http://www.cleanenergy.org/2009/04/03/all-about-solar/

SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

All About Solar

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sunny_solar_panelsSolar energy is a highly reliable and proven technology for producing clean energy. Solar energy includes multiple technologies; some are known as passive and some are known as active. Passive technologies includes technologies for designing a home to take advantage of natural sunlight for heating and lighting. Active technologies include adding equipment to your home for producing electricity or hot water. Two common technologies that you can add to your home or business are solar hot water or solar photovoltaic (PV). Solar hot water systems use collectors to capture the sun’s heat energy to heat water. Solar PV uses the sun’s light energy to generate electricity.

Concentrated Solar Power or CSP is another form of solar power that focuses solar energy to generate heat for the turning of a turbine for generating electricity. This is used on a commercial scale to produce power for utilities.

In recent years, the solar industry has seen tremendous growth as more individuals, businesses, and utilities are beginning to realize the practicality and affordability of solar energy.

For residential or commercial projects, a good quality, professionally-installed solar PV system can outlast many components of a building structure with little maintenance. Solar hot water is less expensive than solar PV and often has a quicker return on investment, but has more maintenance involved. Solar can be installed anywhere that you have a south-facing location that is not shaded.

In addition to residential usage, utilities across the country, including in the Southeast, are beginning to propose and develop large-scale or Megawatt (MW) scale projects to provide power to their customers.

Photovoltaic (PV) technology turns sunlight directly into electricity. While the capital cost of installing photovoltaic equipment is high, the fuel (sunlight) is limitless and free. In addition, photovoltaic modules provide an excellent added value to your home. Many financial institutions are even providing the option of including the cost of PV or solar hot water into new home mortgages making it easier to finance. A solar system will provide the biggest benefit and the quickest payback to customers who have already diligently retrofitted their homes with energy efficiency measures.

There are two types of photovoltaic modules: crystalline and thin film. While thin film is cheaper and more flexible, at this time the majority of the solar market is crystalline PV panels because of the high levels of efficiency and long-term reliability of this technology.

Solar hot water systems use direct heat from the sun to heat water to useful temperatures for the home or business. Currently, solar hot water systems are used for a wide variety of needs from hot water for your kitchen or swimming pool to being used for heating your home. Solar hot water and a solar PV system complement each other when installed together.

Interested in installing a Photovoltaic (PV) or Solar Hot Water System to Your Commercial or Residential Property? If you are thinking about installing a solar PV or solar hot water on your building there are a few important steps that you need to take.

First, have you made all possible energy efficiency improvements to your home? Solar systems are an expensive improvement to your home so the less energy your home uses, the smaller the system you will need to purchase. Always invest in energy efficiency improvements first as this is the best use of your money.

Second, figure out what incentives are in your state, visit the website, http://www.dsireusa.org to view state by state listings of all renewable energy tax incentives and other associated laws in the nation.

The third and most important step is finding an experienced and qualified solar installer. Hiring the right solar installer is your best bet for making sure you have a high performing system and a good experience. For a list of nationally certified solar installers in your state, please visit the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, www.nabcep.org. This website provides a simple way for individuals interested in residential or commercial solar applications to identify certified installers in their area. Another widely supported resource for finding a solar installer is www.findsolar.com.

Finally, while some systems use a battery back up and are not connected to the power grid, most systems today use the grid to provide power and back up to the solar system. It is possible to use both the grid and a battery back up for outages but this makes systems more expensive. Contact your local utility to interconnect your PV system onto the utility grid. In some instances utilities actively want solar in their system, but some utilities with little experience with solar might not be enthused and will need to be educated on the benefits of solar energy. Typically, a contract agreement is arranged prior to the grid tie that determines how much they are willing to ‘pay’ for the excess power you generated. Contact your local utility to find out details on this program in your area.

Impacts
Expanding the use of solar energy has many benefits including cleaner air, economic development, national security and the prevention of emissions that affect climate change. When faced with energy outages and electricity price increases, homeowners can really benefit from the added economic value and security of installing either a solar thermal or solar PV system to their home or business. In addition, large-scale solar projects can complement other renewable energy projects already being implemented by utility companies. For example, a hybrid system of wind and solar energy can help reduce some fluctuations that can occur in the energy being produced by either system.