Alternative solar energy is a free, abundant, and clean source of energy. It makes sense to use the sunâs energy in practical ways in our daily lives. Of course, we already do use this energy every day.Â We wouldnât be here if not for the sun and the heat it gives to us each day.Â Aside from depending on the sun for life, we use daylight in and out of our homes, we need sunlight to grow crops, and we even use ancient stored solar energy in the form of petro products every day in plastics, to run our cars, and heat our homes.Â But, this stored âsolarâ energy is not free and not renewable, not in our life time or our childrenâs lifetime anyway.Â The solar energy we should be making use of is direct -- the sunrays that strike the earth each and every day.
1. Solar Electric Panels (Photovoltaics)
When we think of solar energy we tend to think of photovoltaic systems with panels that convert sun energy into electric energy.Â If you are willing to make the initial investment, a home photovoltaic system such as this can provide your home with some or all of your electric needs.Â Although there are many benefits to a photovoltaic system, it is the most expensive and complex technique for using solar energy at home. There are many more ways to take advantage of solar energy in your home or yard.
2. Solar Thermal Panels
The sun's energy can be stored in water as heat.Â This heat can then be used to heat domestic hot water or it can be run through a radiator to provide space heating for a room. Typically, solar thermal panels are installed on the roof.Â Water cycles ( in a closed loop) through tubes in the panel, heats up, and is taken inside where its thermal energy is transferred to water in a thermal storage tank.Â From here, the water in the tank can be mixed with cooler water to control the temperature and go to a domestic hot water tank or it can be used for space heating.Â
3. Passive Solar Homes
Passive solar heating makes use of south windows and thermal mass to heat your home. To heat your home passively, open window blinds and curtains on the south and east (north and west for the southern hemisphere) sides of your house during the day. Close them at night to hold heat in.
For better performance, add thermal mass to your interior space.Â Thermal mass is anything that holds heat.Â It can be exposed brick, tile or concrete, or even containers filled with water. It is best if the sun strikes the thermal mass directly - more heat will be imparted to it this way. But, there doesnât need to be direct light hitting the thermal mass for it to work.Â The sun will shine through the south windows, heat the air and some of that heat will be held by the thermal mass in the room.Â At night and on cold days, heat will be released from the thermal mass back into the space.Â Be careful of having too much thermal mass because it can also act as a heat sink and make the room feel cooler.
4. Small Scale Solar -Â Landscaping
There are many ways to bring alternative solar energy into your home landscaping.Â One of the simplest is with path lighting.Â Solar lights come individually or in packs.Â They are simply small lights mounted a stake that presses into the ground.Â The top is a small photovoltaic panel that absorbs solar energy during the day.Â A small battery stores that energy and lights the bulb at night.Â Several solar lights lining either side of a path can be very beautiful at night.Â
Another small scale solar application for your landscape is a solar powered fountain.Â There are commercial solar fountains available at home and garden stores or you can make your own. Here is an article about making solar fountains. Â Alternatively, if you have an old fountain with a broken pump, why not replace it with a solar pump?Â
Here is another idea: use a solar birdbath heater to keep the ice out of your birdbath in the winter. If you have bird feeders, your feathered friends will enjoy having a source of fresh water as well.
5. Solar Heating for Pools
If you happen to have a pool, there is a lot of energy and money to be saved with solar pool heating.Â Just getting a solar blanket for your pool can greatly reduce pool heating costs.Â If your pool isnât otherwise heated, a this type of pool cover can extend the swimming season by a couple months. A solar pool cover looks like a sheet of bubble wrap.Â It absorbs sun energy and transfers it to your pool water.Â Solar pool blankets also keep heat in the pool by preventing evaporation.Â
Going a step further, you can get a solar pool heating system.Â This is just a simple solar thermal panel that circulates your pool water through the pipes in the panel where it is heated by the sun and then put back in the pool.Â It is a very simple and efficient system that can easily replace a conventional pool heater.Â
There are many ways to put solar energy to work for you in your home. Putting even one of these alternative solar energy strategies to use can save you money and reduce your impact on the environment.Â Using more than one is even better. Now is the time to go solar. Do your part and put solar energy to use in your home today.