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.
After you’ve switched from a traditional energy system to a solar one, you’ll even be able to sell excess energy back to the utility companies. Essentially, you’ll be making money if you use your panels wisely. This will give you more independence to use your money how you choose instead of handing over cash over for your bills.
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.
Solar is one of the hottest trends in alternate energy. Most people are familiar with solar panels and how they are used to create power, but less people understand how other forms of solar energy work.
Solar water heaters are an affordable option to replace the gas or electric water heater in your home. As an added benefit they also help to reduce bills and toxic emissions.
Take a look at what solar water heaters are, what they do, and the benefits to both yourself and your environment.
Different Kinds of Solar Water Heaters
A solar water heater, like a panel, uses sunshine to create energy. Instead of using that energy to power your lights or TV, it gathers and utilizes this sunshine to heat up water. Heaters come with a tank and collector and, according to Energy.gov, there are two kinds: active and passive. Active heaters include controls and pumps that circulate, while passive systems don’t.
Direct and indirect circulation systems are the two types of active solar water heaters. For Hawaiians, direct is the way to go, since they work well in warm weather climates and simply “circulate household water through the collectors and into the home.”
Passive solar water heating systems are known to be more reliable, less expensive, and longer lasting than active ones. A downside is the passive systems are also less efficient. Purchase integral collector-storage passive systems, since they are valuable in areas where it’s rarely freezing.
In terms of collectors, there are three types: a flat plate, an evacuated tube, and a batch collector. The flat plate is insulated with glass, contains a large absorber to soak up sunlight, and includes small tubes connected to it.
Evacuated tube collectors are the most efficient but also the priciest options. They consist of “a glass or metal tube containing the water or heat transfer fluid” that’s encapsulated by a larger glass tube, according to EnergyStar.gov.
Batch collectors, or Integrated Collector-Storage (ICS) systems, heat water in tubes or dark tanks, where it sits until somebody takes it out.
What are the benefits?
Like any solar energy system, solar water heaters save you money. A bill, on average, will drop from 50 to 80 percent following installation, and you won’t have deal with the utility company’s price increases due to shortages. While the systems are more expensive initially, in the long run they will put money back in your pocket. The average household on Maui spends over $2700 a year in electricity; just think how fast those savings could add up.
A solar water heater is perfect for Hawaiians because the weather is warm all year round, which means that you don’t need to purchase an extra immersion heater or boiler for the winter. Colder climates can face additional cost and difficulties of installation.
In addition to all the personal benefits, you will be cutting your carbon dioxide emissions and have a positive effect on the environment and the world in general. According to US Department of Energy, after 20 years of use, an electric water heater produces more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A solar water heater, on the other hand, does not.
A home isn’t complete without a solar water heater. It helps you become energy independent, contributes to your monthly savings, and has both short and long term effects on Hawaii’s environmental sustainability.
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.
With the price of petroleum fuel and power generation rising every year, increasing numbers of Hawaiians are turning to alternative sources of energy for relief. Fortunately Hawaii, while inconveniently located for traditional energy sources such as oil, is in a prime location for the generation of solar energy. The sub-tropical climate and ample sunshine of Hawaii places the state in a unique position to be a leader in alternative electricity generation. Many entrepreneurs and businesses are taking advantage of this resource to power their businesses on cheap, clean and efficient solar energy. The adoption of solar energy by businesses has led to many creative implementations of the new power source. Perhaps the most unique and clever implementation of this practice is advent of solar-powered breweries.
A New Way to Brew
In the fall of 2010, the Kona Brewing Company's solar energy system came online for the first time at their Kailua-Kona brewery and pub. The brewery has used this system to tout their environmentally friendly brews and have even installed a power meter in their restaurant to allow visitors to observe in real-time the amount of energy the brewery produces. The installation of this system was the first of its kind in Hawaii and the one of the largest craft brewery solar energy systems in the country. The small, but popular brewing company installed a roof-mounted grid of photovoltaic panels, which offset an impressive 60% of the breweries electricity usage. This offset affords Kona Brewing Company a savings of more that $100,000 each year that otherwise would have been spent on expensive and inefficient fossil fuel energy. Solar energy not only provides an immediate economic benefit, but provides security and peace of mind against the rising cost of energy year after year. In addition to savings on electricity, the state of Hawaii and the federal government offer tax incentives to individuals and businesses that adopt alternative energy sources.
Unique Benefits to the Brewing Industry
Beyond the obvious economic benefits of the system, solar energy provides another advantage unique to the brewing industry. The heating and cooling of water is an important aspect of the brewing process. Solar energy not only generates electricity, but provides an efficient and cheap way to heat water. Hybrid power and water heating systems are available to provide the dual benefits of electricity and the hot water necessary for the brewing process. Some solar powered breweries even report an increase in their productivity after replacing traditional water heating methods with solar and gaining inexpensively produced hot water on demand. Another Hawaii based craft brewery, Maui Brewing Company, has taken full advantage of this increase in productivity and environmental responsibility. Maui Brewing, Hawaii's largest craft brewer, added a smaller system to their existing solar grid to provide low-cost electricity for the breweries pump and water heating systems. While smaller than the system used by the Kona Brewing company, this system offsets Maui Brewing's electricity usage by 30%.
A Solar Distillery, Too?
No mention of Hawaii's solar-powered adult beverage powerhouses would be complete without mention of Ocean Vodka, which powers 100% of their distillery using solar panels. They have a 68 kilowatt unit and use on average 60 kilowatt hours per day. While the need for heating and cooling of water is different depending on whether you're brewing beer or distilling vodka, we salute Ocean for their commitment to using solar power for all of their energy needs.
Solar energy generation is not only a practical and cost-saving business decision, but an environmentally conscious one as well. The solar energy system at the Kailua-Kona brewery will offset an impressive 16,425 barrels of oil over the next thirty years. Likewise, the Maui Brewing Company's solar system allows them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 28 metric tons every year. According to the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator, Ocean Vodka will save the equivalent of 1,078 barrels of oil over the next thirty years. Renewable business practices like these help to keep Hawaii on the forefront of alternative energy use. Consumer demand for environmentally responsible products is on the rise across the United States, and especially in Hawaii. Solar energy allows Hawaiian businesses and consumers freedom from the high price of fossil fuels while simultaneously helping to preserve the state's priceless natural beauty.
A Smart Choice
In regards to solar energy, Hawaiian breweries are in a unique and lucrative position. The brewing industry thrives off the water heating and inexpensive electricity solar energy provides and the location couldn't be better. The mild sub-tropical climate and abundance of year round sunshine makes solar energy the perfect source of electricity for Hawaiian brewers. In the face of rising oil prices, volatility of the global energy market and fears of climate change, Hawaii continues to be a national and world leader in clean energy generation, and the local craft brewing industry is on the leading edge of this new energy revolution.
Solar equipment, like panels, hot water heaters, and fans, require maintenance and upkeep just like any other part of your home. With the proper knowledge and tools, you can ensure that it will last, guaranteeing that you save money for years to come.
Cleaning, inspecting, updating, and securing the equipment is necessary to prolong its life. Here are a few ways in which you can get the most out of it.
Clean Your Solar Panels
Luckily, solar panels are much easier to take care of than generators. According to the Solar Company, they don’t have moving parts, so the bulk of the upkeep involves simple cleaning tasks. If you live in an area where debris, dust, bird droppings, and objects may land on your solar panels, you should frequently clean them. All that you have to do is hose them off and, if necessary, squeegee them with soapy water. There are solar panel cleaners available as well who can work on tough to reach areas. Panels should be clean at all times so that they are properly able to absorb the sun’s rays. If they aren’t clean, the Solar Electric Power Association estimates that dirt can cause a 10% decrease of energy output, and bird droppings, dust, and pollution can cause up to a 20% decrease in their efficiency. Kevin Tai of Civic Solar states that tilted panels usually don’t need cleaned because of the rain. Flat panels, however, should be hosed off and soaped up either once a month or one to two times per year, depending on the amount of dirt in your area.
When you’re cleaning your solar panels, look and see that there are no cracks from debris. As for solar water heaters, check for any damage in the wiring, pipes, or ducts. The dampers should be opening and closing without any struggle, and all nuts and bolts should be in place and tightened. On solar fans, make sure that the pumps and blowers are working by seeing if they turn on when the sun is shining. Checks must be done at least annually on every piece of solar equipment in your home.
Flush Out Solar Water System
In Hawaii, most residents are going to need to do a short flush of their solar water heating system for the first four years of its life. For residents in parts of the state where there is more dirt, a complete flush should occur every year for the first four years. Every single system, on that fifth year, requires a complete flush. Both processes involve attaching hoses to the hose bibs and flushing out everything inside. A tune up of the equipment should occur on the fifth year. Either you or solar equipment professionals can perform this. It entails inspecting for leaks, looking at wiring and sensors, replacing the tank anode rod, flushing, and cleaning the panel glass.
Where to Start
To begin the maintenance process, visually inspect your equipment for dirt, cracks, leaks or any damage that might impede it from doing its job. If you don’t feel comfortable taking care of it yourself, you can hire professionals who know the systems inside and out.
If you follow these guidelines and take care of your solar energy systems, they’ll take care of you by offering lower bills and a positive effect on the environment.
Image credit: Jesse Wagstaff
When it comes to solar advancements, Hawaii certainly takes the lead. With fuel costs triple - and soon to be quadruple - that of the mainland, this forward-thinking approach seems only natural. Since the 1970's, solar installations on these islands have sky-ocketed, so it is no wonder that the state currently receives as much as 50 percent of their energy from solar technologies. But solar systems are only a part of the big picture. Here are just a few of the most prominent buildings in Hawaii that use sustainable operating practices, beginning with their installation of solar photovoltaic systems.
33 Costco Wholesale Warehouses are being outfitted with state-of-the-art solar technology. Of these, two will be in Hawaii and are expected to generate 680 Kw of energy each, or enough to power roughly 222 Hawaiian homes. The roof-mounted design is especially notable because of its ability to be secured without penetrating the roof, thus maintaining its integrity.
The architecture of Hawaii’s Gateway Energy Center was designed to draw attention to its environmentally-friendly nature, the first indication of which being the prominent solar panel system at the building’s entrance. Thanks to the towering panels of this 20 Kw system, the building is able to produce all of its own energy.
The building’s design also allows for the natural cooling of its interior by creating “stack-effect” ventilation. It does so by trapping heat within its curved brass roof. The difference in air temperature between the inside and outside of the building creates buoyancy which forces hot air out and pulls cooler air in through an opening at its base.
The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) is the leading marine research center in the world, and prides itself on its preservation of the coral reefs surrounding the island. Because of its natural pull toward preservation, solar technology is a clear choice for HIMB for reducing CO2 emissions. Now, thanks to generous grants from the Center for a Sustainable Future, HIMB is able to incorporate solar energy into their already long list of environmentally-friendly features.
The West Hawaii Civic Center is the first of its kind to use a ground-up approach to sustainability. The massive campus uses design practices that allow for optimum air-flow, seamless integration with the landscape and above all, a 250 Kw solar photovoltaic system which also provides shade for the main parking structure. While the original plan was to add solar panels to each roof, the layout of the electrical grid proved to be too much of a challenge so a centralized location was considered more feasible. Fortunately, the reduced solar coverage has not kept the campus from meeting its electrical needs. In fact, excess energy that is produced is used to charge electric vehicles on campus, and energy above and beyond those needs can then be sold to the electric company.
As the state’s leading tour company, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters aims to keep the island in pristine condition. For this reason, the famous helicopter company has managed to generate a whopping 90 percent of their energy usagewith solar technologies, in addition to their environmentally-friendly helicopters which use less fuel and operate up to 50 percent quieter than traditional models.
The Hawaiian islands are prized for their over-all beauty, and solar advancements make it no less so. In fact, one of the beauties of the state is its ability to embrace this new technology in a truly artistic manner. As seen in these buildings, the use of solar technologies do not have to be the eye-sore that many people assume, but rather serve as proof that the future is indeed a bright one.
Hawaii is a particularly good location for property owners to consider having photovoltaic solar panels installed. In addition to the federal tax rebate, there are significant local incentives to reduce the costs associated with have solar panels installed. Many other states also offer incentives to encourage homeowners to invest in solar panel installations for their property, but Hawaii has some of the most generous. This is because Hawaii has a lot to gain by developing solar power sources. Solar power is good for the United States in general because it avoids the environmental and energy security problems that are associated with relying on fossil fuels for power production, but Hawaii is especially vulnerable to both these issues due to being an island that relies on imported petroleum for most its power production.
Economic Incentives for Hawaii
Hawaii stands to make economic gains by increasing its solar power production. Hawaii's large distance from any large landmass means power production via imported petroleum is especially expensive. In fact, the cost of electricity in Hawaii has been more than double that of the next most expensive state in recent years. Spending large amounts of money on imported petroleum is especially bad because it goes to foreign oil investments instead of contributing to the local economy.
Solar power, on the other hand, allows much of the money spent to remain within the local economy. With the increasing adoption of solar power, many jobs and businesses will be created to provide the installation and maintenance of solar power systems. This provides more tax revenue and keeps money within the Hawaiian economy. It also helps diversify the economy, making it more stable and independent. Currently, about half of Hawaii's economy consists of tourism and the military.
Economic Incentives for Property Owners
The incentive that is most unique to Hawaii is that unlike other locations, solar energy can make economic sense for property owners even without government tax credits or rebates. Because of the combination of high energy prices and bountiful sunshine that is present in Hawaii, it is cheaper to produce electricity from solar panel installations than it is to buy it from the power company. On top of this, there are additional incentives for property owners to invest in solar power installations in the form of large state and federal tax credits. Hawaii's state tax credit is one of the most generous and will cover 35 percent of the cost of a new system. However, this tax credit is limited to a maximum of $5000. The federal credit has no maximum and provides a credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of the system.
Homeowners looking to take advantage of the state tax credit may want to act quickly. Hawaii has had some for of tax credit for solar power in effect since 1976, but recently there has been a lot of debate about lowering the rate. Rapid growth of solar power installations in the past few years has meant that the state is giving out much more money in tax credits. Since energy prices alone make solar power a good investment in Hawaii, even some environmental groups and solar companies agree that rates should be slowly reduced in the coming years. Given this, it would not be surprising to see some reduction of the state tax credit rate in coming years.
Another incentive for property owners is net metering. Net metering allows you to get credit for any extra solar power that is produced by your solar panels but not used in your home. This energy is sent into the electrical grid to be used elsewhere. The energy credit is then applied to your utility bill to offset an equivalent amount of electricity that you consumed from the power company when your solar installation was not meeting your energy needs. In Hawaii, energy credits from net metering can carry over for a period of 12 months. Any credits left after this simply expire.
Since property owners can't get reimbursed for the excess energy credits left after a 12 month period, the most economical solar panel installation option is to size so that it doesn't produce more energy than is consumed onsite in a year. This ensures that all the energy credits can be used. For installations that produce significantly more energy than is consumed onsite, it can be better to forgo the net metering agreement in favor of a power purchase plan. Under this plan, the power company buys any power that is fed into a grid at a price of 21.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is substantially less than the equivalent value of net metering credits at current energy prices, but it ensures that property owners will be compensated for all energy that is fed into the grid.
Image credit: Rachel K. So
Harnessing the use of solar power is nothing new. For thousands of years, mankind has used the heat of the sun’s rays to warm himself, dry up moisture and brighten his home. As far back as the 7th century BC, techniques were used to concentrate the sun’s rays to create fire used for religious purposes and defense. While early solar power in Hawaii focused mainly on the direct use of the sun, in other countries people were learning to do great things.
Solar’s 18th Century Sensation
The real beginning of solar technology began in 1767, when Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure built a solar “hot box” that could be used to cook food. The box was the first form of solar collector and followed the principle of a miniature greenhouse with five thick glass walls. Each of the five glass boxes fitted inside another, and he rotated the device to gather sunlight equally on each side. Once he added insulation, the temperature inside the innermost box maintained 230 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours.
During the 19th century there was a concern that coal could be in short supply in the near future. This encouraged the development of solar technology, and some exciting ideas were born:
1816 – Robert Stirling applied to patent the heat engine that was used in the dish/Stirling solar thermal system to generate electricity.
1839 – Photovoltaics (PV) was discovered when scientist Edmond Becquerel found that two metal electrodes in a conductive solution generated electricity when they were exposed to light.
1860 – The first solar power steam engines were proposed, which later became the forerunner of the modern parabolic dish collector.
1873 – Selenium was found to possess photoconductive properties that would ultimately change light into electricity without the use of heat or moving parts.
1883 – Charles Fritts invented the first solar cells, made from wafers of selenium.
1891 – The first ever commercial solar water heater was patented in Baltimore by Clarence Kemp.
By the end of the century solar water heaters were old news, but they still used an integrated unit comprising a separate heating area and water tank, which lost heat when the sun went down. This wasn’t an issue for solar power in Hawaii because of the plentiful sunlight, but in other parts of the U.S. it took a few years longer to find a way to prevent the water growing cold as soon as the day was over.
The Roaring 20th Century
When science and technology took off in the 20th century, solar wasn’t far behind. By 1909 William J. Bailey created a heater that separated the copper coils that formed the heating element from the water tank, which reduced the quantity of water exposed to the sun at a time and heated it faster. A short time later, Albert Einstein won the 1921 Nobel prize for his theories on the photoelectric effect, and in 1932 the photovoltaic effect of cadmium sulfide was discovered.
By 1954, photovoltaic technology was in full glory in the U.S. and the first silicon PV cells were developed at Bell Telephone Laboratories. These cells were finally able to convert the sun’s energy into power strong enough to operate everyday equipment with an 11% efficiency. While solar power progress in Hawaii was in infant stages, in the rest of the country it was moving at a rapid click.
In 1958, the Vanguard space satellite set out with an array of PV panels to power its radios. Six years later, NASA launched the Nimbus satellite powered by a 470-watt PV array. By the 1970s, costs had dropped and solar cells were being used to operated navigation warning lights on offshore rigs and homeowners began to consider domestic solar applications for rural areas.
In 1979, Hawaii enacted a personal tax credit for solar power, followed in 1978 by the Energy Tax Act that encouraged solar installations across the country.
In 1983, a 6-megawatt substation in California was recorded as producing enough power for up to 2,500 homes. In 1994—just 11 years later—the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL - formerly the Solar Energy Research Institute) finished building its solar energy research facility. The building was recognized as the most energy-efficient U.S. government building in the world and had both active solar electric systems and a passive solar design.
Powering Into the New Millenium
By the time the turn of the century rolled around, solar was being used with increasing regularity in space technology, industry and even domestic applications. A family of eight living in Morrison, Colorado installed a 12 kW system in their home that provided most of the power for their 6,000 square foot home. It was the largest residential solar system registered with the U.S. Department of Energy. Within two years, Home Depot was selling domestic solar systems in 61 stores across the country. Solar technology had arrived. Solar power in Hawaii and elsewhere was booming, and Americans haven’t looked back since.
As people everywhere are discovering, using solar energy is a way to save money and contribute to the sustainability of Mother Earth.
One of the commonly used devices to harness and create that energy at home is a panel. In addition to installing panels, it’s wise to consider placing a solar fan in your attic, especially if you live in Hawaii.
What is a Solar Attic Fan?
The architecture of Hawaii’s Gateway Energy Center was designed to draw attention to its environmentally-friendly nature, the first indication of which being the prominent solar panel system at the building’s entrance. Thanks to the towering panels of this 20 Kw system, the building is able to produce all of its own energy.
A solar attic fan provides ventilation and cooling for your home and runs mostly off solar power. It brings outside air into the space and cools your attic and home in a quiet and unobtrusive manner. According to Solar-Attic-Fan.info, a solar attic fan’s ventilation system is “many times more effective than passive (natural) ventilation since the air inside the attic is exchanged more times per an hour with a powered vent than with a passive vent.”
What Types of Solar Attic Fans are Available?
Depending on the size of your attic, you’ll either want to purchase a 10 or 20 watt attic fan. The venting capacity for the former is 1,200 square feet, while the latter can cool up to 1,800 square feet. You can either ask a professional to help you figure this out.
What are the Benefits of Solar Attic Fans?
Any time you use solar energy, you’re helping the environment. In the case of a solar attic fan, you’ll utilize your air conditioner much less and reduce the temperature in your attic by up to 50 degrees. On the hotter days in Hawaii, when the temperatures reach the mid-80s, your attic can be a whopping 160 degrees.
A solar attic fan cuts down on any excess heat that may have otherwise been trapped in your attic or home. When your home is cooler, you won’t use your air conditioner as much, thus extending the life of the AC system and significantly lowering your bills. It also assists with the longevity of your roofing materials by reducing overheating, which occurs when the attic isn’t well ventilated. Since Hawaii is warm all year round, turning on your AC less and protecting your roof in hot weather are extremely important.
Are There Tax Breaks and Incentives for Solar Attic Fans?
Like any form of solar energy, government assistance is there to help you subsidize costs. The federal government will award you a 30% tax credit for the purchase price and installation cost of a solar attic fan. In Hawaii, you can receive up to a 35% credit for it. For more information, you can check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
How Do I Get Started?
To pursue the do it yourself method, measure your attic and verify how many square feet there are. You can then purchase a solar attic fan from an energy company and/or buy one online. If you go through an energy company, there will most likely be a warranty on any equipment.
Solar attic fans are built to last, and will keep your home cool, your roof protected, and your air conditioning bill on even the hottest of days.
Photo credit: John Quarterman