Ever since the birth of our planet, the sun`s energy has been used to bring life to earth. Over the centuries man has utilised this energy for a vast number of uses:
It has been used in horticulture to grow food in greenhouses, as natural lighting in ancient Roman temples, for water treatment in 3rd world countries, it has been concentrated and used for thermal heating in power plants - this to name just a few.
But what are the ways to solar power your home with this renewable energy source?
Currently there are 4 main household ways: solar electricity, solar cooking, solar water heaters and passive solar technology.
Better known as photovoltaic energy, many homes throughout the world produce their own electricity with solar panel systems. How it works is via small silicon cells that are joined together to form panels. These panels are aimed directly at the sun or in the direction where the most sunlight occurs. For example; they should be south facing in the northern hemisphere and north facing in the southern hemisphere.
As sunlight hits the panels, they are charged and generate an electric current that flows through an inverter then into batteries to store the energy. This electricity can then be used to power a variety of appliances in the home, depending on how much wattage is produced.
Other than its environmental safety, the advantage of solar electricity is that it has become affordable and effective for anyone to use – people are now able to make their own systems at home starting at £200. But it is advisable to first get a solar energy guide to provide you step-by-step instructions.
Solar cooking is a very popular way of preparing food in third world countries, since no fuel or electricity is required. However there is no reason every household cannot use a solar cooker at home unless you live in absolute darkness.
The solar cooker is basically a `parabolic reflector` that concentrates sunlight into a central point where a box is fixed. It is in this box where the food is cooked.
The box can cook food for up to five people. Although food is cooked in one pot, the number of varied dishes you can make is limited to your imagination. Not only can it be used for boiling, but you can roast and bake in it too!
The only limitation of the cooker is the time it takes to cook the food, but if you think of all the health and energy saving benefits and it`s portability, waiting a little longer is a small price to pay.
Initially used by campers and other travellers as portable hot water showers, solar water heaters are now used at home in place of traditional electric hot water tanks.
How the system works: water is pumped slowly through a solar collector with coiled black copper pipes facing the sun. These pipes absorb heat from the sun, which in turn heat the water. The heated water is then stored in an insulated reservoir, which can then be used when needed - even to heat your swimming pool.
Since water needs to be pumped continuously, this system works best in conjunction with solar electricity that can be used to power the pump.
Some energy conscious laundromats have used solar water heating successfully for their industrial washing machines. In fact, the water can get so hot, they have to mix it with cold water to get the right temperature. This has cut their energy bills tremendously and increased their business since customers enjoy supporting green initiatives.
In many households almost half of the energy consumed is used to power their heating, ventilation or air conditioning systems.
Just imagine how your electricity bill would decrease if you made use of passive solar technology at home. Passive solar technology is the intelligent use of the environment, sunshine, heat-retaining building materials and house planning and layout to naturally regulate the temperature, ventilation and even lighting in homes.
A simple way of natural air conditioning would be planting deciduous trees on the southern side of buildings to provide cool shade in summer, and for their bare branches to allow warm sunlight through in winter.
For ventilation a solar chimney can be installed. As the chimney heats up in the sun, the air in it warms and rises, causing fresh cool air to be pulled through the house and up the chimney.
Like the Romans used to provide light in their temples, large windows can be strategically placed to allow as much natural light in as possible into the house. This would reduce the need for conventional electric lighting.
So you can see, applying passive solar solutions to your home will not turn it into a house full of gadgets, but rather make it efficient, environmentally friendly and help you save money. Although some of the solutions (like the solar chimney) can be expensive to install, you can expect to get a return on your investment within 3 to 4 years, thereafter providing you a free lifetime service.
With so many solar solutions for households to use, gone are the days that we have to rely on utility companies for us to live a comfortable lifestyle. As technology advances and more information becomes available, these solutions will get cheaper and easier for everyone to afford and use. Right now, it is possible for average income UK family unites to get solar solutions. It is just a matter of whether they have the ambition, courage and environmental awareness to learn how to solar power their home.