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Four Ways To Use Solar Power In Your Home

You hear a lot these days about solar energy. One problem with solar, as with many new technologies, is the expense. But remember when color television sets, video recorders, home computers, and digital cameras were far more expensive than they are now? Like those products, solar technology is getting less expensive with advances in technology. Let's see how many ways you can use solar energy in your home today:

  1. Passive solar energy: This is the simplest and least expensive form of solar power. Unfortunately, it requires that your home be specifically designed to take advantage of solar heat, and situated on a lot to take maximum advantage of the sun's rays. You can design passive solar capability into new construction, but this method is not applicable to existing homes.
  2. Solar energy for heat: This is the oldest use of solar energy. Using relatively inexpensive flat plate collectors, heat from the sun's rays is used to heat air, water, or other fluid that flows through coils in the panels. This heat can then be used to heat the water for your home or the home itself.
  3. Solar energy for electricity: This method uses a photovoltaic (PV) solar power panel that converts sunlight into electricity. This power can be used to power your home'selectrical lighting and appliances. However, ancillary systems (storage batteries, inverters) are required to provide the right kind of electricity throughout the day and night. And it still takes a large surface area of PV cells to provide sufficient electrical power for the average home.
  4. Inexpensive applications for solar energy in the yard or garden: You can use very inexpensive small photovoltaic panels to provide electrical power for yard lighting, solar pumps for water features, solar electric fencing, even a solar oven. These applications won't save as much as powering your home with solar, but they also don't cost much.

The advantages of solar power are many. More mature technology (a solar powered water heater, for example), will pay for itself in one-to-six years, depending on subsidies and tax incentives. Solar power is free and unlimited, and there are no fuel taxes. And a solar installation will add resale value to your home.

On the downside, PV technology is still costly, although prices are steadily declining with advances in technology and manufacturing costs. Also, the efficiency of solar power is dependent on your location and the average number of sunny days. And finally, there are aesthetic considerations of solar panels, which are also being addressed by innovations like PV shingles, spray-on solar, and thin film PV.