Is Going Solar a Bright Idea?

In an effort to increase technological innovation in the field of solar power, the Department of Energy has invested $1 billion in solar energy in the last 10 years resulting in a 60% drop in the cost of solar energy. Now, it has just pledged another $27 million in funding for a plan that is aimed at cutting the cost of solar energy by an additional 75% in the next decade. Its efforts are paying off. With an increase in new technologies and the number of solar panels getting manufactured and installed, solar power is finally becoming more economically viable.

Utility companies, the military, universities, and large corporations are constructing huge solar arrays. Businesses that utilize large amounts of power can benefit from a solar power system more than residences due to the economy of scale. But individual building owners are starting to wonder if they should do the same.

Rooftop photovoltaic panels are the most well-known type of solar power system. Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity, and an inverter converts the electricity from the panels into AC power. This type of installation often provides all of the power a building will require, and can even provide surplus power which can be sold back to the utility company.

Rooftop solar panels are still a rather pricey venture with a 20 to 25 year payback timeframe. But government and utility rebates help. Leasing is another way solar systems are made more affordable in the short-term.

A smaller investment for a solar water heating system, costing less than a couple thousand dollars, will yield a much faster payback time period of less than two years. In hot climates, solar travertine pool deck heating is the best and most cost-effective use of solar energy. With an installation cost of a few thousand dollars, the payback timeframe can be as low as 1-1/2 years.

There are many other ways to collect solar energy without rooftop photovoltaic panels such as windows, roof shingles, and window blinds that have coatings that collect energy. The amount of energy collected from the sun, thus the savings and payback time periods, varies greatly depending on the location and number of sunny days.

It is not only important to figure out ways to produce energy, it is even more important to reduce energy usage. This is why experts from sites like claim that, it is crucial to combine alternative energy systems with more cost-effective energy-reducing methods such as the replacement of old appliances, light bulbs, HVAC systems, water heaters, windows, and insulation in existing buildings.

We have access to a source of energy that is totally renewable: the sun. Solar energy is the most recognized renewable energy source, but it is not the only option. Others include wind, geothermal, and tidal power. A newly released study asserts that we can kick our dependency on fossil fuels by 2030 with renewable technologies that are available now. However, it’s doubtful that the current political and economical environment will allow such a quick change in infrastructure. Climate change is still controversial although there is near scientific consensus that it’s a dire reality.

Research and new technology in the field of alternative energy are happening at the speed of light. Creative companies are designing ways to utilize everything from ice cream to tequila to body heat to power buildings.

Elisa Garcia, RA
Garcia Architects