The approval of a $17 billion bill in tax credits for wind, solar, geothermal and ocean energy system as part of the proposed bailout makes the future of renewable energy look promising to normal residents. Solar, as a clean and abundant resource, is obtaining significant policy support to become one of the major clean energy alternatives of residential use. If enacted, this bill will:
- Extend tax credits by eight years for residential and commercial solar systems.
- Give a 30-percent tax credit to homeowners who install solar systems and businesses that install solar systems.
How can households use solar power?
You may have heard about solar power but thought it too ‘high tech’ or expensive for your own home. Though it can be expensive, there are many instances where it pays to use solar power. As an abundant resource of energy, solar power can be used for home heating, cooling and water heating. Using photovoltaic (PV) energy systems to convert the solar power to electricity can even produce enough electricity for the household to cut your electricity bill. So, how do those systems work for homes? There are several demonstrated technologies you may want to look into:
- Solar Water Heaters – uses storage tanks and solar collectors to collect the solar power to heat the water used in buildings and swimming pools. The most common collector is called a flat plate collector, which usually has a thin, flat, rectangular box on the roof of the building with a transparent cover facing the sun. The plate is painted black to absorb the heat and then is transferred through tubes carrying fluid attached to the box. Other types of solar water heaters include evacuated-tube solar collectors, integral collector-storage systems, etc.
- Small Solar Electricity Systems – also called solar cells or photovoltaic (PV) systems by solar cell scientists, can be a reliable electricity producer for your home. It coverts sunlight directly into electricity and works similar to small solar cells that are used to power calculators and watches. However, PV works to larger extent by combing 40 cells into a single module and 10 modules into a single PV array. Those PV arrays then can be mounted on a tracking device to capture the sunlight during the day. About 10 to 20 PV arrays can provide enough power for a household.
- Passive Solar Home Design – takes advantage of the local climate by designing windows, walls and floors to collect and store the solar power in the form of heat and distribute it for household use in the winter, while blocking sun heat in the summer.
There are currently programs that enable you to rent solar panels and have them placed on your roof. Citizenre is the first company to offer these services but, if proven, others will likely follow suit. In addition, the break even point for solar thermal is less than 10 years – in some cases just 5 to 7 years, so it is increasingly affordable, especially with rising energy costs. The Department of Energy (DOE) provides comprehensive introductions for solar power technologies and guides for consumers on assessment, installation, and maintenance. More details about the technology can be also found on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory website.