Solar Energy: Thinking Outside the Panel

The sun provides Earth with energy for hours and hours each day, energy we can then use to power our homes, pump our water, heat our water, even cook our food. The power of solar energy can be utilized in many ways.

The popular thinking is that we can best use solar energy by harnessing it with costly PV panels mounted on the roof of the home. The sun’s energy is sucked in by the panels all day and transferred to a battery and inverter, which then stores and funnels the energy into our homes to power our electronics and light our rooms at night.

Solar Energy A Great Investment
Solar electricity can be a great investment, especially in regions with lots of sunny days. There are federal and state government rebate programs and utility incentives to cut the investment costs of installing a solar power system to provide electricity to the home, either as full or supplemental power.

There are other options for utilizing solar energy as well. Many of the options are low cost and low tech projects which may be completed by the residents of the household using standard tools.

Solar Hot Water Heaters
A solar hot water heater system can cut household water heating costs by up to 70%. An open-loop, passive batch system such as a water heater set outside in the sun and painted black, is easy to install and low-cost. More sophisticated systems, such as those utilizing heat exchangers and pumps, have directions and plans available on-line for free.

Cooking With Solar Energy
Solar cookers can be fairly easy to construct. They work in the same way as a solar water heater, with a container painted black and surrounded by insulation, and/or set in a box of foil or shiny material to maximize the amount of sunlight that hits the container. The solar cooker takes longer to cook food than a traditional electric oven, so it requires planning in order to be used effectively. It offers more of a slow-cooker alternative than an oven alternative.

Solar Water Pumps
Solar water pumps are very effective for providing water for livestock and irrigation. They can also provide water to remote cabins, rural houses, summer homes, and RVs. Solar water pumps use PV panels for power, pumping water either between areas or up from a well. The pumps don’t require batteries to use – instead, they are on when the sun is shining, and off when it’s not. If water is needed for home use or at night, a storage tank would be necessary.

A household could pump water all day into a storage tank, and be able to use that water on demand. Even better, a solar water pump could fill a solar water heating system, which could then be used on demand.

There are many sites online with detailed and free instructions on harnessing the power of the sun for heating, cooling, irrigation, and many other needs. Especially in very sunny areas where electricity can be expensive, utilizing all the passive and active uses of solar energy reduce the pressure that’s currently on the standard grid system. There are many ways to harness the power of the sun, and many ways to achieve the chores and needs of a home. Exploring options for solar energy can reduce utility bills and energy consumption.

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