Solar Blog

Because I write mostly about buildings and cars, I’ve also become an energy writer. The price of gasoline and the money we spend to heat and cool our homes is all over the news and from where I’m sitting it’s not going away. Here’s a news flash. The price at the pumps will not be coming back down – ever. It will go up until it’s as expensive here as it is in Europe. You can also say goodbye to whatever you’re paying now for natural gas, propane, or oil.

The reasons can be learned in a flashback to Econ 101. Supplies are falling and demand is rising, ergo prices will continue to go up. Even if we were to cut demand in the US, economic growth in China and India will gobble up whatever we don’t use. Now while all this sounds sad and depressing, I have seen the future brothers and sisters, and as Bob Marley once said, “every little ting, is gonna be allright.”

Last October I covered the Solar Decathlon – a event sponsored by the US Department of Energy staged every two years on the National Mall. It’s a competion where college students build solar powered house on campus, take them apart, truck them to the mall and reassemble them. The houses must get all their energy needs from the sun and produce enough power to also charge up an electric car. Sounds like science fiction, right? The thing is, the houses work.

Water is heated with solar thermal systems called evacuated tubes and power is generated by photovoltaic (PV) panels. The houses are small – about 800 square feet and they have to be totally transportable. But here’s the thing. The systems that they’re using, PV and solar thermal are now finding their way into houses in the suburbs just like yours.

The systems aren’t cheap but clever financeers have figured out a way to roll the costs into home equity loans. You can now amortize your way off the grid and maybe save the planet along the way. Live up north where the sun don’t shine so much? Dude, the number one market for solar thermal systems is Germany. They have solar thermal in Canada and in Maine. Yes, even Maine.

If you’ve ever flown into a Caribbean destination and looked out the window at the tops of the building you might have noticed what looks like water tanks on top of the buildings. The things are in fact, water heaters because the Caribes figured out a long time ago they could save a bunch of money by letting the sun heat the water for showers and dishes. For those of us who don’t live in the tropics the braniacs have invented “evacuated tubes.”

Think of a coffee thermos, lying in the sun all day generating heat. Transfer that heat to water and you have free showers without using any electricty. Genius, right? Mmmmm. Common sense, really. I was in Costa Rica for a week in March. They are nine degrees north of the equator – freekin hot, man. Like jungle heat. Tarzan heat. Anyway. Every roof had one of these big blue plastic water tanks on top of them. Solar powered water heaters. They’re everywhere!

But I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t Central America or the Caribbean. This is ‘Merica, dad gummit. We don’t need any of these new fangled ideas about electricity and cars and heating water. But I’m telling you, I’ve seen it boys and girls. Houses in the burbs with panels and tubes on the roof. Homeowners waving goodbye to utility bills. Houses turning into energy producers instead of energy consumers. I’d like to stay and chat longer but I want to put some Bob Marley on and think about insulating the attic with some blown in foam – every little ting, is gonna be all right – at least, that’s my point of view.

Solar Thermal Evacuated Tubes

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Scott Sowers


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One Response to “Solar Blog”

  1. coloneld Says:

    Tarzan heat!!! Haha, that made me laugh. But i totally agree, solar and wind power are two renewable energies, which means they NEVER run out.

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