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Getting Off the Grid - Free Yourself from Your Electric Company with Solar Power with Update
It is abundantly clear that We, as a People, can only be truly free to the extent that we are able to free ourselves from reliance on government services. As a Country, we can only be as free as our national Energy Policy and consumption permits. So long as We, the People, have to rely on the Government for the power that runs our homes and businesses, we are forever tethered to the Energy Policies that ultimately force us to turn to other countries to "feed the beast".
Imagine, if you will, a country that does not need to get its energy sources from other countries. While I think such a goal is achievable in my lifetime, I know that it can be done by individuals. As each of us is able to free ourselves of the need to purchase energy from the electric and gas companies, we are less of a drag on the effort of the Government to free our Country from dependence on foreign sources of power.
There are a number of sources of energy production that the average homeowner or small business can invest in that will over time reduce that dependence: biofuels (think cow poop); solar power; wind power; hydro-electric (water) power; mechanical energy production. Some are well-established and readily available (for a price) and some are just beginning to be considered feasible for the average person or small business.
Most people are familiar with the concept of solar power. You might even know someone who has solar power either in their house; works in a building powered to some extent by solar power; uses solar powered lights at home or solar powered chargers for cell phone or computer recharging. The technology is all around us.
Cell Phone and Computer Equipment Solar Recharger
Obviously the logical place for solar technology is on the roof of the house or building. The price of solar powered roofs has come down considerably over time and now there are products that can incorporate solar without it looking industrial and still give it to you at a competitive price.
Barrel Tile and Solar
By using a flexible, thin film, and placing it in the valleys of barrel tiles roofs, the solar portion of the roof becomes virtually invisible to the eye unless you are looking at the roof section dead on.
A less aesthetically pleasing, but a great improvement on the old roof mounted solar panels, is the new "solar shingle" product, which allows the solar panels to be flush with the surrounding roof shingles and thus much less obtrusive. My Alma Mater, Georgia Tech has a company partnership called Suniva, and they are working on a solar panel that can be produced at a cost that will make it competitive with traditional fossil fuel technologies and be efficient, harnessing at least 20% of the energy that is captured by their panels. So far, Suniva has not yet conquered the "looking pretty" variable of the solar equation. Dow also produces panels that are in wide use in California and can be incorporated into a regular shingle style roof.
What to do with all that sunlight?
One of the obstacles to solar is how to make it work once the sun goes down or on rainy days when there is insufficient light to fully energize the solar panels? Clearly, batteries need to be used to store the excess energy for later use if solar is to be a viable energy alternative for the average homeowner or small business. But the batteries are expensive and can be cumbersome.
Enter MIT geeks who are working on a solution for the battery problem. Batteries have thus far been expensive and cumbersome but MIT researchers think that they are on the trail of a solution using batteries made of molten metals that can be scaled for home use and can be cost-effective for the average homeowner. http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/02/mit-battery-hums-cheaply-with-molten-metals/
Ultimately the goal would be to have a battery system smaller than a refrigerator in your garage or basement or utility room that would store the excess energy captured during the day so that it could be used once the sun went down or on cloudy/rainy days.
Solar Power can be a Two-fer
Some clever person, in tinkering around with solar power applications, thought to run water through thick glass tubes which act sort of like those "duet shades" that many of us have in our windows in place of traditional Venetian blinds. By running water through the thick glass tubes, you prevent the complete transfer of heat from the outside sunlight into the building yet still allowing the light. Very clever. In the summer months, it helps the building stay cooler, and in winter months adds a little warmth to the interior of the building.
However, taking it one step further, these clever thinkers decided to use "grey water" from the building to run through the tubes. Grey water is that water that comes from hand washing, showering, dish washing, clothes washing - everything except water from the toilet - which would otherwise be flushed down the drain into the sewer system and set off to water treatment plants.
By running this grey water through the glass tubes, and adding some filtration barriers, they can turn this solar power application into a passive solar process for disinfecting grey water, allowing that water to be recycled back into drinking water without the necessity of burdening the local water treatment plant. It would seem that this technology could also incorporate run-off from the roof funneled into the gutter system and then filtered and disinfected through this application for those buildings that are not collecting roof run-off in order to irrigate landscaping or crops.
Solar used to disinfect grey water
Solar Power is a Technology for Everyone
Advances in the solar technology field have put solar power within reach of more and more Americans while lowering the cost to incorporate it into our lives. When we remodel our homes, replace our roofs, or build new homes we should be educating ourselves on what is available and what is feasible for our application. Tax incentives from both local governments and the Federal government will help make this investment less costly. As we, as individuals, embrace renewable energy sources such as Solar Power, we are helping our Country free itself from the shackles of fossil fuels.
Let me know if you have used any of these technologies and what your personal experience has been pro or con! I'd like to hear from people who have actually done it since I am close to starting the design process for a house that I will be building to incorporate "off the grid" technologies and solutions.
BONUS - Federal Tax Credit for installing Solar Roofing
You have to fill out the forms, but with the price of solar coming down to be competitive with traditional roofs, a 30% tax credit can go a long way to be an incentive to consider this option.
Within just the past few days, two researchers at UCLA announced that they had invented a solar product that was so thin as to be virtually transparent, and which they envision could sometime in the near future be applied as a film to the windows of your house and produce solar power for use in your home or in office buildings. http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-transparent-solar-cells-20120724,0,708268.story