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Solar Power

SolarVehicles.orgPractical solar transportation plans at SolarVehicles.org, an open-source project to build fuel-less solar energy transportation.
Otherpower.comare a group of alternative energy enthusiasts who want to spread the message that It's EASY to make your own power FROM SCRATCH. Otherpower.com's headquarters is located in a remote part of the Northern Colorado mountains, 15 miles past the nearest power pole or phone line.

A Non-Technical Introduction To Solar
How Do I Add A Solar System To My Home?
My Electric Bill Is Too High, Will Solar Lower It?
Can I Start Small And Add On Later?
Steps To Designing A Renewable Energy System
Links To Websites Wtih More Information and Products For Sale

A Non-Technical Introduction To Solar

There are four major components to solar electric systems; Solar Panels, Charge Controllers, Batteries and Inverters.All of these components are necessary to have a functioning Solar Electric (PV) system.The solar panel is the basic building block of the system.This is your battery charger. If you have several solar modules wired together you have created a solar array. The size of the solar array determines the amount of power or energy that will be produced. Your location is also a factor in the amount of energy produced. If you live in Florida, Southern California, or Texas you will produce more than if you live in Oregon, Maine or Maryland. In general the closer to the equator you live your system will produce a larger amount of energy. Do you want to know how much power can be produced in you area. Check out our FAQ question "How much power will a solar module produce at my location?" Charge controllers come in many different sizes and types.They all basically do the same thing. The charge controller prevents the solar panel or array from overcharging your battery. Batteries are the energy storage for your system. Without batteries there is no way to store the energy your solar panels produce during the day. Typically loads receive their power from batteries instead of directly from the output of a solar panel. A solar panel produces a high voltage that will damage electronics if loads are powered directly. A common application for solar panels directly powering a load is water pumping. Instead of storing energy you store water. This way you can pump during the day and have water all night. Batteries will provide you with the energy you need at night.The last major component is the Inverter. The inverter converts the DC energy stored in your batteries and turns it into the AC power you use in your home. Inverters are rated by wattage and the quality of their output. You can use a 50 watt inverter that plugs into your car 12 volt outlet to power a computer, or you could have a 4000 to 11,000 watt inverter system that powers your home. These major components can be put together in many different ways. Minor components like wire, disconnects,circuit breakers, and fuses are also needed for a complete system. Now that you know what the major components are, let me introduce you to you how these different components are used in systems.
Stand Alone or "Cabin" Systems
Solar---Charge Controller---Battery---Inverter---AC Loads
Solar---Charge Controller---Battery---DC Loads
A Stand Alone solar system is just as it sounds. It is not connected to the utility or other types of charging sources.This type of system is used when utility power is not present and is to costly to bring in from the nearest pole. If you have a shed set off from the house, a cabin in the mountains, or a summer home by the lake that is without power this type of system can often be very cost effective. When compared to bring in the power lines the initial cost can be less. Some of the pros of this type of system are: The lack off reliance on the utility. Potential cost savings. Some of the cons of this type of system are: Even thought there maybe a cost savings over running utility line, there can be a high initial cost. You have to know your loads and have the system designed correctly since you don't have utility power for backup.
Utility Tied System Solar---Inverter---Utility
This system is the newest addition to our site. The system utilizes an inverter that does not require batteries. During the day, the power generated is fed back into the utility. If you are producing more power then you are using your meter can even spin backwards. Due to the simplicity of the system, it has the lowest cost per watt. The downfall of this system is that when the utility grid fails the system will shut down.
Battery Backup System
Utility---Battery Charger---Batteries Inverter---AC Loads
This is a system that does not involve solar power. This system utilizing an inverter that has a built in battery charger. It will charges batteries and hold them at 100% waiting for a power outage or a brownout. Your critical loads will never see the power outage. Computers, home health equipment, and lights will continue to operate when the utility grid fails. This is a system that is great for areas where power is lost for short periods of time. The limit on this system is the amount of battery capacity that you have. The larger the batteries the longer your run time will be.
Utility Tied Battery Backup System with Solar
This system operates on the same principal as the Battery Backup System. The difference is the addition of solar.The solar is used to charge your battery bank. When the batteries are full the excess power is fed back into the grid. In the event of an outage, your critical loads are powered by the system, and the solar panels continue to charge the batteries. The benefit of this system is that you have the ability to sell power back and have the piece of mind that you critical loads will continue to operate. The drawback is the cost per watt is higher then a Utility Tied System.

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How Do I Add A Solar System To My Home?

Let me first correct one misunderstanding that happens often. Say you have a 1800 square foot home. Well the size of the home has nothing to do with how much solar you need. It's all about power.
Step #1
If you are serious about using solar you need to walk around your house and look at ways to conserve. This doesn't mean that you have to live like a hermit in the dark. If you set it up right you can leave you lights on all the time.
Look at your lights. I use all compact flourescent lights (CP light), which are still bright but save substantial power. For example, a CP light that equals a 75 watt bulb uses only 20 watts. I saved 55 watts of power, per bulb. Look at your appliances. Every appliance should all be Energy Star rated products. This simply means that they are design to conserve power and natural resources. The government sets a standard and all Energy Star products have to exceed this standard to carry the Energy Star label.
Step #2
Once you have conserved. Dig out your utility bill.You want to find out the average amount of power you use each month. I average 575 kWh per month. kWh stands for kilo-watt-hours.
Compare this information to your power generation goal, your roof size and your budget.
Step #4 Optional
If you are wondering how much power it would take to power 100% of your home, you can build a larger systems by using the small systems as building blocks.

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My Electric Bill Is Too High, Will Solar Lower It?

This is a difficult question to answer. Due to the rising electrical rates the answer is not the same for everyone.
Yes. A solar system on your home will lower your electric bill. Unfortunately the initial layout of funds to purchase the system can be high.
If you look at the cost per kilowatt hour for a solar system over its life it can be as low as $0.11 per kilowatt hour. If your goal is to save money over the life of the system and you are paying the power company more then $0.11 per kilowatt hour a solar system makes sense. In some areas rates are as high as $0.21 per kilowatt hour. Rates this high allow some solar systems to pay for themselves in 5 years.
If you are paying less then $0.11 per kilowatt hour solar may not be for you from a cost savings stand point. A kilowatt hour of Solar will cost more than a kilowatt hour of utility electricity. The best thing to do, if you are looking to lower your electric bill is to cut down on the amount of power that you use. This may not mean you have to change your lifestyle and live like a hermit, in the dark. It means you just have to change the way your home uses electricity. An energy efficient home, that uses energy efficient appliances, will cut down your electric bill. The cost of adding energy efficient appliances to cut your usage by 100 kilowatts per month, is less than buying enough solar equipment to generate 100 kilowatts per month.
So remember living efficiently does not always mean living differently. If your home is designed to be energy efficient then adding solar will reduce your bill. Since you bill is smaller to start with a little solar will mean a lot.

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Can I Start Small And Add On Later?

Yes. Solar is quite unlike a computer. If you start with a couple of good base components it is easy to add to your system later. First is to start with a good charge controller. Lets say you want to start with one solar module now. Don't buy a charge controller that can handle one module. Buy a 20 or a 30 amp charge controller that can handle several modules. This will keep you from throwing away a small controller because you outgrew it. Most larger charge controllers cost less then two smaller charge controllers, so you will also save money.
The same principal goes for inverters. An inverter is a one time purchase. So think about what your needs will be in the future and buy something you can grow into. For example if you are looking at a 2500 watt 12 volt inverter. And you are using 80% of its power rating now you are not leaving yourself any room to grow. You may want to think about a 4000 watt 24 volt or 48 volt inverter. The higher voltages will save you in wiring cost but also mean you will have to add solar panels in 4 modules increments to make 48 volt.

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Steps To Designing A Renewable Energy System

There are two primary steps to designing a renewable energy system.
1. Determine how much energy must be produced to meet the expected electrical loads. This is called an energy budget. 2. Assess the amount of energy available from various resources and select the right equipment to capture available energy and store it for later use. Power Consumption
The most important factor to consider in designing a power generating system is knowing the amount of power that will be consumed. It is critical to know where the power is going. A poorly designed system will produce too little or too much power. In order to get the best value for your money it is important to compile accurate information on how the power will be used. This is done with an energy budget. Energy Budget
An energy budget is used to assess the electrical loads in a residential renewable energy system. An energy budget requires you to depart from our traditional concept of electrical supply. An energy budget is a list of all your electrical appliances and the energy they use
Electricity must be viewed as a finite commodity like flour, firewood, or money.
You may want to prepare your energy budget a few times to see if you can reduce your projected energy needs. The most cost effective method of conserving energy is by using energy efficient appliances. A 15 watt compact fluorescent tube will produce the same light intensity as a 60 watt incandescent bulb. The energy you save by using the 15 watt compact fluorescent tube for three hours is equivalent to the daily output of one 45 watt solar module.
Energy conservation is less expensive than energy generation.
The ConServ and Sunfrost refrigerator / freezers may seem expensive initially, but when you compare that to the number of solar panels required to run a conventional appliance, it becomes much more favorable.
Rated Watts
To complete your energy budget you will need to know the rated watts of the appliances you plan to operate. If you do not know the rated watts of an appliance, try looking at its nameplate usually located near the power cord. The nameplate (generally located on the bottom or by the power cord of an appliance) may list the power consumption of the device in amps instead of watts. Multiply the amps by the voltage to determine rated watts.
For example, if your blender says 4.5 amps and 120 volts AC on the back, then multiply 4.5 by 120. The rated watts of the blender is 540 watts.
Watts = Amps x Volts
Loads and Operating Time
To assess the viability of large intermittent or small constant loads, the concept of load vs operating time is essential. The energy consumed by an appliance is a factor of the load in watts multiplied by the run time. For example, operating a large load like a microwave at 1000 watts for six minutes is the same as operating a 50 watt light bulb for two hours.
Fine Tuning
If you use your electrical system only on weekends and holidays, your energy budget will have a much lower average daily load than a full time system. The system has an entire week to charge in preparation for your weekend holiday. There may be some loads you prefer to operate from a generator, such as a washing machine or large power tools. These loads should not be listed in the energy budget because they will not be drawing energy from your storage battery. Watch out for appliances that have built in clocks or instant-on features. These will continue to draw power even when you think they are turned off. We call these "phantom loads".
Phantom Loads
Many people do not realize that most appliances consume electricity even when they are "off" Many electronic products such as stereos, TV's, clock radios, computers and items with wall cube transformers draw constant power. This is generally a result of poor electronic design - cheaper components generally use more power and are less likely to have power saving features such as automatic power off. Multiply this by millions of households, and we have significant power that is being wasted on these poorly designed products. Connecting these items to a power bar and turning it off can help reduce this wasted power.

Back To Top Of Page Unless otherwise stated these are links to American Websites.

Sharp USA are the world's #1 manufacturer of solar cells. In fact, Sharp's high quality, Photovoltaic Power Generation Systems are used for everything from satellites to lighthouses, industrial applications to residential use.

Kyocera is one of the world's largest vertically-integrated producers and suppliers of solar energy products.

National Solar Supply is where I grabbed most of this information and they have more than what I have here.

Canadian Tire sells small solar panels.

AstroPower produces one of the world's largest solar electric (photovoltaic) cells and a full line of solar modules. They are a fast-growing innovative manufacturing and engineering company, headquartered in Newark, Delaware, USA.

BP Solar manufactures, designs, markets, and installs a wide range of photovoltaic solar electric products and systems. Their products and solutions are well suited for residential, commercial, and industrial applications for remote and grid-connected systems.

SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) has more links.

US Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website has free information about energy conservation strategies for your home. Thoroughly explore all the links and free downloadable Consumer's Guides under 'Making your own clean electricity.' Make sure you thoroughly understand what equipment you'll have to purchase, and that you'll need approval and permits from both your local building inspector and your local electric utility to install any sort of renewable energy system.

Home Power magazine Subtitled "The Hands-On Journal of Home-Made Power," Home Power has been published bimonthly since 1987 and is available by subscription and on newsstands in the U.S. , Canada , and beyond. Home Power is was out to fill an information void for users and would-be users of home-made electricity. Nowadays, they've made it their business to serve up the entire array of sensible, available, renewable energy technologies, educating and empowering their readers toward more sustainable lifestyles. Whether you're a renewable energy enthusiast, end-user, or professional, every issue of Home Power delivers pages and pages of fresh information to inform and challenge you.

Solar Today is an award-winning bimonthly magazine published by the American Solar Energy Society, www.ases.org that covers all solar and renewable energy technologies, from photovoltaics to climate-responsive buildings to wind power and biomass. Regular topics include building case studies, energy policy and community-scale projects.

National Solar Supply sells solar panels and complete solar kits and more. This site also has detailed information on how to set up and frequently asked questions about solar power.

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