All over the country, people are installing solar panels on their roofs to produce their own electricity and save some cash. In fact, residential solar grew about 1,250% from 2010 to 2016 – talk about an explosion! But this wasn’t the first solar explosion. 40 years ago, there was a huge explosion in solar as well.
Back in the late 1970s, at the height of the oil crises, renewable energy was in. President Carter installed thermal solar panels on the White House, the first federally-sponsored renewable energy lab was founded, and both the federal and local governments were actually handing out financial incentives for solar panels.
But it wasn’t the electricity-producing solar panels we so frequently see today that they were subsidizing. They were actually thermal solar panels, which harness the sunlight’s heat to preheat water for home use. Even now, driving throughout the west, you’ll see old thermal solar panels dotting roofs, either pumping away hot water or rusting away as a reminder of those times.Continue reading
If we want to move away from fossil fuels and to more earth-friendly and renewable sources of energy, we must be sure that any alternatives will provide us with enough energy to meet our needs. But how much energy does the sun produce? And is it enough?
After all, all solar power comes from the sun, what else is there?
When we discuss types of solar power, what we’re really talking about is the different methods of harvesting and using the sun’s energy. With solar power, we can warm a room so we’re nice and cozy, heat water for our showers and baths, create electricity or even cook food! Today we’re going to focus on ways to create or harvest energy using solar power.Continue reading
The average home solar installation in the United States is 5.6 kW, so a 20 kW system is almost 4 times bigger!
If you’re interested in installing a 20 kW solar system, chances are this is a commercial installation or your electricity use is really high compared to the national average of about 900 kilowatt-hours per month. Maybe you live in an area that regularly sees summer temperatures over 100 degrees F and so you have to crank that air conditioning all summer to stay comfortable (AC is one of the biggest users of electricity in our homes!). Or maybe you live in a large house (read: mansion), so you have a lot of lighting and space to air condition. If this is the case, great! You are a prime candidate to go solar. The higher your electricity bill, generally the more you can save by installing a solar system.Continue reading
Like it or not, our modern life requires a lot of devices: phones, tablets, cameras, smartwatches, laptops, GPS’s. Smart phones are ubiquitous across the globe and increasingly out in the wild–while backpacking, camping, or just lounging in the woods there’s an equal number of uses, which range from the frivolous to serious backcountry GPS apps or emergency signals.
This is great if you’re only out for a day or two. But more than that and your battery-powered devices can leave you hanging, running into safety issues if you don’t have any other emergency signal. Luckily, a new niche market has popped up around our need to be constantly charged, even in the wilderness.Continue reading
Over the last 40 years, solar panels have been installed and removed on the White House under three different presidents, starting with Jimmy Carter installing panels and Reagan removing them less than 10 years later. Each successive installation and removal is representative of a sea change in the country’s values at that time and highlights how quickly sentiment can change in politics and among the public.
Let’s look back into history to see how this story unfolded.
In the 1970s, the United States was facing an energy crises like it had never experienced before. With an oil embargo in full swing, everyday citizens waited in long lines just for a little gas to put in their cars. Then-president Jimmy Carter felt renewable energy, including wind and solar, was the best method of liberating us from foreign oil and to create an energy-independent country. As a symbol of what he hoped was the country’s future, as well as to display his own trust in the new technology, he had 32 thermal solar panels on the roof of the white house that produced hot water for the cafeteria and laundry services.Continue reading
Solar salespeople are yelling “It’s a money-saving investment! Hedge yourself against those rising electricity costs!” while naysayers proclaim that “solar is simply too expensive!” Some homeowners believe that solar is beautiful because there are no emissions! Others say “It’s ugly!”
While all of these thoughts are valid, they are fairly general statements. As always, the devil is in the details.
Today, we list out 10 of the major pros and cons of solar energy that people often cite and look a little deeper into each one to see if the pros stand up under scrutiny and the cons truly are valid.
The size of any solar installations is measured in kilowatts (kW) – the amount of electricity it could produce in a single instant. The average residential solar installation is 5 kW, about 20 solar panels. This is great, but what does kW really mean? We need real-world context!
Before we move any further, it’s important to note that we are using basic math here. If you have a 2 kW system installed on your roof, the actual electricity you would produce would be lower than 2 kW due to weather, dirt on the panels, and the inefficiency of the inverter, wires, and wire junctions. The National Renewable Energy Lab encourages multiplying a solar system production by 86% to account for these losses. Today though, let’s keep it simple and just say that, in our world, a 2 kW system actually produces 2 kW.Continue reading
That’s what makes it renewable energy, right? But that’s a fairly simplistic answer.
Sunlight has numerous characteristics. Humans have used the heat of the sun for centuries to warm buildings to make them nice and cozy inside. Today, we use the sun’s heat for thermal solar panels used to preheat water coming into residential hot water tanks, as well as for huge utility-scale concentrated solar power.
But for solar electricity, it’s not the sun’s heat. It’s all about photons. This goes back to the century-old science-classroom debate over whether light is a particle or a wave – an intense debate because light can diffuse and refract like a particle, but has no mass like a wave. Einstein eventually helped us out by deciding that light is a photon, a word we made up to describe this thing that has characteristics of both waves and particles.Continue reading
Did your eyes widen in disbelief with the invention of 3D printing as plastic, ceramic, glass, living cells, and even chocolate were born out of a printer? Now it may seem like yesterday’s news. In a way, it kind of is. The 2D laser printer in your home office is probably looking more and more archaic to you these days – or if you’re still using one of those prehistoric dot matrix printers from the 1980s, shame on you. It’s time to step into the future with 4D printing.