When we consider sustainable living, one topic of great concern is electricity – in our digital age, there are many people who would consider living without any access to electronics devastating, myself included. The power plants that are generating the majority of our electricity in the United States uses coal combustion to generate power for our homes – the downside of this is that the coal combustion also release 60 different kinds of pollutants into our air, cause acid rain, and contribute to global warming. The good news is that are natural and sustainable ways that we can generate the electricity that we need in our homes. While most people have probably heard about wind power, hydropower and solar power, not everyone understands it – so we created this quick primer with solar energy facts that might help you to understand this option a little better.
- PV means photovoltaic – If you’re researching solar energy, then you may notice that there are some fairly frequently used abbreviations (like PV to EV). Is there anything more distracting when you’re shopping for new technology than not understanding the alphabet soup that is used to talk about it? No fear here – PV stands for photovoltaic, which is the method of converting the sun’s rays into electricity. The next time you see a mention of PV to EV, you can stand assured that you are in on the secret code – it’s photovoltaic to electric vehicle!
- For best results, you can pair solar energy with hydro power – According to Pablo Solomon, an artist and designer who is an expert in conservation who practices what he preaches, because there is no good way to store large amounts of energy once you collect it from the sun, it is most effective when you use your solar energy to power water pumps that will store elevated water to be used in hydro electric generation when the sun is down. (For more information on Pablo, check out pablosolomon.com)
- Power Purchase Agreement (also known as third-party financing), can make solar energy more affordable – According to the Solar Energies Industry Association, a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) may be available to property owners where they are able to work with a developer to purchase a solar energy system with little or no upfront costs. The costumer pays for the electricity, but it’s usually less expensive than their typical local energy cost. (For more information, read this article about Power Purchase Agreements from the Solar Energies Industry Association. For another explanation of the concept, check out this article from GreenTechMedia that discusses the metered energy efficient transaction structure and results in no lost income for the local utility company.
- Solar energy can be pretty! – It’s not just about function with solar energy anymore – if you’re worried about having a giant grid on your roof with panels that are visible from space, you can rest assured that the times and technologies have changed the aesthetics of solar power too. This past February, CertainTeed introduced their Apollo II model which fully integrates with shingles to create a beautiful appearance and still capture the sun’s rays.
Armed with these solar energy facts, we hope that you’ll be intrigued to do your own research and see what energy sources you might be able to use in your own sustainable living. If you’d like to see if solar energy would work for you, Pablo Solomon recommends that you find a solar powered garden light (you should be able to find one for around $3 – huge price drop from the same lights that were sold for $20 just a few years ago!), and put it outside or in a window during the day. At night, you’ll be able to use the light as a night light inside the house at night. Try this out for a while – especially during the changes of seasons to get a feel for how solar energy can fluctuate in your area during different seasons.