From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published August 3, 2010 02:33 PM

Solar Futures

Solar power is the generation of electricity from sunlight. This can be direct as with photovoltaics, or indirect as with concentrating the sun's rays to boil water which is then used to provide power.  Solar energy can be obtained in a variety of different ways. Passive solar occurs when you build your house in a manner that takes advantage of the low angle winter sun and/or when the mass of your house is used to absorb the sun’s heat in winter. In addition, passive solar also refers to keeping your house cooler in the winter months by making adjustments that include placing trees and awnings along the south side of a house.  


The major cost is in the original installation for solar power. This cost is recouped either by rebates from the government or over years in savings from "free" solar power.

Once the costs of installing the solar panels have been recouped, the cost savings of solar energy can be significant. For instance, the SunPower Company installed 24 solar panels on a California based family’s roof. These solar panels resulted in significant cost savings for them; specifically, the family’s electricity costs were reduced from $2350 per year to $410 per year.

The family’s carbon footprint was significantly reduced by 118,299 pounds. This amount is equivalent to moving thirty cars from the road or planting thirty acres of trees.

Solar power from boiling water is another method that people can utilize. This could consist of placing mirrors or other reflective materials so that the sun’s rays are concentrated on a pool of water. When this liquid boils, the steam from the boiling fluid powers a turbine which then creates usable electricity.

In the Philippines solar power has been installed and then impacted over 6,000 homes and schools that sorely need reliable electricity. Launched in April 2010, Phase 3 of the project will reach an additional 135,000 students in 150 schools and 12,000 homes. The program is a partnership with regional nonprofit groups and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Philippine Department of Energy, and Winrock International.

One of the largest roof top solar panel installation in the United States has been built on top of the FedEx Ground distribution center — a former brownfield site in Woodbridge, New Jersey. The system, which covers 3.3 acres on the company’s facility, is capable of producing 2.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year — equivalent to 30 percent of the hub’s annual energy needs. It will also reduce carbon dioxide output by an amount comparable to taking more than 340 cars off the road.

Woodbridge Township is also planning to install solar panels on six of its municipal buildings for a cost of $5.5 million. There are a total of $2.4 million in rebates leaving only $3.1 million to pay. Savings are estimated at $140,000 a year which will mean 20 years to pay back the initial cost. So while there are savings with solar power, investment cost is considerable.

Whether solar power is economical will depend on local electrical costs, governmental rebates, and costs declining due to increased production of the necessary parts such as solar cells.

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