Rooftop Solar Panels For Home Energy And Hot Water.

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EarthTalk is a weekly installment from E/The Environmental Magazine.

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Dear EarthTalk: I am considering solar panels for my roof to provide heat for my hot water and possibly to do more than that. Are there some kinds of solar panels that are better than others? How do I find a knowledgeable installer?

What type of solar energy capture system you put on your home depends on your needs. If you want to go full tilt and generate usable electricity from your home’s rooftop – and even possibly contribute power back to the larger grid – tried and true photovoltaic arrays might be just the ticket. A typical installation involves the panels, which are constructed of many individual silicon-based photovoltaic cells and their support structures, along with an inverter, electrical conduit piping and AC/DC disconnect switches.

These systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars to install, and as such may not pencil out for those looking for the cheapest power solution. But the upside is that homeowners with photovoltaic panels on their rooftops can rest assured that as long as the sun shines, they will have power to spare without generating emissions of carbon dioxide and other noxious pollutants.

Qualified solar installers can usually advise clients on which specific types of systems will work best given the specific location of a home. U.S. homeowners can find qualified photovoltaic installers via the website FindSolar.com. And the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) provides a free searchable database of its U.S. and Canadian members specializing in home solar set-ups.

For less demanding applications, such as for heating water for your home or swimming pool, a much simpler (and less expensive) solar thermal system might be all you need. A basic hot water system usually consists of a solar collector – basically a small metal box with a glass or plastic cover and a black copper or aluminum absorber plate inside – tied into the building’s plumbing and electrical works. According to the industry tracker website Solarbuzz, such solar collectors are usually mounted on rooftops.

Professional installers can get your home up and running with a solar thermal system for less than $4,000 in most cases. While the savings in your electric bill may be small, homeowners in it for the long haul will definitely save over time, all the while enjoying the fact that you have lowered your family’s carbon footprint significantly.

Homeowners looking to find out more about residential solar systems should be sure to check out the RealGoods Solar Living Sourcebook, a 600+ page renewable energy bible now in its 30th edition. The book features the latest nuts-and-bolts information on how to harvest renewable energy in a variety of ways depending on need. And RealGoods also sells much if not all of the equipment needed.

Another reason to consider going solar in one fashion or another is tax incentives. According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), 17 states now offer homeowners some kind of tax rebate or incentive for the purchase and/or installation of solar power equipment of any kind. You can see what if any your state offers by logging onto the dsireusa.org website, where the searchable database is available in its entirety for free.

CONTACTS: Solarbuzz, www.solarbuzz.com; FindSolar.com, www.findsolar.com; NABCEP, www.nabcep.org; RealGoods, www.realgoods.com; DSIRE, www.dsireusa.org.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 USA; submit it at EarthTalk; or e-mail us. Read past columns at our archives.

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Comments

  1. Solar hot water is very popular here in Australia. The suns energy, even in cold weather, can heat your water up very effectively.

    As for home solar electricity, there’s new technology on the horizon in the form of organic/printed solar cells. The process reduces the cost of the cells, as very little silicon is needed, and the process used to manufacture is much much cheaper. I’m keeping an eye on it at my blog (see the link), and there are a few companies, such as Nanosolar, that are currently rolling out cells on a large scale. I think that we’ll see a lot of it very soon.

  2. Re: Will
    yes indeed, nanosolar have got some interesting technology. but have you heard of a company in your country who are doing exactly the same? check them out. they are called Xerocoat.

  3. I haven’t found the best option yet for updating the energy systems for my 1949 house in the suburbs. My lot is about 1/4 of an acre, and I have 8 huge oaks dispersed around my house, shading it. Our energy bills are really high, and we are doing our best to update the neccesities, such as installing new windows, adding insulation, installing new doors, etc. We don’t get enough sun for solar,I’m afraid the roots of my oaks will affect a geo thermal system… what else can I do?

  4. there’s very small patches of sun in various places in my yard throughout the day. our oaks range in size from 50-100ft tall, so they leave little room for the sun to concentrate it’s rays on one single place for very long. we planted a vege garden this year, and even it does not get enough sun for all of our veges to thrive.

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