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Home Sweet Solar Home

Home Sweet Solar Home

The sun is shining on Barack Obama and it just might beam into more American homes now. Like many of you, I was riveted by the election and have great hopes for our country on many fronts. President Obama will make key decisions on a host of important energy issues.

Our homes need sustainable energy and we need it now. Energy use is a factor in virtually everything that affects our homes. Fossil fuels are dirty to burn, hazardous to human and environmental health, and they contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

I was in college during the energy crisis of the ’70s when excitement grew over what was perceived as a new environmentally responsible energy source–solar. There was an experimental solar building on my campus and I lived in a passive solar house. People began to shift their environmental awareness by exploring alternative energy sources. Unfortunately, interest faded in the 80s when federal and state incentives to offset the costs of the technology dried up. We are facing another energy crisis and maybe we can learn from the past and realign to being energized about solar energy!

Solar energy provides all the ingredients for heat, hot water and power for an intelligent home. The Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado assists homeowners in deciding if solar makes sense for their home use. Climate, situation, lifestyle, and pocketbooks are all considerations. Going “off the electric grid” is an option, but supplementing renewable energy with conventional methods may be a better fit for most. RMI claims, “Living off the grid tends to be cost-effective where electricity is remote, expensive, or unreliable. Technologies for solar range from inexpensive, hand-built devices to pricey custom-built installations.”

Let’s take a look at how feasible solar is for powering and heating our homes adapted from Clean Energy Ideas.

PROS
Solar panels give off no pollution, the only pollution produced is the manufacturing, transportation of goods, and installation.
Production of energy from the use of fossil and even from renewable fuels can be noisy (wind turbines). Solar produces no noise.
Solar can harness electricity in remote locations not linked to a national grid.
Installation of solar panels in remote locations is more cost effective than laying high voltage wires.
Solar can be efficient all over the globe, even on overcast/dull days.
Solar panels can be installed on rooftops, eliminating the problem of space.
The initial investment of solar cells may be high (see cons), but once installed, solar provides free electricity that pays off for years.
Solar allows the user to be less dependent on fossil fuels.

CONS
The initial cost of solar is high because there is no mass production. Solar cells can cost more than $1,000 and some houses need more than one.
Solar energy generates electricity only during daylight hours.
The weather can affect the efficiency of solar.
In cities, pollution levels and the shading of tall buildings can affect the efficiency of solar cells.

I think the pros outweigh the cons for many homeowners. While the initial costs are high, the price of fossil fuels is rising. As a homeowner, I like solar heating as a healthy form of heating since solar heats objects (like woodstoves) instead of the air.

Europe and Japan are already energizing thousands of households with solar and giving homeowners incentives. Will the United States be left behind? The Vatican has photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity!

Our president-elect wants to move in a positive direction to meet our future energy needs. His Web site states he will, “Ensure 1 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.” I bet we can even do better than that!

Having a solar home is right up there on this Greenie’s Top 10 Wish List. Maybe now, putting solar collectors on my home might be an option. At the moment, I am considering these LED solar house numbers.

As we bask in the glow of a changing nation can our hope of tapping into the renewable energy of the sun to power and heat our homes be revisited?

Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.

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Ronnie Citron-Fink

Ronnie Citron-Fink is a writer, editor and educator. She has written hundreds of articles about sustainable living, the environment, design, and family life for websites, books and magazines. Ronnie is the creator of Econesting, and the managing editor of Moms Clean Air Force. Ronnie was named one of the Top Ten Living Green Experts by Yahoo. Ronnie lives in New York with her family.

6 comments

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9:43PM PDT on Sep 27, 2010

had fun sharing this one.

4:20AM PST on Feb 13, 2010

I installed solar hot water, and photovoltaics on my passive solar farmhouse in 2001. Thank you for posting this information.

9:33AM PST on Dec 25, 2008

I happen to know for a fact the help that is given via an affiliated program through the Pacific Gas And Electric company for weatherising we poor folk's houses/mobilehomes/etc., didn't do much more than 1. install polarize thingies for our light switches and electrical outlets, and 2. provide those special new lightbulbs for the few light fixtures that they would fit into. There was nothing done to our roof that is still in great need of putting on that sloppy white stuff that works wonders at sealing cracks and weatheriziing the roof, and there was nothing done to our doors or other umteen areas in much need of sealing cracks and crevousus to truly weatherise our little tin can mobile home! Not to mention the fact that nothing is ever offered to we who are in most dire need for helping us to lower our mo. heating and electric bills, such as this wonderous "SOLAR" energy option!
As an added none sense the program helps to provide a new regridgerator that is deemed "energy saver/efficient" however this same program DOES NOT also likewise purchase a new stove. As our stove was in much greater need of replacing than our frdge happened to be, shortly after the donated fridge was given us, we had to struggle to find a new stove that we coul actually use the oven without smoking up the entire neighboorhood! Lol! I could not help but to notice though that many of my fellow city/county home dwellers (IN REAL HOUSES, NOT MOBILE HOME/TRAILERS) had new windows installed and doors).

2:55PM PST on Nov 17, 2008

Great article and good insights, but before everyone goes out and invests in solar, make sure your home is as efficient as possible. Conservation has always been the wisest and most effective energy strategy, regardless of the energy source. It's been estimated that in America, between 75 and 90 percent of all the energy consumed is wasted. I'm so glad that the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is finally getting the attention it deserves. Follow the RMI link above to find one of the greatest sources of "outside the box" thinking on energy, that exists. I have been watching these guys with great interest and admiration ever since they convinced the Army Corps of Engineers that it would be cheaper to buy and give away low flow toilets for every home in Denver than it would be to build a new reservoir for the City's drinking water.

12:22PM PST on Nov 16, 2008

Going vegan is the easiest way to save energy. It takes so much more energy to create a calorie of meat than it does to create a calorie of grains/vegetables/fruit/mushrooms! It's not just about the animals, so if you don't care about animals,but you still care about the planet, then go vegan for the EARTH!

7:38AM PST on Nov 16, 2008

Your article makes me think that it is time for us all to make a concerted effort to change our carbon footprint! Great suggestions!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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