Solar Panels: What You Need to Know About Zoning

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

If you’ve ever considered investing in a solar panel system and have the handyman skills to try putting them together yourself, make sure that you find out everything you can about local zoning regulations first. Solar panels are a great way to harness clean, sustainable energy from the sun, and the last barrier you need to start enjoying the benefits to your system is an unexpected fine. There are sometimes restrictions, especially at the local level, but also the state level if you have a large parcel of land or live in an area that is unincorporated. It’s always best to ask questions first and do all the research you need before embarking on your project, so that there are no unwelcome surprises.

The first place to research zoning is the most restrictive authority for your situation. In the U.S., zoning restrictions are strictest at local levels. If you have a homeowner’s association for your community, that’s where you start. Inquire to see if any rules are set up regarding the installation of solar panels or roof structures. There also might be rules regarding the type of roofing materials allowed. If you do come across restrictions, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of it for all of your solar energy plans. Research and develop an effective proposal that outlines the benefits to the entire community, and chances are good that you will be approved. You might even find yourself a positive trendsetter in green living for others to follow suit.

If your community doesn’t have a homeowner’s association, begin with the planning office of your city or town. They will be able to advise you what the local zoning laws are for solar panel installations. You might be referred to a specific department, such as planning, building code, or zoning. Once you find out the right authority to help you, inquire about the correct process and if there are any permits required. If your city or town has no existing zoning regulations for solar panels, you need to go to the county level.

Most counties have online websites, and you might even be able to find answers to questions without an in-person visit. Whether on-line or in-person, you have to determine what department handles permits and zoning first. Then look for your answers. If there is no existing zoning code in your county for solar panels, try to get the information you need for the state level as well. Someone in county zoning should know what laws the state has in place.

Another great resource for researching zoning questions is local suppliers and installers of solar equipment. Because their businesses are affected by such regulations, they are likely to be very knowledgeable. A caveat, however: make sure anyone you consult is licensed and reputable in their field, and always fact check what you’re told to the best of your ability. The best defense against being scammed or unintentionally misled is to do your own research.

Zoning restrictions should not be a deterrent to installing a solar panel system. Just do your homework in the planning stage so you know what your zoning codes are. Then you will be able to install and enjoy your solar energy system without worry.

Solar Panels: Three Considerations Before You Invest

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

Solar panels can be a great way to power your home with clean, renewable, low-cost energy. But are there any downsides? Before taking on a large project, it’s good to gather all the facts you need to make an informed choice. Read further to learn about three possible concerns so that you can know if you’re making the right investment.

Toxic Materials

Newer solar panels are made with thin film technology that makes them faster, more compact, and easier to manufacture and use than ever before. Unfortunately, some materials used to produce them can actually be harmful to the environment. This would only be an issue when you went to dispose of them. But you should consider that when the time comes, the panels will require safe disposal and special handling. On the positive side, the panels should last at least 20 years before that happens, and by then there may be new developments in recycling and disposal methods that would make it much easier.

New Technology

If you’ve ever seen or read news about new solar technology, you might think that it is evolving at such a fast rate that it would be wisest to wait for what’s coming out next. Research in solar energy is a global industry that is rapidly growing. But not every product that is touted on the news will be available to consumers, even in the long term. The research and development (R&D) process is slow and subject to change. Sometimes there are unforeseen problems or costs that halt the process. To hold out for the next best thing to arrive could be to waste years with no guarantee that a new development could be available to the consumer in the near future. However, an educated consumer has all the power. Professional business journals available at the library have the latest R&D news and market forecast information. There is also copious information available on the internet for anyone with a little bit of research savvy. Then you can better decide whether newer technology is a viable option or a traditional system would be a better investment.

Initial Costs

Although new advances in solar energy technology are making panels easier and faster to produce, the cost of equipment and installation to set up a solar energy system is still much higher than traditional fossil fuel systems. And the panels only work when the sun is shining on them. During the night and during cloudy, overcast weather, your expensive solar equipment is useless. So besides costs for the panels, an investment in significant battery backup is needed to hold energy to use when the sun is not shining.

Any investment warrants careful consideration, and a solar panel energy system is no exception. It is prudent to look into all of the advantages and disadvantages of such a large purchase. However, if you have a passion to contribute to a clean environment and sustain a green lifestyle, the advantages of solar panels far outweigh the disadvantages. Harnessing energy from the sun to power homes and business is one of the greatest advancements in environmental conservation, and promises to bring great things in the future.

Solar Panels: Advantages of 12-Volt Portable Systems

March 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

What is a 12-volt (12v) portable solar energy system? It’s a popular type of portable system that operates like larger solar panels, but isn’t large enough to generate as much electricity. It might not generate enough energy to run or heat your home, but it can power some portable machines, or recharge their batteries. Like any portable solar energy system, it has advantages and disadvantages, and various factors to consider before making the investment.

Any solar panel needs to be exposed to direct sunlight to work, and 12v portable systems are no exception. They might still work when the weather is overcast. However, it will take a longer time to work up enough power to charge. Most 12v systems don’t work with artificial light, but there are some solar panels in development that, thanks to new solar technology, will work indoors. They should be available to consumers within five years.

Good portable solar panels can adjust how much energy is produced to match what’s needed through the use of built-in regulators. When purchasing a portable solar panel system, look for this feature. Without a built-in regulator, you risk overcharging devices, and no one wants that.

A great benefit of portable systems is that most are compact enough to fit in a purse or oversized pocket. That is due to the fact that the solar cells themselves are small. But they are not flexible. You can’t fold solar cells without harming them. Portable 12v solar panels are marketed to be waterproof and durable, but they still require care when handled. The solar cells can’t be folded or creased without breaking them. So when testing the durability of your 12v solar panels, don’t allow the cells themselves to be folded, let the panels go through the washer, or let any sharp objects near them that could poke the cells.

If you intend to use a 12v portable solar panel system to recharge batteries, keep in mind that it only works with rechargeable batteries. Using the panels to recharge standard batteries will not work.

When budgeting for your portable system, remember that additional equipment is required. Connectors are necessary, and they must be compatible with the recharging ports of your devices. You might also need some battery clips if you have plans to use your panel system to trickle charge the battery of your car, snowmobile, or boat.

Trickle charging is a great way to keep a full charge in the battery of your vehicle. All you have to do is put the 12v portable panel in a place where it can take in direct sunlight, and then connect it to the socket of the vehicle’s cigarette lighter, or attach clips to the battery. This is especially helpful in frigid climates for cars that are not garaged.

Unfortunately, for the time being, portable 12v solar panel systems are relatively costly compared to using your utility company’s electricity for the home or office. But they are very useful for camping or outdoor activities such as working around your car. They also make ideal backup systems when there is a loss of power. Portable 12v solar panels are definitely useful, and will most likely have wider uses in the future as technology improves and costs decrease.

Solar Panels: Benefits of Thin Film Technology

March 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

When most of us think of solar panels, we picture large steel structures that hold a long array of cells. These are “thick” solar panels that use crystalline silicon as a semiconductor. Though effective at converting sunlight into usable, renewable energy, traditional solar panels require copious space and can be costly. Fortunately, new innovations in solar technology may soon make solar panels much easier to afford. Thin film photovoltaic (PV) solar panels work the same way the older ones do, but hold the semiconductor material within the PV cell. This makes them faster, easier to manufacture, and smaller, which makes them more functional and suited to everyday use.

When PV panels are exposed to sunlight, the semiconductor material is immediately activated to produce an electric current. It can instantaneously power appliances. Or you can use them to store electricity in batteries to use later. While it might take a few days to install a traditional solar panel system, thin film PV panels are much faster and easier to install. They are actually available in ‘peel and stick’ laminate that can adhere right to the panels of your roof.

Another way that PV technology benefits consumers is that it is much faster to mass produce, and therefore less expensive. “Thick” solar panels have to be produced one by one in a labor intensive process, with each cell on its own silicon wafer. Thin film solar PV panels are much better suited to automated processes for mass production and require cheaper materials. This means more businesses will be interested in entering the solar panel market. As production and availability increase, prices will decrease even more so that they will soon be affordable for homes and businesses everywhere.

Because thin film solar cells are more compact and light weight, they can be used for more applications than ever before. Electronic devices already able to be powered by PV technology include cell phones, MP3 players, GPS devices, and even laptops and televisions. These new PV cells are not even recognizable compared to their “thick” panel predecessors. Portable thin film panels are small and lightweight enough to be carried on your person. Instead of requiring a large steel structure to support an array of large, unwieldy solar panels, thin film solar PV panels can be built right into a building’s roof or wall, or can be applied right to existing panels. In fact, new thin film PV shingles and metal roofing panels are already available for use in construction.

If you’re like most people, solar panels have always sounded like a good idea but too complicated for the average consumer. Thanks to the latest developments in thin film solar PV technology, what once seemed suitable for only the radically environmentally conscious will soon be commonplace. It won’t take long before solar PV cells will be an easy, widely available, inexpensive option for people to power their homes and devices while saving on energy costs and contributing to a cleaner environment.

Solar Energy Can Work for Renters Too

March 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

Homeowners everywhere have discovered the benefits of using solar energy to power their homes. It’s a great way for the environmentally conscious to reduce their energy consumption, and saves money on energy bills. If you live an apartment or home that you rent, solar energy might be an option for you too. With some creativity, there are ways to utilize solar energy without investing a fortune or making changes that a landlord could take issue with.

Try Portable Solar Power

Did you know that portable solar technology is available? It might not have enough power to take you “off grid,” but it can store enough to power small appliances. With access to sunlight, portable solar chargers can collect enough energy to power your TV or recharge your cell phone. All you need is a window, deck, or balcony to leave your charger near during the day. Unfortunately, portable systems can only power up to a few hours of use, and their cost might not justify the savings. But if your home is prone to power outages, solar energy chargers make an excellent backup source. They’re also an efficient, eco-friendly way to charge batteries.

Solicit Your Landlord

Green living is a hot new trend. Your landlord’s willingness to hear about the benefits of solar panels might surprise you. Put together a proposal, and get other renters of your building involved. This will take research and preparation, but could be a win-win for you, your landlord, and your fellow tenants. If you reside in an urban area, find out what other buildings are already using solar energy and how it’s working for them. Green buildings are sought after magnets for responsible, educated renters. See if you can learn how owners of existing buildings market the use of solar power to prospective tenants.

For your proposal, research what tax credits are available locally for installing solar panels. Contact your local electric company to see if they have net metering available in your area, which is a way to earn back credit from the energy generated by your panel system. If you go to your landlord with a thoughtful, planned out proposal that shows how solar panels will decrease vacancy, save them money, and benefit the environment, your chances of success are high.

Look for Green Buildings

The next time you’re in the market for a rental home or apartment, make solar paneling a criterion and see what’s already out there. You might find an apartment complex or community in your area that is already utilizing solar panel technology. Chances of this are greatest in college towns, which tend to be more progressive; in warm, sunny climates; and in cities or states that offer substantial tax benefits for the installation of solar panels.

As you can see, there are options out there for renters to add solar paneling to a green lifestyle. If you can’t find a building that already uses solar energy, you might be the one to help the landlord make positive changes. If that’s not an option, portable solar chargers are available, and technology is constantly improving and evolving so that new options for renters may be right around the corner.

Solar Panel Kits: What You Need to Know

March 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

Solar panels are a great vehicle for harnessing energy from the sun, in order to maintain a green lifestyle and contribute to a cleaner environment. Initial costs of a solar energy system can be expensive, but it is possible to save some money by purchasing a kit and assembling it yourself. However, it’s not quite as easy as buying an unassembled piece of furniture and following the directions at home. Solar panel kits require careful planning that starts before you even make a purchase.

Not everyone is an experienced solar equipment installer, but if you do have some experience, you will probably only need a little support from the manufacturer to answer an occasional question. You can probably find the kit you need by doing some research online to see what’s in your price range. However, if the world of solar panel equipment is new to you, the best strategy would be to look for a supplier that offers technical support as well as kits. Experienced technical support technicians can walk you through planning and installation. It’s best to find support that’s available by phone, email and in-person, as needed.

A good supplier can help you determine the correct system configuration and size for you based on your home’s energy needs. This is important because if you end up with a system that’s bigger than you need you’ll have wasted money. And if you end up with a system that’s not big enough to cover your energy needs, there might be times when you’re stuck without power, or still have to purchase it from the utility company, which defeats the purpose.

It’s also a good idea to find an expert that can help determine exactly what your home’s energy needs are, factoring in location variables and orientation to the sun. Solar panels are only effective to the extent that they are exposed to direct sunlight. Nearby buildings or trees can obstruct sunlight and decrease your system’s efficiency. Climate and average outdoor temperature are also important factors to consider when deciding the type of panels needed.

To save money in the end, it would be a good investment of time to research manufacturers and consumer feedback to determine where to get the best quality at the best price. It’s not always wise to look only for the cheapest price if it sacrifices quality. On the other hand, what costs the most isn’t necessarily the best. There are solar panels available in many different combinations of amperage and voltage. An expert opinion can ensure that you make the optimal choice for you.

Another factor you could use some expert advice with is deciding the best type of backup storage for your needs. Batteries are necessary in case of power outages or prolonged periods of inclement weather. There are many different kinds of batteries with different maintenance requirements, capacities, and costs.

It is well worth the time to do the legwork of finding a supplier that is competent and knowledgeable. Gathering information and soliciting expert advice can save a lot of trouble in the end. When it comes to making an investment like a solar energy system, using every resource at your disposal can help make the process and results well worth it.

Solar Panels Around the Home: Can They Heat Your Pool?

March 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

If you have a swimming pool, you know that it takes energy to heat it to a comfortable temperature. To harness free thermal energy from the sun would seem an ideal, low-cost, environmentally friendly way to do it. But how hard is it to set up? The good news is that solar panels for heating water are somewhat inexpensive. Anyone with moderate handyman skills can even put them together on their own with an investment of less than $100 for materials and a day or two of their time. And the immediate payoff to the investment is the elimination of energy bills to keep your pool heated. But there are some considerations before you get started. Read further to make sure that this is the right investment for you.

The first thing that you have to consider before investing in solar panels is whether or not your system would get enough sunlight each day to make it viable. Solar panels made to heat pools act as simple passive collectors. Typically they are made with water-filled plastic coils situated between shatter-resistant glass panels. As water in the coils accumulates, the sun heats it, and then it can be pumped to the pool. If there is a lot of foliage in your yard and it is somewhat shaded, there might not be enough sunlight to heat passive coils. The optimal location for this kind of solar panel system would be a rooftop without obstruction facing south or west. That way the panels would receive complete exposure to sunlight during daytime hours.

The next consideration is the difference between your desired pool temperature and the outside air. If you live in a cold climate and want to keep your pool at 80 degrees in winter, you might be better off with a pool cover and top-end gas heating system. However, if you live in a warm climate and want to keep your pool at 80 degrees during mild winters with a low of about 50 degrees, this kind of solar panel system would work for you.

Once you decide to invest in solar panels and start to enjoy the benefits, there are still some things to keep in mind. Even after it’s up and running, you still need to utilize a solar blanket or cover if the air outside is colder than the water temperature in the pool. A good rule of thumb is to bring out the pool cover any time there is steam coming off the water surface. The cover will trap the heat in the water so that it isn’t lost into the outside air.

One last word of caution for consideration. If you’re thinking of using the pool’s solar panels for heating your home water system to save more money, think again. Pool water is conditioned with muriatic acid and chlorine, which are toxic in large quantities and not suited for drinking water.

Under the right circumstances, solar panels can be a great investment to heat your pool’s water at no ongoing cost. It is definitely looking into, as it contributes to a clean environment, is a great source of renewable energy, and saves money in energy bills.

Solar Energy: Active vs. Passive

March 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

Pursuing a green lifestyle is a hot new trend, and the use of solar energy is becoming more and more popular. If you’ve heard about it on the news and are unfamiliar with the basics of it, this article will explore the difference between the two different types of solar energy systems: passive and active. With more information, you can decide which kind might work for you and your home.

Active solar energy systems require some sort of mechanical device (electrical or fuel-run) to work. Think of the type of solar heating systems used to heat swimming pools. Water is heated passively within the solar panels, but electric pumps are necessary to move the water from the solar panel coils to the pool. Solar electrical systems large enough to be self-contained typically have generators as a backup.

Some solar energy systems that generate electricity use motors in the photovoltaic arrays so that they can track the movement of the sun and maximize exposure. There are also solar electric systems that are not completely energy independent but still have ties with the electric company, either as backup or through net metering. With net metering, electric company power is only used at night and during inclement weather. Excess electricity produced by solar panels in the daytime is credited back by the electric company. Any of these systems are considered active as well.

Passive solar energy technology is completely green and sustainable. These systems require no mechanical device to function, which means no additional utility or fuel expense, and no environmental impact. Because of this, passive systems are often considered to be superior to active systems.

One of the most popular methods of using passive solar energy technology is for heating water. A solar water heating system that is completely passive can heat enough water for bathing and washing. The components comprise a collector tank, which is located on the roof or a wall that faces west or south, and plumbing that utilizes gravity to deliver the water. Solar water heating systems work best in temperate climates where the temperature doesn’t drop low enough to chill the storage tank water.

It’s not out of the question to use a combination of both active and passive systems and reap benefits from both. Any active system that uses an electric motor could add solar cells to generate electricity. Motors for moving photovoltaic arrays could be powered with solar cells. Similarly, electric pumps that transfer water in solar water heating systems such as those for swimming pools, can also run by solar cell. Unfortunately, solar cells don’t work without direct sunlight. External generators are often necessary as backup when there is a long stretch overcast or inclement weather. That’s why systems like these can’t be completely passive, but the use of biodiesel in place of fossil fuels is consistent with green living.

Though passive systems might be considered the best way to use solar energy because they are the most environmentally friendly, active systems have wonderful benefits and are 100% more eco-friendly than traditional heating and electric systems. Both are great alternatives for a green lifestyle.

Solar Electric Systems: Can They Take You Off Grid?

March 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

If you’ve ever fantasized about completely ending your relationship with the electric company and becoming self-contained in terms of energy consumption, your dream has a name. It’s called living “off grid.” There are people living off grid, but usually it’s not by choice. In some remote areas there is no electric service available. However, off-grid living is being sought after more and more as a green lifestyle choice. If energy independence interests you, there are some things you need to consider first.

There are two aspects of energy independent living that you must learn in order to be successful. The first is to become very familiar with how and when you use electricity. Though you don’t have to go without it, off-grid living requires frugality with your electricity use, as there is no room for waste. The second thing you need to know up and down is how your system functions and what it needs for proper maintenance. In fact, you’ll have to be an expert regarding your system to keep it running. Fortunately, there is copious information available on solar energy nowadays, so that anyone can achieve expertise. But it requires genuine commitment and a good deal of time.

The typical self-containing solar energy system comprises nine components:

1) Photovoltaic array/ mounting rack. The photovoltaic array is a collection of many rows of linked and interconnected photovoltaic cells that work together. The mounting rack is used to connect the array to the roof for best exposure to the sun.

2) Array DC disconnect: The photovoltaic array DC disconnect acts as a breaker for shutoff between all other components and the array. It affords you the ability to disconnect the array from the system should any problems arise.

3) Charge controller: The charge controller prevents overcharging of the batteries.

4) Battery bank: The battery bank holds excess electricity. In the event of inclement weather, you need enough battery power in storage to last two to three days.

5) System meter: This is somewhat like a car’s dashboard. It shows the status of all components so that you can monitor your system.

6) Main DC disconnect: The main direct current disconnect is a breaker to disrupt the connection between the stored batteries and inverter.

7) Inverter: The inverter takes the direct current (DC) electricity generated by an array and then stored in batteries and transforms it into alternating current (AC) electricity for use in household appliances.

8) AC breaker panel: The alternating current breaker panel is just like the kind used by the electric company to connect your home’s wiring to the electrical source.

9) Backup generator: The backup generator is necessary in case there is a period of inclement weather and you use up everything stored in your batteries. The generator can be run on gas or diesel, but biodiesel is the best option to stay consistent with a green lifestyle.

Hopefully now that the components are broken down for you, you can see that achieving expertise on your system is an attainable goal. If you’re willing to put the time, effort and commitment into it, a solar electric system can be a viable option for you to achieve energy independence and reap the rewards of going “off grid.”

Solar Panels: How They Work

March 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

By now most people know something about solar panels, and have seen the grid-like flat panel arrays set up on the roof of a structure somewhere. Everyone realizes that they collect sunlight to be converted to energy. But how do they really work?

Believe it or not, solar panels have been around since the early 1950s. At that time, scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that when silicon was exposed to sunlight, an electric charge was created. Silicon was later used within photovoltaic cells, which are used in solar panels. In the most basic terms, photo means light, while voltaic means energy. Light is turned into energy. The cells absorb sunlight energy when it hits the cells, and then that energy is drained off via metal contacts within the cell. Many cells arranged next to one another comprise a system which makes up the solar panel. The higher the quantity or quality of cells, the more energy can be generated.

Another very important factor regarding the efficiency of solar panels is insolation. Insolation is the quantity of solar radiation that the panel receives. Many things can potentially effect the insolation of solar panels. One is uninterrupted exposure to direct sunlight. If there are any obstructions to the sunlight your panels receive, such as foliage, the shade of a nearby structure, or cloudy weather, the insolation of the solar panels will decrease along with their efficiency. The location where you live directly effects insolation. For example, the Southwest region of the United States has a significantly higher insolation index than the Central or Southeast regions. So if you live in the Southwest, a solar panel system will be much more efficient than if you live in the Southeast.

For maximum efficiency of your solar panel system, make sure the panels point directly to the sun and that there are no obstructions to the sun’s exposure. The position and angle of the panels actually have a significant effect on the quantity of energy that can be collected. Rotating mounts are a great investment to increase the efficiency of your solar panel system, as they allow the panels to track the sun’s path. If sunlight is continually shining directly onto the panel, it will reach optimal effectiveness.

If you’ve considered installing a solar panel system, plan out the logistics carefully for the maximum return on your investment. Where you put them is very important. It is common to see solar panels on the roof because of the convenience. However, if the roof does not face south, it might not be the place to put your panels. You actually don’t even have to install them directly onto your house. You can look into ground panel or pole mounted options for your yard. As long as your panels receive maximum sunlight, they will collect the most energy that they possibly can.

The solar revolution of the past few decades has made solar energy an increasing force in the energy arena. Solar panels convert light into energy, resulting in clean, renewable energy from the sun.

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