- Renewable & Alternative Energy
Facts About Solar Panels
Rooftop Solar Panels Capture and Use the Sun's Power
How We Get Electricity From Solar Panels
The Sun emits huge amounts of heat - and heat translates to energy. Can this energy help reduce our electric bills?
Yes, the brief answer is that solar energy is indeed a way to save on electric bills. There's an upfront investment to get to that point, but installing solar panels on your house or business can lower your electricity bill for years.
Although installing solar panels for domestic use (on your home) can run $20,000 and up, the payback will be realized for decades.
Some solar panels have been in use for more than 30 years and are still capturing and converting power.
In addition to solar panels, there are other ways you can put the sun to use in your daily life, and save money while you're at it.
More than saving money, though, harnessing solar energy is an emerging way to save the Earth's resources and cut down pollution.
Although we often spend time dodging the sun's strong rays, we are also getting closer to using that celestial globe as a way to heat and cool our homes, power our appliances and even run a car.
Rooftop Solar Panels
Video of Solar-Powered Car
How do Rooftop Solar Panels Convert the Sun Into Energy?
Solar energy is captured through silicon-coated panels that absorb energy from the sun and convert it into power (watts) we can use. As with wind energy, the process of transforming the raw energy into the usable form we need takes equipment and requires a way to channel it to our homes. Solar energy's efficiency ratio (the amount that is actually usable after conversion) ranges from about 16 percent to 22 percent in the current industry. Newer, more efficient technologies are being introduced each year, though, and that amount is expected to only increase.
For obvious reasons, it's easiest to harness solar energy in sunbelt areas such as the South or Southwest, but basically, you can use the sun as a source of power anywhere it shines. Areas with less sunlight or extensive air pollution will not get as much benefit as areas where the sun shines brightly for many hours, in a clear sky. But if there's sun, there's energy.
When you pay your utility bill, you pay for the number of watts you used during a month. Watts are the measurement for electric power (we buy light bulbs based on the number of watts they use per hour; the larger the wattage, the brighter the bulb).
Solar energy as an industry has grown tremendously, and is still on the upswing (with more than 20,000 megawatts of energy transferred to the United States' power grid each year).
Solar Panels for Your Home
Here Comes the Sun - How to Use Solar Power in Your Home
Solar Panels and Other Solar Energy Saving at Home
There are a number of ways to use solar power in your home. Here are just a few:
Install Solar Panels: You can install panels (such as the ones seen in this video) and channel it directly into your home to power your own appliances and heating/cooling system. You can also hook into your local utility firm to get credit on your bill for any excess energy you capture and convert. Most homes using solar panels remain on the local power grid to ensure they'll still have energy during times when there's not as much sun, so they can arrange to add power to the grid during times they have capture more watts than they use or than can be stored.
Solar Hot Water Heaters: A solar-powered hot water heater can give you hot showers and warm water for laundry and other uses. There are a variety of these types of heaters available; check for the type that works most efficiently in your area.
Heat Your Swimming Pool: Pool owners in sunny states such as Florida, California and Texas often use solar power to heat pools (which can make the pool an all-year feature of the home).
Solar Ovens: Some homeowners install solar ovens in patio areas. You can cook pretty much anything you would in a regular oven, and you can even make food items you would normally cook on top of the stove, such as soups and stews.
Rebates: Check for current rebate or tax credits offered by the local, state or federal government. In addition to saving money on utilities, you'll offset the investment cost of installing solar panels or fixtures in your home. These incentives are offered as a way to help reduce the drain on resources such as natural gas, oil and coal, which now generate the majority of energy consumed by homes and businesses.
Video: Solar Light Jar Science Project for Kids
Solar Oven from Pizza Box
Solar Energy Projects for Kids
Although it seems as obvious as, well, the sun coming up every morning, it can be difficult to explain how we can use the sun to create energy that will power our appliances, or turn on a light bulb.
Explain to your child that heat translates to energy (if you heat a pot of water, it boils), and that the sun produces tremendous amounts of heat. You can also demonstrate this at home with a few easy science projects:
Solar Energy Light Jar: This video shows how to create a 'light jar' with simple materials and some help from solar power. Your child will love being able to create this little gem.
Sun Tea: One of the simplest ways to demonstrate solar energy is to put a few family-sized tea bags (regular or herbal) in a large jar of water and allow them to sit in the sun for a few hours. The heat from the sun will gently steep the tea or herbs, and the result will be a cleaner, fresher taste than tea brewed from boiling water. Explain to your child that the heat from the sun and the liquid in the water is what helps create that tall, refreshing drink. Then pour a glass and enjoy!
Solar Oven from Pizza Box: Got some leftover pizza from last night? Save the box and show your kids how to make an easy solar oven to reheat that tasty slice, or to warm up another favorite (and easy) food item, such as chocolate. Everything you need for this oven can be found in your kitchen.
Once you start investigating solar energy and how it's used, you and your entire family will learn many ways to capture and harness this amazing source of power.