For residential property owners, switching to solar power generally means a choice between PV (photovoltaic) solar panels that generate electricity, and solar thermal panels that heat water without electricity.
But now, a hybrid solar panel can generate solar electricity and solar hot water at the same time! Virtu, a hybrid solar panel, has been invented by UK renewable company Naked Energy.
Richard Boyle, the Chief Engineer at Naked Energy, developed the hybrid solar panel technology, which combines PV solar cells that generate electricity, and solar thermal panel that generates hot water.
The solar technology works by using the downside of PV solar cells (a decrease in efficiency as they get warmer) to transfer excess heat from the PV cells to heat water. Solar electricity generation rises as excess heat is transferred to warm water. When the PV solar cells are cooled, they maintain efficiency.
In short- its a win, win for the solar technology and consumers!
When you hear the term “solar power,” you probably think of solar electricity generated by photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.
But there is another form of residential solar power that is both affordable and efficient: solar thermal panels for solar hot water. Just like PV panels, solar thermal panels require exposure to sunlight.
Even at lower ambient temperatures, sunlight that falls on thermal panels can heat domestic water via a solar hot water system. In other words, you don’t have to live in California or Florida to generate hot water with solar energy! People throughout northern regions of the U.S. and in European countries like Germany enjoy free hot water from their solar panels.
There are several different methods for heating water with a solar thermal system, some of which are specifically designed for areas that experience frost and lower temperatures. The savings from solar hot water can really add up, too. By replacing a gas or electric hot water tank with a system using solar thermal panels, a household can save $500-1000 each year.
Because solar thermal panels are less expensive than PV panels, the return on investment is shorter, as well. At current energy prices, expect an ROI of 8-10 years. However, if utility rates further increase, a homeowner with solar hot water is protected against such spikes and may achieve payback for the system in 5-7 years, or less.
So far, 2012 is turning out to be a bright year for solar power. Installations of the renewable energy resource have increased by 69% so far this year, according to Clean Edge’s report Clean Energy Trends 2012.
Since 2010, renewable energy has been growing at an impressive pace – overall about 31%, representing an increase from $188 billion in revenue to $246 billion in just 2 years.
Just by itself, solar power installations have grown to a total of more than 26.5 gigawatts of capacity worldwide. While solar panel manufacturers are not necessarily reaping the benefits of this growth in the industry (due to falling costs), property owners have witnessed more than 50% increase in solar installations.
The United States still has progress to make in this regard, however. Despite being a global leader, the country accounted for less than 10% of the solar work market for 2011. Germany continues to be a leader in solar power.
Part of the reason for the increase in solar power installations recently is attributable to government incentives and tax rebates. In addition, financing tools such as solar leases and property assessed clean energy loans are popular now, but could wane with a shift in local policies.
Notwithstanding the potentially fickle nature of solar power installations, Clean Edge believes that global revenue for solar could reach $130.5 billion in less than 10 years, by 2021.
With the U.S. economy continuing to struggle in recovery, one bright spot continues to be green jobs.
Solar installer jobs in Northern California are frequently posted on Craigslist, where prospective employees can easily locate the positions. In fact, no matter where you live, searching Craigslist for green jobs can result in potential, higher paying jobs.
Solar installer jobs in Northern California, and other places, require the ability to complete the following responsibilities:
• Pulling inventory for installation jobs
• Pre-assembling job components in a warehouse
• Layout and assembly of solar modules/array and mounting hardware
• Mechanical/structural mounting of racking, modules and electrical equipment
• Electrical wiring of solar array/system
• Documenting completion of completed installation
• Attending mandatory training sessions on products, installation methodology and safety
Requirements for a solar installer job:
•Experience in PV installations, roof work, general construction, or carpentry
•Basic understanding/experience with electrical wiring of AC and DC systems
•Experience with hand-held and power tools
•Experience working with all types of building materials – various roof types – stucco, wood, concrete, etc.
•Ability to work in extreme environments, e.g. hot sun, crawl spaces, etc.
•Must be able to lift a minimum of 50 lbs.
•Must have a clean driving record
•Must have knowledge of OSHA compliance standards or familiarity with formal safety practices
Do you or someone you know have these qualifications for a solar installer job, or another green job?
Let’s face it. If you are considering a residential solar panel system, two of your biggest questions are probably (1) what it will cost to purchase it, and (2) how much will maintenance cost?
For the average homeowner, the retail cost of a solar array can range from $15,000-50,000, depending on your power needs.
But with tax incentives and rebates offered by many governmental entities and some manufacturers, your out-of-pocket expenses associated with installing solar panels can be reduced by 80% or more.
You can also reduce expenses associated with switching to solar power by cutting down on energy usage, or by choosing to offset only a portion of your electricity bill with solar. The fewer panels you purchase as part of a solar panel system, the more you can save. If your initial solar array is not enough, you can always add more panels to it in the future.
Some homeowners choose to lease solar panels instead of purchasing them outright. There are a variety of contractual arrangements that may be offered by solar manufacturers whereby the solar array is installed on your property, but the company continues to own and pay for maintenance of the panels. In turn, you purchase reduced cost solar electricity at a fixed rate over the life of the lease.
Financing solar panels is another option. Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans allow you to pay for energy efficient upgrades like panels via a property tax increase – usually with no money down.
When it comes to maintaining a solar panel system, the cost is negligible. Components are manufactured for a lifetime of 25-35 years. As long as the panels are kept clean, they should continue to function without issue for many years.
The bottom line is that the answers to questions related to solar panel system costs can be summarized by: “it varies.” Yet, homeowners should not be dissuaded from solar power by potential costs. Over the long run, switching to solar electricity will save money, protect against rising energy costs and also cut carbon footprints.
Recently, one of the most exciting developments in solar technology allows for see through solar power. Invisible solar cells for windows could allow homeowners to switch to solar without the hassle of obtaining building permits and/or approval from homeowners associations.
Researchers have helped bring us one step closer to this type of building integrated photovoltaics – PV power that blends right into building materials such as windows and roof shingles. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the organic solar company New Energy Technologies have developed invisible solar cells, applying unique conductive polymers onto a transparent substrate. The technology, called “plastic solar,” can be installed directly onto the surface of windows.
The technology for solar windows is still in its early stages. New Energy Technologies, developing the SolarWindow, has been encouraged about the future of the technology by its development of the largest transparent solar cell to date. But, until efficiencies are improved, there will not be a significant consumer market for see through solar power.
In the meantime, people who wish to make a switch to solar power will have to stick to traditional PV panels… and the building permits or HOA approvals that are required.
The world is on the move and increasingly has little time to plug in devices to recharge them. Solar cell phones are reality, and now you can buy a solar powered netbook computer from Samsung, as well.
Electronic devices like the computer shown to the left are fitted with solar panels. When ultra violet light hits the panels, solar electricity is generated, which provides extended power when you are at the park, camping, or sitting outdoors on campus.
Samsung’s solar powered netbook computer, the NC215S, is a 10″ device with a solar panel embedded in its cover. The company claims that 2 hours in sunlight will generate enough power to run the computer for 1 hour, effectively extending time between plugging it in and recharging.
Solar powered computers and cell phones are particularly useful in off-grid areas of the world. Residents in third world countries can better stay in touch using solar devices like these.
Here are the stats for the solar powered netbook computer from Samsung:
- 10.1-inch display
- resolution of 1024 x 600
- 1GB of RAM
- 1.66GHz N570 dual-core Atom
- keyboard and touchpad
- 14 hour battery life under “ideal conditions”
- Price: $399
Samsung’s solar computer is currently available in the U.S., Russia, and Africa.
The term “distributed generation,” may not be understood by the average homeowners, but if you install residential solar panels, that is exactly what you will be utilizing. When people generate and use solar power at the same location, its called distributed generation.
This is in contrast to utility scale solar power, usually in the form of solar panel farms or solar thermal power plants at which large amounts of solar electricity is generated, then transferred to customers along the grid.
When we use solar power at its source, this method is more efficient and less expensive. Consider that centralized electricity generation at power plants requires large scale investment of land and money, as well as the cost of tapping into the grid to deliver the clean power to end users. Homeowners may not even experience any reduction in their power bills when their utility generates solar power, as well as using fossil-fuel power generation. Utilities are increasingly being required to generate a portion of their power from renewable resources, which may cost more at first, and such costs may be passed onto consumers. Finally, there is a measure of lost solar electricity when its transported across the grid, rather than used at its source.
When you go with residential solar panels, you are in control of your system (can increase or decrease its size) and 100% of the solar electricity generated is yours. Moreover, if you are eligible for net metering, you can even get a credit on your utility bill for excess power generated by your PV panels. Here are some additional reasons that distributed solar is a wise choice:
- Rooftop solar reduces minimizes the losses in transmission of utility scale solar power.
- Less influence of utility company’s tier pricing for peak demands and building types
- Fewer upfront costs for construction of distributed generation solar (little or no need for bare land, permitting process is usually more streamlined, and connection to the grid (if applicable) is a simpler process
In short, using solar power at its source can reduce the costs and delay of grid-based solar energy, and increase the efficiency of a solar panel system.
Now that you know about distributed generation, perhaps its time to consider installing your own solar panels!
Cities and other municipalities are increasingly turning to solar power for energy requirements associated with street lights, traffic signals and even reader boards. To this list, you can now add solar powered parking meters!
Instead of fishing your pockets for quarters (and finding only nickles and dimes), motorists can use a credit card system powered by solar panels to feed the parking meters in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The specialized meters, shown to the left, are called “E-Park.” Not only do they run on power generated by the solar panels on their heads, but people who pay to park this way can even add time to the meter with a smartphone application! Drivers pay for a certain number of hours ahead of time, and then receive a 4 digit pin to be used when they arrive at the solar powered parking meter. Input the number and set the amount of time you estimate.
The power required for the parking meters is 100% from sunlight, and they can continue running for days, even when sun is scarce. The beauty of this system is that municipalities can save more money, because they will not have to use funds generated by the parking meters to pay for the power to run them.
Just another example of how solar power can improve our lives!
Solar panel leasing is becoming an affordable and popular way for homeowners to switch to solar power without the expensive upfront costs. Over the past 12 months, solar leasing experienced tremendous growth as property owners look for creative and alternative ways to finance residential solar panels.
Market experts predict that in 2012 a wider variety of arrangements will be available. Homeowners should consider comparing lease options before committing to a 25-35 year lease with any particular company.
Generally speaking, a solar panel lease involves installation of an array on your property, while the company itself retains ownership of the panels and equipment. Because you are not purchasing the panels, solar panel leasing often requires no, or little, money down. Instead of paying off the cost of a solar array, you pay a monthly fee to the company that owns, maintains and insures the panels. Such fee is lower than the monthly cost of electricity you would otherwise be paying for.
So what should you consider in comparing solar lease options?
1. The installers and solar panel manufacturers you will be dealing with through the leasing company
2. System performance and maintenance guarantees provided under the lease
3. Dependability of service and reputation of companies with which the leasing company works, based on customer reviews
4. Degree of flexibility in lease terms – a longer lease with slightly more money down will usually result in more monthly savings than a short lease term with no money down.
5. Whether the state in which you live has renewable portfolio standards that rewards owners for solar electricity generated by your system (create SREC markets) and, if so, whether you are entitled to ownership of the SRECs after the end of the lease (since they are usually retained by the leasing company through the duration of the lease).
Refer to this overview of factors to consider when comparing lease options for solar panels.