough reliable energy to
meet most or all of their electrical and solar
home heating needs.