Alternative Energy/Solar Energy – Fighting Rising Electricity Costs with Solar Power

Article by Sam Greyhawk

In our search for new forms of sustainable power many scientists have focused on using the energy of our sun. Photovoltaic cells or solar cells convert one form of energy, sunlight, into another form of energy, electricity. While the creative idea of getting “free” energy from the sun is attractive to most, many consumers have concerns about the initial expense of installing a solar power system. That’s why the key to purchasing the right solar system for you lies in the “Solar Power Payback Time.”

Solar Power Payback Times for Solar for Photovoltaic Technologies

When considering the transition to, or even adding in supplement, solar power, many consumers have concerns over the initial expense. It’s easy to understand that over the long haul solar power will pay for itself, but how do you calculate exactly how long it will take? To calculate your solar power payback time you will need to evaluate several factors that can influence your payback:

Local ClimateState or Federal Incentives/RebatesState Tax CreditsLocal Utility PricingNet-Metering Availability

Solar Power and Rising Electricity Costs

Solar power is a unique resource because it is protected from inflation - as electricity costs inevitably continues to rise, any electricity you generate using your solar system will counter electricity charges at the current market price. The more electricity rates continue to rise, the more you will save.

If you generate excess electricity, under the right conditions such as net-metering, it is even possible for you to generate a monthly profit from your solar system.

Finding State and Federal Incentives or Rebates

Depending upon the state you live in you may qualify for incentives and rebates that cover as much as 60% of the total cost of installing a new solar system. How do you find what incentives and rebates you qualify for? Using the free web-based tool titled Database of State Incentives for Renewable & Efficiency (DSIRE), run by the North Carolina Solar Center, it’s easy to find the incentives and rebates you qualify for. You can find the DSIRE here:

What is Net-Metering?

Net-metering is a system that allow excess user generated solar energy to be sold back to your local electric company. Depending upon how much electricity you generate this may provide you either a monthly discount or a net monthly profit.

What is my Solar Power Payback Time?

As a result of the number of variables involved in calculating a particular solar payback time I recommend using a tool such as the OnGrid Solar Financial Analysis Tool. They offer a free demo version of their tool that can help you calculate your personal solar power payback time. The OnGrid Solar Financial Analysis Tool is available here:

While calculating your solar power payback gives you a financial picture of the total cost of ownership for your new solar system it doesn’t take in to consideration the environmental cost. To gauge the environmental cost of a solar system you need to evaluate its Energy Payback Time.

Energy Payback Times for Solar for Photovoltaic Technologies

According to the US DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) group the “Energy payback time (EPBT) is the length of deployment required for a photovoltaic system to generate an amount of energy equal to the total energy that went into its production.”

The energy payback time for solar power is based on three determining factors:

The efficiency of the photovoltaic systemThe amount of sunlight the photovoltaic system recievesThe manufacturing technology used to create the photovoltaic cells

Using some average sunlight values, “about 1700 kWh/m2/ yr average for southern Europe and about 1800 kWh/m2/ yr average for the United States,” the EERE provides pre-calculated energy paypack times for a number of solar cell technologies:

Single-crystal Silicon – 2.7 yearsNon-ribbon Multicrystalline Silicon – 2.2 yearsRibbon Multicrystalline Silicon – 1.7 yearsCadmium Telluride – 1.0 years

When one considers rising energy costs and the relatively low energy payback times for a variety of popular solar cells it’s easy to see solar power as a reasonable alternative to rising energy costs. While it’s true solar cells do require large quantities of energy to manufacture, and they also utilize precious limited resources such as silicon, copper and cadmium – in many cases they offer reasonable energy payback times. Even considering the overall environmental cost, solar power may be exactly what the world needs to wean itself off its fossil fuel dependency. Help fight global warming by moving away from fossil fuel generated electricity and moving towards solar power.

About the Author

Sam Greyhawk is an environmental evangelist working with Cool-N-Save(tm). Cool-N-Save(tm) is an energy efficiency add-on for your central air conditioner. The Cool-N-Save(tm) can lower your utility bill by up to 30% by improving air conditioner efficiency.

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Remodel Green and Curb Your Energy Costs with Solar Energy

Article by Gwen Biasi, Stephanie Manola

Energy prices continue to climb, but the good news is that the cost barrier to using green energy is dropping. People are seeking out alternative energy sources that are abundant, environmentally sound and cost effective. Technology continues to evolve that helps us channel energy from the sun. The sun’s energy can provide space heating, hot water heating and electricity for lights and appliances.

The U.S. is dependent on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas for its energy, and is highly reliant on foreign oil imports. Since fossil fuels are of finite supply, meaning their supplies will ultimately diminish to the point of becoming too expensive or too environmentally damaging to salvage. Renewable energy resources, however, such as solar energy, are inexhaustible.

Solar RetrofittingSolar retrofits are solar energy applications made for an existing home. Since solar energy is an endless, environmentally friendly energy source, using it lowers utility bills. When retrofitting, the first stage of the project is to make a record as to how energy is currently used in the home so that the right product may be chosen. Next, determine how much sun is available. The amount of solar energy available to a home is largely dependent on the time of year and your home’s location. For example, homes in the northern hemisphere need a southeast to southwest orientation to maximize solar energy. You will also want to assess sun availability by looking at what obstructions there are on the south side of the home, such as trees or taller buildings. Solar energy retrofit options may include the active and passive solar, photovoltaics, wind, and geothermal.

Passive Solar Heating Passive solar is the most cost effective approach to maximizing the use of solar energy for your home. Passive solar heating of homes is simple: it occurs when sunlight passes through a window, and no additional equipment is used to harness the energy. Passive solar applications use building elements such as walls, windows, floor and roof in addition to exterior building elements. Landscaping can control overheating by providing shade, and provide windbreaks for winter winds. Once heat is collected inside, a well-insulated airtight “building envelope” helps prevent heat loss and allows the sun to provide more of the heat needed by the house. Active Solar SystemsActive solar systems use solar collectors and a pump or a fan to distribute the sun’s energy. Active systems are often used for heating water. The collector is a dark color to absorb the sun’s energy and converts it into heat. Some collectors have a glass cover, collecting solar energy all year. Domestic hot water requirements can be met in part by active solar systems. In most cases solar energy will only provide some partial water requirements during the winter, but most of the summer season requirements. In most applications the solar system is used to preheat for water going into a conventional water heater. Outdoor swimming pools can be entirely heated by solar systems, eliminating the need entirely for a supplemental heater.

Photovoltaics (Solar Electricity) Sunlight converted directly to electricity through solar cells is called photovoltaic (PV) energy. Solar cells come in an assortment of sizes and will produce electricity as long as sunlight shines on them. Solar cells used for electrical generation are really just a more sophisticated version of the solar cells used in calculators and other small household electronic devices. PV cells generate direct current (DC), meaning that to use PV generated electricity directly, DC appliances and lights must be used. These are most often used in recreational vehicles. In order to use standard household appliances the power must be converted to alternating current (AC), which is the form supplied by utility companies. So, a solar electric system must be designed to convert the power to AC.

Although prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, and still headed downward, a PV system can still be expensive. They are especially cost effective in remote areas away from power grids, where you might need to generate your own electricity, or in recreational vehicles and boats. If you do decide to install a PV system, an electrical load analysis must be done to determine capacity, paying careful attention to household appliances that require electricity.

Geothermal EnergyGeothermal or ground source heat pumps, take stored solar energy from the soil and bodies of water. They rely on electricity, but provide the equivalent of three times KW heat for every kilowatt delivered. Heat pumps are reversible, supplying cooling and heating, so they can be useful in areas with significant cooling loads.

Think about ConservationWhile you’re deciding what the best options are in solar energy for your home, think about conservation as well. Draft-proof your home and upgrade insulation for optimum energy conservation. A remodeling project is a prime opportunity to undertake those upgrades like wall and ceiling insulation, air sealing, and installing new energy efficient windows. New windows should be high performance windows with low-e glass, gas fill and insulating spacers. You can maximize cooling with roof overhangs that block direct sunlight.

NARI members represent a select group from the approximately 800,000 companies and individuals in the U.S. identifying themselves as professional remodelers.

The remodeling market, projected to be a 1.5 billion industry in the U.S. in 2006, is expected to continue to experience significant growth. It is estimated that more than a million homes per year undergo major renovation or remodeling.

NARI is a professional association whose members voluntarily subscribe to a strict code of ethics. Consumers may wish to search to find a qualified professional who is a member of NARI.Consumers can also call the NARI National hotline at 800-611-NARI and request a free copy of NARI’s brochure, “How to Select a Remodeling Professional,” or visit and click on the homeowner’s guide for more information.

About NARI: The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is the only trade association dedicated solely to the remodeling industry. With more than 7,400 member companies nationwide, the Association — based in Des Plaines, Illinois — is “The Voice of the Remodeling Industry.”TM For membership information, or to locate a local NARI chapter or a remodeling professional, visit NARI’s website at, or contact the national headquarters office at 800-611-NARI.

About the Author

Gwen Biasi- Director of Marketing & Communications, NARIStephanie Manola- Marketing & Communications Assistant, NARI

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