Where Solar Energy is Headed
Did you know that in one hour the sun produces enough energy to power the globe for an entire year? While solar energy is generally known for being used by early adopters, advances in solar photovoltaic efficiency, weight, size, and price are bringing solar panels into the mainstream. As technology and research continue to advance, solar energy continues to become a more reliable source of energy. Consider the facts:
- The sun remains a massive source of renewable energy. Experts estimate that sunlight alone could provide 10,000 times more energy than the globe consumed at the turn of the 21st century.
- The Obama administration is the third to order the installation of solar panels on White House premises. This mirrors the administration’s promise to drive clean energy growth leading up to 2035.
- Solar stocks continue to soar in the energy sector. While stocks like Facebook, Twitter, and Apple continue to dominate headlines, the strength in solar stocks is indicative of a positive future for the industry.
With so many indicators reflecting the growth of solar energy, it’s no wonder that more households are considering powering their lives through the sun. But exactly how bright will solar power’s future burn? Research and funding is needed to keep solar cell technology advancing, of course, but many of the industry’s most innovative advancements are already here. Improvements in technology are redefining the way solar energy powers the world.
Photovoltaic Cells Harness Solar Energy
To make solar energy more sustainable and affordable for the public,research and funding has been invested to meet technological challenges and fuel innovation. Solar panels utilize the photoelectric effect, where small electric currents are created when specific substances are exposed to light. These panels are called photovoltaic cells (PV cells).
Crystalline silicon PV cells are most common, but the silicon cells are only 18-24 percent efficient in harnessing solar energy. Since film cells can be made from a variety of alternative materials, newer components are being used to create lighter and more efficient cells. Multijunction cells, for instance, boast 43 percent more efficiency. Newer iterations of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC) are also being developed for greater functionality.
The PV cell still remains the most popular material used in solar panels. With the latest models boasting 44.7 percent efficiency, it’s clear that further improvements may develop rapidly. Just four months ago, the efficiency of a multijunction photovoltaic cell was a full point lower at 43.6 percent. Aside from better materials and a more optimized structure, the method of wafer bonding plays a major role in the efficiency of the cells. Alternatives such as concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar farms are known for efficiency, but aren’t expected to replace PV cells anytime soon. New technology, greater efficiency, and lower prices will continue to propel developments in the energy sector and make it more accessible to the public.
For Solar Panels, Thinner Means Stronger
Aside from increased efficiency and affordability, one of the greatest developments in the energy sector is improved weight and size of solar panels. In fact, General Electric has recently announced its plans to build a thin-film solar plant in North America. According to Forbes, innovations like this are directly contributing to the fall of both “hard” and “soft” costs for solar panels.
As the cells used to harness energy become more efficient, the panels themselves become sleeker and lighter. In fact, the Georgia Research Tech Institute published a case study about 3D solar cells and miniature “towers” that are more efficient than traditional panels. For homeowners, recent developments in solar panel technology are creating less obtrusive ways to power the home.
To create thinner panels that are just as effective, researchers and engineers aim to control the propagation of light, since it’s such a crucial consideration in photonics. A careful design of all the smallest details makes it possible to control light and energy very efficiently. This technology can also be applied to other areas such as LED and DFB lasers, says Dr. Juntao Li at State Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technology.
Is Asia Predicting the Future of the American Market?
Three of the four largest manufacturers in solar panel equipment are outperforming projections by a whopping 32 percent, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Solar energy is booming in China and Japan, where stocks are riding high as well. It’s expected that solar prices may rival those of traditional utilities within the next few years. Similar stock increases and competitive prices are occurring in Germany.
The Star Clock at the JR Sapporo Tower in Hakkaido, Japan is entirely powered by its solar surface.
The solar trend in America appears to be following in the footsteps of Asian markets, especially in Hawaii, which is considered one of the eleven largest markets in the world. As the portfolio of innovative technology continues to improve and prices continue to decrease, it’s clear that solar technology is going to define the way we power our world.
Currently, PV systems offer the most advanced technology, only costing $5.50 per watt after taxes in incentives. In the state of Hawaii, it takes approximately 4-6 years to pay off a typical photovoltaic system after installation. Once the cost of installation is paid, homeowners enjoy free electricity for the lifetime of the system.
Since 1976, the state of Hawaii has offered Energy Tax Credits, which have been amended throughout the years. These incentives, coupled with the latest in solar technology, are making alternative energy more appealing to homeowners and business owners alike. From cost savings to tax incentives, improved efficiency and greater technology, solar energy in Hawaii is the most trusted source of renewable energy.
As the first state to implement grid parity for photovoltaics, Hawaii continues to be a leader in adapting alternative energy. By 2030, Hawaii is expected to have a renewable portfolio standard upwards of 40 percent. Since the average solar panel pays for itself within 4-6 years in Hawaii, it’s no wonder that mainstream consumers increasingly invest in it.
While PV systems have boasted incredible innovation in the last 5 years, it’s clear that the solar sector is still developing a portfolio of improvements that will reduce costs and improve efficiency for years to come.
Hosting the Olympic games is a massive undertaking. Preparations for the event begin years before the torch is even lit. Host cities spend millions of dollars on infrastructure, upgrading what is already in place and constructing brand new facilities as well. The impact of the Games on the host city cannot be underestimated. Commercial, cultural, and environmental impacts remain long after the last medals are awarded. It is because of this that the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi have adopted a green outlook, despite the copious amounts of snow.
One of the most exciting aspects of these green Olympic Games is the widespread adoption of solar power in Sochi. Lying on the shores of the Black Sea at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, the city of Sochi is in a rather unique position. A rarity for Russian cities, Sochi lies within a subtropical climate, providing optimal conditions for the use of solar energy, while still temperate enough to host the Winter Games. Organizers expect the Games to dramatically increase the city's power usage, predicting usage up to 1,000 MW will be needed to keep the city's lights on and the Games running smoothly.
An International Effort
To demonstrate Russia's commitment to solar power in Sochi, Olympic organizers have signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UNEP has provided officials in Sochi with help to make the Games environmentally friendly. Sochi is a resort city known for its natural beauty. Adopting environmentally friendly practices such as solar energy will help Sochi maintain its status as one of Russia's most pristine cities.
Powering the Games
When one thinks of the Olympic Games, thoughts turn to the events, athletes, and stadiums. However, to the host city, attention needs to be paid other factors as well. The thousands of tourists, athletes, and other personnel involved in the Games need transport in and out of the city. To facilitate this, Sochi has constructed the new Olympic Park train station. This station is a prime example of the use of solar power. The roof of this massive new complex is lined with photovoltaic panels to provide an impressive 128 kilowatts of energy every hour. Besides being notable for the large-scale application of solar power, the Olympic Park station is also stands out for the type of solar panels being used. These solar panels are known as “thin-film” photovoltaic modules. These panels provide energy even on cloudy days and don't require the same kind of precise mounting that other solar panels do. Thin-film panels are also being installed on several other Olympic venues such as the the Bolshoy Ice Dome and the Sanki Sliding Center.
Construction in Adler for the Sochi Olympics
While solar power is great for powering stadiums, arenas, and train terminals, officials have more ambitious plans for solar power in Sochi. Any large-scale event such as the Olympic Games requires water and a lot of of it. This is especially true for cold weather nature of the Sochi Games. Hot water is a commodity that cannot be in short supply. To meet this need, the organizers at Sochi have deployed several solar powered hot water heaters. These water heaters collect solar energy and use that energy to heat water inside of holding tanks. Solar powered water heaters are incredibly efficient and will drastically reduce the energy costs at the Sochi Games. In addition to providing hot water to many of the venues, solar power is expected to reduce heating costs at Sochi by 30%.
Solar thermal panels for hot water creation.
A 21st Century Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympic games are truly a spectacle for the 21st century. Widespread adoption of green, renewable energy has set the standard for sustainable events of this magnitude. LED lighting, wind, and especially solar power in Sochi are all perfect examples of this new green mindset. With the games set to begin shortly, Sochi will provide an excellent example of not only athletic spirit of the Games, but of the sustainable and responsible spirit of solar power and renewable energy.
Hawaii is known for its sky-high utility bills. To offset these expenses, business executives and homeowners alike have responded by installing solar panels and energy efficient appliances in and on their buildings. These installations have caused Hawaii to become one of the leading states when it comes to solar energy usage.
According to Solar Power World, from 2010 to 2013, in the United States, the solar power industry has grown 227%. This has led to the creation of jobs, among the top 250 companies, for over 73,000 people. Out of the 250, 10 of the highest-ranking companies, included Alternate Energy Inc., are located in Hawaii. Though Hawaii is behind bigger states like Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and Arizona in terms of the number of providers, it is considerably smaller than these places.
Solar Energy Usage Grows Exponentially in Hawaii
In Hawaii, it’s apparent that the solar energy business is booming. From 2011 to 2012, the number of installations jumped 169 percent, and more than four percent of homes are now using photovoltaics. According to ClimateWire, “The Aloha State now leads the nation in the portion of its electricity that comes from solar. Solar represents 2.6 percent of that power, surpassing Arizona's 2.4 percent.”
Hawaii’s solar industry is huge. There are currently 88 solar energy companies operating here, according to Solar Energy Industries Association. In 2012, the state installed 109 Megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity. It came in seventh nationally for the highest number of solar electric energy installed.
Overall, there is 295 MW in Hawaii, which means it “ranks the state 8th in the country in installed solar capacity,” according to Solar Energy Industries Association. “There is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 57,800 homes.” Also in 2012, the state saw a $471 million investment in solar energy, a 121% increase from the year before.
Since oil, gas, and coal are all imported to Hawaii, and because of the unending amount of sunshine that’s available, people are going solar more frequently than in other states where these costs are lower.
Big Incentives are Persuading People to Make the Switch
According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, solar energy is popular in Hawaii because of the generous incentives the state offers to its residents. For solar thermal energy systems, families are eligible for a tax credit for 35% of the system, or $2,250. Commercial properties can receive the same 35% credit or $250,000. Like private residents, they’ll also get whichever is the lesser amount. Photovoltaic systems offer a $5,000 or 35% incentive for private owners and for commercial businesses it is 35% or $500,000 incentive.
Companies in Hawaii are Expanding Solar Energy Usage
Along with homeowners and small business managers, corporations in Hawaii have latched onto the solar energy trend. According to Environmental Leader, last March, Wal-Mart doubled down on its solar energy usage in Hawaii and installed new panels on three stores. In Kahului, Kailua-Kona, and Kapolei, the stores are using sun power.
Solar panels on a Wal-Mart roof in Chino, CA.
Costco’s first solar power system was installed on two warehouses in Hawaii back in 2007, including one in Kailua-Kona. According to the Star Bulletin, the store installed panels on its 156,000-square-foot Kailua-Kona location, which uses a 680-kilowatt solar electric system.
Fujifilm made history when, in 2011, the company’s leaders decided to use solar energy panels through Conergy PowerPlus at its branch in Hawaii. It was the first PowerPlus Plant in the United States and produces 483,391 kwh annually, according to Smart Energy Hawaii. The project was set in motion so that the company could save money and reduce energy usage.
It’s clear that Hawaii is a pioneer when it comes to solar energy. Businesses and private citizens are reaping the benefits of the sun which include lower costs, new jobs, and a cleaner environment.
According to Smart Energy Hawaii, by 2030 70% of energy needs are going to be fulfilled by clean energy in the state. Hawaii has been on this track for years, embracing solar energy and leading the nation in this practice.
Image Credits: Wal-Mart from Flickr User Wal-Mart Corporate
If you’re like a lot of Hawaii families who’ve gone solar (or even if you haven’t), you’re probably looking at ways to keep your home cool and comfortable in our tropical environment. Indeed, the pros at Alternate Energy, longtime Mitsubishi Electric PV partners, report that one of the most common questions their satisfied solar customers have been asking is, "Do you install Mitsubishi AC too?"
Efficient, quiet, high-quality HVAC systems are in high demand.
Alternate Energy is meeting that demand with the launch of its Mitsubishi Electric HVAC Division, featuring the new ductless system. AEI’s qualified journeyman and apprentice technician teams design, install and maintain the new heating/cooling systems with the same precision and expertise they are already known for with Mitsubishi PV product.
Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating’s advanced technology offers not only the industry’s highest SEER efficiency ratings, but also allows you to enjoy more precise comfort in one or multiple rooms – while saving on energy bills and contributing to a greener Hawaii. Unlike traditional ducted systems, Mitsubishi offers the flexibility to transform any room into an oasis of comfort. And because you can control the temperature in individual rooms, you avoid the energy waste of having to cool or heat rooms you are not using.
Another benefit is cleaner air. Did you know that the air quality inside your home can often be worse than the air quality outside? Mitsubishi uses a sophisticated multi-part filter system to remove contaminants as it circulates within a room. The hybrid catechin filter absorbs odor-causing gases. A blue-enzyme, anti-allergen filter reduces germs, bacteria and viruses and helps trap dust, pollens, mites and other particles that plague allergy sufferers. As a result, you enjoy pristine air 24/7.
Bruce Ekimura, founder of AEI, said, "Mitsubishi Electric cooling and heating systems are the top choice among contractors and consumers. They are without a doubt the most trusted brand for reliability, service and support. We are thrilled to launch our new Mitsubishi HVAC Division and we look forward to offering this new product and service to our customers."
Solar energy is not only an emerging technology for roofs and attics, but an energy option for a huge variety of commercial and private uses. From art to autoclaves we explore some of the 21 most unique uses of solar power.
1. Solar Sinter:
Sand and sun are combined in a 3-D printer to create glass objects with the Solar Sinter. Typical 3D printers are, also called Selective Laser Sintering devices uses electricity and a combination of resins and plastics to create a variety of synthetic objects. Tested in both Moroccan and Egyptian deserts in 2011, Markus Kayser is working to create industry where none currently exists.
MIT fellow Anna Young has been working with medical professionals and other D-Lab scientist like Ted Liao to bring quality healthcare to rural clinics across the world, most recently in Nicaragua. The team has created the Solarclave, a solar powered autoclave. Medical instruments are not considered sterile when simply boiled in water, but need intense heat to meet CDC sterilization standards. Without the Solarclave sterilization was only available to theses rural areas by travelling long distances to electric autoclaves in larger cities, and then packing these same instruments and hoping there would be no contamination on the way back home.
Solarclave - Source: Flickr User USAID
3. Solar Ovens:
Solar ovens such as the Sun Oven are the latest craze in outdoor cooking. Ovens reach conventional temperatures between 360-400 degrees. These ovens claim to not only create a cleaner better flavor to your food, but create a slow cooking method that makes items almost impossible to burn. At 21 lbs, the Sun Oven works also works as a food dehydrator. You can see a video demonstration here.
Sun Oven - Source: Flickr User Josh Larios
4. Solar Toys:
Not just for the science geek anymore, solar toys come in huge varieties. Scientifics Online features three pages on solar toys alone. Some highlights include the Transforming Solar Robot, Build It Yourself: Flapping Seagull, and the Dynamo Solar Radio.
Robot Toy - Source: Flickr User Michael Hicks
5. Strawberry Tree:
The Strawberry Tree is the brainchild of Serbian energy provider Strawberry Energy. Essentially a series of benches and plugs, the Strawberry Tree is a first of its kind solar charger. With both visual and public service appeal, solar energy runs through a series of pipes across the network, allowing any passerby to stop and charge their device at no cost.
6. Solar Powered Lasers:
The things of science fiction become real when discovering solar pumped lasers. These lasers rely on a propulsion system created by solar power, which then pumps the laser medium such as iodine. The laser applications are most applicable to space, where solar is the primary source of power for the international space station.
Laser - Source: Flickr User Andrew Adams
7. Solar Tuki:
In Nepal, Solar Tuki is the lighting choice to replace kerosene lanterns. Kerosene is expensive, dirty, and a fire risk. In this incredible video, a rural village is given Solar Tuki to replace their old lanterns. Simply set the lights out during the day to charge, and see the results. Villagers have light to work by, to read by, and to enjoy.
8. Solar Trash Compactors:
If you’ve ever been walking down the sidewalk, and gotten confused about whether you’re looking at a trash can or a mailbox – it’s likely you’ve just encountered a Big Belly solar trash compactor. The brainchild of Jim Poss, the Big Belly idea has been spreading across the US. When trash reaches a high enough level, a sensor triggers the solar powered “smashers” to compact the trash back down. This happens several times before pickup is needed. City garbage trucks require less trips, sidewalks get less trash, and everyone is happier overall.
9. Solar Heated Swimming Pools:
Solar collectors can be used as a great efficient way to heat your swimming pool. A large part of the expense for owning a pool is the maintenance – cleaning, heating, and cooling. Solar collectors can be used to power the filter on your pool and to pump in hot water. Even better is that for hotter climates, different devices can be set to cool your water too if that’s preferred.
Solar Heated Pool - Source: Energy.gov
10. Solar Impulse:
The Solar Impulse is a state of the art airplane that can fly day and night without fueling. With amazing technological advances in weight and aerodynamics, the plane truly looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The Impulse is not intended for passengers, but rather to carry data, in a manner similar to a satellite. Look for this plane in the news about the future of environmentally sustainable aviation.
11. Solar Cars:
Solar cars don’t just look fast, they are fast. Take the Stanford Solar Car team for example: They raced across the Australian outback at speeds of up to 105 kilometers per hour over 4 days. Even with bad (cloudy) weather much of the time this team finished 4th with a 2% charge left in the bank.
12. Solar Water Purifiers:
What’s more important than clean drinking water? Nothing – according to companies like Aqua Sun, a provider of solar water filters since the early 90’s. Aqua Sun provides solar purification solutions for both commercial and residential use including: back country and adventure trips, military applications, relief missions, isolated villages, and more.
13. Solar Bra:
Yes, you heard me right – a solar bra. Japan’s Triumph International Ltd recently introduced a line of solar lingerie. The solar panel on the stomach is designed to have the capacity to charge a small device such as an iPod. Devices wearers are warned not to wear the device on wet or rainy days, and it is not yet commercially available however. While we still aren’t sure about the concept of wearing our under wear outdoors, we applaud their efforts at promoting sustainable energy awareness.
14. Solar Traffic Signs:
Have you seen those traffic signs that tell you how fast you are going as you travel down the road? Well, those signs require power. The Tapco company has developed a line of LED signs such as speed checkers which run entirely on solar power. In addition to speed signs, the company also offers a variety of solar powered options such as blinking warning signs and hand held paddles signs.
15. Planet Solar:
No, Planet solar is not actually a planet, but the “biggest solar ship in the world”. New Zealand designer Craig Loomes, the ship is a catamaran run entirely on solar energy. Some quick and neat specs about this vehicle include:
- Average Speed – 5 knots
- PV Panel Efficiency – 18.8%
- Passenger Capacity – 60 people
- Solar Surface Area – 512 square meters
16. Solar Backpack:
Solar backpacks such as these ones offered by Voltaic start at around $120 and go up in price depending on how many panels are installed on the outside face of the bag. Charging time is estimated to be 1 hour for 75 minutes of talk time, or about 3.4 watts. Obviously this is an average based on phone, sun level, etc. – but the best part about these bags is they can both carry AND charge all your favorite devices.
17. Solar Soccer Stadium:
Stadio Marc’ Antonio Bentegodi has been around since 1963 and is considered one of the finest stadiums in Italy. In 2009 the Italians commissioned a fully integrated solar photovoltaic system which includes 13,321 “FS 275” CdTe solar modules. The stadium is considered a world class facility.
Italy vs Paraguay - Source: Flickr User Warrenski
18. Solar Road Shower:
The solar road shower is brought to us by a company called – Roadshower.com. What exactly IS a road shower you might ask? Apparently it is a car roof rack mounted tank which attaches to a hose and spray nozzle, heated by solar energy which dispenses a hot shower on the go. You may not have realized just how much you needed this portable device until you check the Road Shower’s awesome potential uses like cleaning out coolers and washing off hiking mud. (We realize this isn’t technically photovoltaic, just simple sun energy – but decided it was too unique not to mention).
Road Shower - Source: Roadshower.com
19. Solar Plant:
Aren’t all plants technically solar powered you ask? Well yes, but in this case the plant is made of synthetic leaves by the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. The display a beauty and simplicity that points towards the future of sustainable solar power in homes, clothes, and toys. Start watching the video at 3:28 to learn about the organic thin film solar technology used in these plants.
20. Solar Paint:
Easily the coolest thing on our list, solar paint is just what it sounds like. The University of Buffalo has been working on manufacturing cheap methods for creating solar power through organic substances – as opposed to the traditional inorganic solar cells. While still in the development stages before true commercial application, the hope is to create “Solar panels as inexpensive as paint…” Another method of developing solar paint or ink is using inorganic nanoparticles. This method is explained in the video, and can also be applied to almost any object (much like paint).
21. Sun Glacier:
Ice can be hard to come by in the desert, but Ap Verheggen and Cofely Refrigeration are aiming to change things. The giant leaf shaped structure uses solar photovoltaic panels and the principles of condensation to collect water and create ice. Tests are currently being done and many worldwide groups are taking notice. We hope to enjoy a glass of ice water in the Sahara someday soon.
The Hawaiian Electric Company, better known as HECO released a new set of regulations regarding solar photovoltaic installation in September 2013. As with the rollout of any new set of rules, things can seem confusing at first.
Solar photovoltaic systems feed excess energy back into the "grid" through a variety of connecting circuits. The original design of these circuits only allowed for a limited amount of electricity to travel through these circuits. If you wanted to create a new installation in an area with a heavily loaded circuit, you could be at risk of added, unexcpected fees involving use studies and circuit upgrade.
Hawaii Electric is rolling out an attempt to upgrade circuit capacity through the islands. There is an existing "Call Ahead" policy at Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light, and now this policy will also be used in Oahu. Hawaii Electric Company expresses their hope that by planning ahead, consumers will be spared unexpected costs and the utility will be better able to determine where to focus their company funded studies.
Who Do I Call?
Hawaii Electric has customer service numbers available on their contact page. In an open letter to their customers, Hawaii Electric invites potential solar users to contact them by phone or email here.
HECO also offers a tool called a Location Value Map which is supposed let you enter in your own address and get statistics about your daily usage and allowance. The LVM is available here.
What if They Say "NO"?
As with any new regulations, rollouts don't always start smoothly, and not everyone gets the same answers. Don't feel like you have to give up immediately, just follow these guidelines:
- Define what you want. Different solar setups have different requirements. While a large roof installation may not be approved, a smaller attic fan may be just fine.
- Get educated. What are the specific objections to your plan? What can be done to alleviate these objects? And what actually is DG, LVM, PV and all those other acronyms? Wikipedia has a great summary and links to additional information here.
- Call your Representative Your local representative can help in the creation and change of solar and electric policy. Don't know how to find your local rep? Check out this map created by AEI here.
When most people think of solar power, they tend to think only of large solar power stations or solar panels mounted on the roof of a home or building for electricity generation. Indeed, solar energy is a great source of alternative power. However, what most people are unaware of is the versatility of solar energy. Solar technology can provide much more than simple electricity generation. There are several unique, and brilliant applications of this technology that can be used to further lessen dependence on traditional sources of energy and help reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
It may be surprising, but water heating is an extremely energy intensive process. Not only does it require a lot require a lot of energy, most households use warm water in very large amounts. Faucets, showers, bathtubs, even swimming pools require heated water. All of this begins to add up on a home's monthly energy costs. In fact, water heating is typically the second largest household energy expense, averaging 18% of the monthly energy bill.
Traditionally, water is heated by either an electric or gas powered water heater. Depending on the source of electricity, a traditional water heater can be expensive, not to mention contribute to a larger carbon footprint. As an alternative or supplement to traditional water heaters, consumers have the option of installing a solar home water heating system.
These solar powered systems come in a variety of different forms, however they all share a basic design, which consists of two components; a storage tank and a solar collector. The storage tank holds the water to be heated and solar collector uses photovoltaic energy to warm the water naturally before it is moved into the building's water system.
Solar ovens are an exciting use of solar energy. These ovens allow the preparation of food using no fuel source other than the sun. Reflective panels collect sunlight and focus it on a single area to warm and cook food. These ovens can be implemented as either small, portable devices for use in remote areas, or as large permanent fixtures, such as solar barbecues, for cooking large amounts of food.
When it comes to electricity usage and carbon footprints, air conditioners are one of the biggest offenders. In fact, over 195 million tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere every year by air conditioning in the United States. While its not an option for everyone to simply turn down their AC, solar home air conditioning systems can help to mitigate this massive footprint.
There are a couple different solar powered options available. The first is a hybrid system which combines solar technology with a reserve battery. This system will cool a home like a traditional air conditioner and charge its battery during times of sunshine. When the sun isn't shining, the system then uses its reserve battery to cool the home.
The second option is a solar absorption chiller. These systems use evaporation and condensation to cool air. Solar powered fans blow air over water to cool the temperature before circulating it throughout the house.
Just as solar power can be used for cooling a home or building, it can also be utilized to improve air flow and ventilation. Think of how many fans are used in an average home or building, from ceiling fans to bathroom ventilation fans. Without these fans, buildings often become stale and uncomfortable with no fresh or moving air. Operating these fans on a regular basis can be expensive, but thankfully solar alternatives exist. Fans running on photovoltaic energy provide a clean, efficient, and easy way to ventilate even the largest building. Solar attic fans provide great example of solar ventilation. These fans can be installed with minimal changes to an existing rooftop and can greatly compliment existing HVAC systems by reducing heat transfer within a home and helping keep the air cool and fresh without needing additional electricity.
With the myriad of mobile devices in our lives these days, who hasn't found themselves with a dead battery and no way to charge it? Solar power comes to the rescue again in the form of portable photovoltaic panels. These travel size solar panels are designed to be carried around and allow a person to charge cell phones, laptops, tablets, or whatever he or she may need on the go. Several models even exist in the form of messenger bags and backpacks, allowing truly mobile solar energy.
Solar power is a exterior lighting solution, for both aesthetics and safety. Simple applications of this can be seen in decorative lighting in gardens, along railings, or lighted walkways. However, solar powered lighting also has practical applications. Solar lights can be installed remote areas where traditional lighting is difficult to install and for use in motion detected security lights. The main benefit of solar lighting is convenience. These lights are easy to install and require very little upkeep. They charge their batteries during the day and discharge them during the night to provide the needed illumination.
How Solar Energy Translates to Choice
People everywhere are installing solar panels onto their houses for many reasons: To save money, to help the environment, and to lead sustainable lives, to name a few. No matter why they’re doing it, they know that thanks to these panels, the power is in their hands, literally and figuratively.
Having solar energy in your home translates to independence. When you use solar, you’re less dependent on companies to provide you with energy. You become responsible for ensuring that everything in your house is running on your independent system.
Let’s take a look at, first, how solar energy will reduce your reliance on the utility companies.
Lower Bills, More Independence
If your home is solar powered, you’re going to be able to live a more self-sufficient when it comes to your bills and energy consumption.
Using solar panels means that you have better control over how much your bills are going to cost you each month. You only have to be reliant on the sunshine, which isn’t too hard to come by in Hawaii. You will no longer have to dread receiving the electric bill, which costs the average resident $200 to $260 per month, ranking it the highest electric rates in the nation.
Unfortunately, electric, gas and companies can raise their rates whenever they please. In the warmer summer months, those rates tend to be higher. With solar energy, you can avoid spending an increased amount of money in the summer.
Increasing Your Energy Autonomy
To increase your level of energy independence, as well as your ability to sell energy back to the grid, there are a number of steps you can take.
- According to Renewable Energy World, you should buy energy efficient appliances and unplug anything that isn’t necessary, i.e., a digital photo frame or a phone charger.
- Don’t blast the A.C. when Hawaii heats up. Instead, buy powerful fans and a solar attic fan to keep the costs down, or turn the thermostat up a few degrees so that it’s not running all day long. You could also invest in light blocking curtains to keep your home cool, or purchase insulation so that the temperature in your home is consistent.
- Don’t leave the lights on when you aren’t home or not using them. Additionally, you can replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones and save $35 over the bulb’s lifespan, according to Solar-Hawaii.org. If you keep a light on at night to go to the bathroom or to see where you’re going, try plugging in a nightlight instead.
- Use the cold water setting in your washer and wash your hands and dishes with cold water. Thankfully, it doesn’t get too chilly on the islands, so you can use cold water all year round.
- Since it’s warm out, consider hanging up your laundry instead of putting it in the dryer, which uses a lot of power.
- In terms of your water system, look for any possible leaks and fix them or tighten any loose screws or parts. Don’t leave the water running when you’re brushing your teeth or take baths too often – it’s a waste.
- Inspect your air conditioning and dryer filters and clean them out or replace them so they don’t have to work as hard.
- According to U.S. News, the temperature of your refrigerator should be between 37 and 40 degrees, and your freezer should be at five degrees. Anything colder than that is unnecessary.
Want Independence Now?
You can live a sustainable, more independent lifestyle at home and save energy and money on a daily basis. To learn more and to get started, contact a local solar panel company about financing or leasing your own system today.
Living off the grid has great appeal for anyone in Hawaii with an environmental bone in their body. Whether a homeowner chooses to go with passive or active methods, these famous solar homes should make anyone drool just a bit. From the stunning passive design used for the heliodome through to a floating solar-powered home, the options are plentiful. With the abundant sunshine available, solar energy Hawaii could benefit from some of these designs.
#1: The Hefty Heliodome
The ambitious solar-phile needs lots of space for this one, but it makes up for that in novelty! Located near Strasbourg in Eastern France, the unique heliodome is actually a private home. Designed in the shape of a huge sundial with three levels of interior living space, the heliodome makes great use of passive solar techniques for warming and cooling. The exterior consists of a wall of large windows positioned to reflect the high summer sun away from the home to keep it cool. During the other seasons, the sun is lower in the sky, which enables it to enter through the windows and warm the indoor areas. In terms of buildings equipped for solar energy Hawaii homeowners might want to try something similar.
#2: The Über-Zuber “Zero” Home
Vivint House Photography by Weston Colton
In the arid wastes of the Utah desert, there’s one thing they have plenty of Sunlight. And the new Zero home built in February of this year makes the most of that fact. Not only does it use both passive and active solar principles, it’s also a smart home. The house is fully equipped with solar panels and an energy management system, which includes a smart thermostat and energy analytics. It actually produces solar power that is fed back into the grid, uses a solar heater for hot water and completely air-tight insulation to create an envelope that prevents heat migration through the walls and windows.
#3: Fabulous Floaters
There aren’t any completed yet, but an Austria-based homebuilding company is marketing floating island homes for wealthy buyers. Completely powered by solar energy, the Orsos Island is something of a cross between a yacht and a mainland home. It has around 10,000 square feet of space and accommodates up to 16 people and uses photovoltaic panels, a noiseless wind energy system and a method of recovering heat from water to power the warming and cooling of the home. At $6.5 million a pop it isn’t cheap, but the company already has several orders for the homes. The floating homes would work really well to boost solar energy Hawaii options.
#4: Island Paradise
Celebrity pirate Johnny Depp bought a private, 35-acre Caribbean island back in 2004 as a retreat for himself, his then-wife Vanessa Paradis and their family. Four years later, he converted it to a completely self-sufficient, solar hydrogen powered home with help from Mike Strizki, who first developed the concept in the U.S. Solar panels generate electricity that transforms a tank of water into oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen is released back into the atmosphere and the hydrogen is stored in tanks for use in generating clean electricity during the sun’s down times.
#5: Magnificent Maine Solar Home
The Maine solar house is one of the best-known solar homes in the U.S. Built in the unpredictable climate of coastal Maine, the owners wanted to create off-grid living at its best. The house is 2,900 square feet with the primary living areas on the main floor. Powered by photovoltaic cells and built using solar thermal principles, it uses low-consumption plumbing, and air-to-air heat exchanger and solar hot water heating. The windows and sliding doors are made from solar glass to make the most of the passive solar options available.
With all the inspiration available for making the most of solar energy Hawaii homeowners have no reason to keep paying high energy bills. These famous homes are just a few ways to use solar to power practical living spaces and comfortable lifestyles.
You’ve made the switch over to solar power. You’re already convinced that it will conserve money, energy, and contribute to the sustainability of the environment. The next step, after installation, is to ensure that your panels and equipment are being properly used.
By making sure that you’re utilizing your panels in the best way possible, you’re going to cut down on your costs even more and save a higher amount of energy. Here are a few ways that you can maximize your solar energy and get the most out of your equipment.
Don’t Run too Many Appliances at Once
Before using appliances under your new solar system, the Centre for Sustainable Energy recommends knowing the amount of energy different ones take up. For example, low energy light bulbs are 15 watts, laptops are 150 watts, microwaves are 750 watts, and washing machines are 2500 watts. In Hawaii, you’re going to turn on the air conditioner a bunch—which can take up anywhere from 500 watts for a small window unit to 3,500 watts for a central system.
If it’s a sunny day, which it typically is, you can use these appliances more freely; If it’s ever cloudy, you’re not going to store as much energy. To offset this, you shouldn’t turn on multiple appliances at once. Wait for the washing machine to shut off before you use the microwave (and don’t forget that your refrigerator, which is always plugged in, takes up a lot of energy as well). Otherwise, you’ll end up paying for the wattages that your solar equipment wasn’t able to generate.
Check that Panels aren’t Being Blocked
Power output can be reduced, according to Wholesale Solar, if a panel is being obstructed or shaded in any way. A tree, a bit of dust, a chimney, and bird droppings contribute to this problem. All of the cells will effectively be shaded because they are connected in a series string. To stop shading from occurring, put panels in a place where they won’t be blocked by anything. Clean them often (or call a professional to help you to do so) and check every day to make sure that no foreign objects are sitting on them.
Tilt the Panels
Panels need to be tilted in order to retrieve the maximum amount of energy possible. Some solar panel owners prefer to manually adjust and tilt them depending upon the weather. To figure this out, you have to know your latitude. According to Solar Power is the Future, the quickest and easiest way to calculate the angle is to take your latitude and “add 15 degrees for the winter, or subtract 15 degrees for the summer.”
Depending on where you live in Hawaii, your latitude differs. Kaneohe’s latitude is 21 degrees, while Hilo’s is 19 degrees. To find the latitude of your particular city or town, you can use the tool found here.
If all of this sounds complicated, another option is to buy a solar tracker system. The tracker guarantees that the panels are always tilted to the correct angle and “constantly change the tilt of your panels to face the sun and follow it through the day,” according to Exploring Green Technology.
Keeping your panels clean, making sure they aren’t blocked or in the shade, and tilting them at the right angle is going to, in the short and long run, save you energy and money.