Monday, March 15, 2010

Thermal Solar - The Ignored Superstar

When nature moves in the direction of least resistance why do we as humans always choose the hardest way forward?

Imagine yourself on a sunny summery day at the beach ready to cool yourself off in refreshing water. You do a fast hot sand dance to get to the waters edge to avoid burning your feet. Sandals or not that sand is hot. The sun beating on the sand makes a very blistering beach experience; sun beating on shallow water equals hot water. Simple. Heat makes heat.

The easiest, most cost effective solar options with the best Return on Investment are here and have always been here and solar electricity is not it. If we really want to “Green,” ourselves electrically, our best options are to reduce our electrical load, unplug, turn off, install sensors and timers, switch to low wattage lighting, simplify our electrical needs, use Energy Star or better appliances, insulate the building and seal all leaks - and then heat with heat - not fossil fuels.

Where on the earth does the sun directly convert sunlight, or heat into electricity? It doesn’t. Solar electricity, known as photovoltaics (PV) has taken the lead in the renewable theatre waving banners of great expectations. A great amount of energy and resources is used to manufacture the solar PV panels. Unless we are using DC applications, more equipment is needed and electricity and is wasted converting to AC. Batteries, while improving, are toxic hazards with a limited lifecycle for back up power. If you choose grid-tied systems most of the power supplied via solar is while you are at work and here in Michigan some electrical suppliers restrict the amount of electricity you can sell back to them. I believe solar PV has a future and a part to play but in the meantime there are many other things to do first.

Solar heat directly heating air or water is simple, easy, and peaceful and involves few if any moving parts and no specialized conversion equipment. Solar hot air and hot water systems are the simplest providers of comfort, low maintenance and remove most of the need for electricity and gas, eliminating emissions and utility bills. And yes, gray cloudy Michigan is one of the best places for it, because of our high-energy needs and thermal efficiency.

Solar hot water can reduce your water heating by 70-75% annually. During most months, you will not need any energy back-ups and with the right size tank, your water will always run hot. In the coolest grayest months, the water will be heated from 45 or 50 (ground temp) to 80 degrees and up saving you energy every degree it is preheated before entering your water heater. The same principle works with solar hot air. A recycled air system heats the room temperature to a comfortable environment without the use of fossil fuel.  Solar hot air can save you 30-45% of your space heating costs.

Solar energy is a simple answer to reducing the need of 75% of all energy used to provide hot water and 30-40% of indoor air heating in Michigan. That’s a large chunk of energy used by households today. Simple solutions, reduced energy bills, comfortable home – I‘m going to the beach.

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