Green architect William McDonough has a funny story about solar energy. Someone asked him, “What do you think of nuclear energy?”
“Oh, I love it,” he said, surprising the person. “I love it so much I think we should implement large-scale nuclear energy immediately.”
Shocked, the person asked, “Really?”
“Sure,” McDonough continued, “We already have a wonderful nuclear reactor located 93 million miles away, and it already provides much more energy than we would ever need.”
He was talking, of course, about the sun.
Using solar panels, we can convert our abundant sunlight into electricity. The sun currently provides 5,000 times the amount of energy people need. Let me say that again: The sun currently provides 5,000 times the amount of energy people need. More sunlight energy hits the earth each hour than the world’s population consumes in an entire year. It’s clean, it’s free, and it’ll never run out.
How Solar Panels Work
Solar panels (also known as photovoltaic [PV] panels) have no moving parts and emit no waste. When sunlight strikes the thin panel of silicon, the electrons get excited and start moving, which produces an electrical current.
Because they require sunlight to operate, the panels only work in the daytime. Instead of storing energy in batteries (as was done 10 or 15 years ago), the panels now use a grid-tie system. During the day, the panels produce energy, and excess electricity is pumped back into the electrical grid. (Your electric meter actually runs backward!) At night, when the panels are dormant, your home simply pulls energy off the power lines as usual. The net result is a monthly utility bill of $0.
In addition to saving you the cost of the monthly electricity bill, a solar panel system on your house can actually increase the value of your home. For example, a $20,000 solar system will add anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 to your home’s resale value. This reason alone is enough to consider solar panels for your house.
Where to Put Solar Panels
Solar panels need an unobstructed and south-facing area of your roof. If your roof is pitched, the panels are at the mercy of the angle of your roof and may not be as effective as they could be. On a flat roof, the panels can be turned and angled toward the south-facing sun.
Find a spot that is not shaded. And because the panels you install on your home could be there for 25 years or more, keep in mind any trees around it that could shadow the panels in the future.
Although they’re not very heavy, the weight of solar panels is about double that of typical shingles. Be sure to ask your architect, contractor, or structural engineer whether your roof can bear the weight of solar panels.
If you believe solar is only possible in places like Arizona, think again. Solar panels require light, not heat. A cold and sunny location works just as well as a warm and sunny location. ....read more