As more people are becoming aware of the environment and our own environmental impact, more people are looking for environmentally friendly options for various things. One such step people are taking is converting their power source to solar power. It’s a big step with people asking many kinds of questions. In particular questions about active and passive solar design.
So what is active solar design? In short, active solar design is a technology that is designed to capture the sun’s energy (mechanically or electrically) and store it in some fashion for future use.
That said, there is more to active solar design than you might think. As such, we’ve put together an extensive guide into solar energy, the perks of using active solar design, and more for you to enjoy and read about.
Why Use Solar Energy in Your Home?
The idea for solar power has been around for decades now. Since the sun provides our own survival along with the survival of every ecosystem on the planet, it stands to reason that there is a lot of power within the sun’s rays.
As soon as people discovered this, people have been touting the idea of solar energy being a more reliable source of energy compared to other alternatives like wind or fossil fuel. Since then, there has been a push for people to move to solar energy to fuel homes, businesses, and more. By this point, solar energy has been rapidly expanding, though only supplies a fraction of global energy.
Even now, there are still debates over the cost, practicality, and performance of solar installations. At the same time, the technology offers plenty of promise and has changed a lot over the past few decades it’s been around.
Benefits Of Using Solar Power
This technology has been worked on for decades now and has provided plenty of benefits to its users. Here are but some of the benefits of having solar power in your home.
It Reduces Greenhouse Gas
An obvious one, but it’s a benefit nevertheless. And this benefit is crucial as more and more greenhouse gases are being released into the atmosphere. Those gases have now created a barrier where they are able to absorb more of the sun’s rays and boost the overall temperature below.
When you are using solar energy for anything, there will never be any greenhouse gases released. That said, there will be some emissions that stem from both the production and installation of solar technology.
A 2014 assessment conducted by the International Energy Agency suggested that photovoltaic and thermal energy systems could possibly constitute the largest source of electricity by 2050. If that were to happen, we could prevent over 6 billion tons of annual carbon-dioxide – one of the greenhouse gases – every year starting at that year.
Sustainability & Resiliency
Compared to traditional energy-providing methods – like fossil fuels – you don’t run into one of the big issues that some energy sources face: scarcity. There is only so much fossil fuel in the world. On the other hand, while there is a limited amount of sun, we know that the sun comes up every single day.
Because of this, the amount of solar energy received by the Earth over the course of the year well exceeds the energy that we garner through digging for oil, extracting natural gas, coal, and nuclear sources. In fact, the amount of energy that the planet receives in a single hour is greater than the globe’s entire yearly energy consumption.
The other aspect to consider is their resiliency as well. Solar facilities are broadly spread out. Because of that distance, they’re not easily disrupted during events like storms. Furthermore, the technology itself uses less water than fossil-fuel or nuclear power plants. As such, they may be more resilient in drought.
Versatile, Low-Maintenance, & Flexible
Solar energy is also a highly modular piece of technology. They require multiple individual installations, but they can all be linked together.
Because of this, they are versatile in that they can be implemented in various ways. The most common implementation of solar panels is on rooftops of homes or buildings as well as solar panels being used at utility-scale thermal plants.
Beyond that, once you have these solar panels installed, you have little to no maintenance costs. After all, there is little maintenance to be done. Also due to that low maintenance and versatility, you can have solar panels set up in many areas such as rural and developing areas where typical grid energy isn’t available, is unreliable, or expensive.
One arguing point against solar energy is cost. In the beginning, it was very expensive to have these set up and even today it still kind of is. That said, over the past several years, a lot of that cost has been gouged.
In 2014, the US Department of Energy noted a 50% drop in the price of photovoltaic panels since 2011. Those price cuts have dropped further now to the point modern homes can easily afford installing solar panels.
Even if you feel like solar panels are expensive these days, there are some things that are worth noting. First off, fossil fuels have a highly volatile price fluctuation. This is stemming from political tension, strife, and other regional factors.
Secondly, even though solar has higher initial costs, the amount you are saving long-term is massive. Since solar panels are powered by the sun, the operational costs, as well as the fuel, are so low they’re basically free.
Overall, because of these great cost advantages, you’ll be able to save more money just by switching your energy demands to solar power.
Provides Health And Safety To Others
Another distinct advantage is that you’re also helping out your fellow neighbor and community by switching to solar power. When using gas-generators or other fossil-fuel combustion, you’re releasing pollutants into the air and water in the surrounding area. Even if you’re living in the suburbs, this can still impact human health on a local and even regional level.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates the economic repercussions of these health problems can cost between $361.7 and 886.5 billion every year.
By moving to solar power, you’re removing those pollutants from your own emissions in many ways. Not only in no greenhouse gases but also noise pollution reduction since solar panels are known to be quiet. You can even use solar panel systems to store up energy and power machines that can treat or purify drinking water.
Energy Independence & Security
The final benefit to cover is that solar energy provides a gateway to energy independence and security. Sunlight is a resource that’s available to everyone, though the degree of this availability will vary due to location and seasons.
Nevertheless, because this is a source of power that anyone can tap into, this can allow a country to effectively get their energy from the sun rather than rely on other countries to supply their energy demands.
On top of that solar power is a solid system in the event of natural disasters or attacks. The reason for that is due to the fact the systems are always distributing energy through various sources, making it difficult for the power to be completely removed.
What Is Passive And Active Solar Design?
While you understand those benefits, there is more to solar power than just that. Over the years, there have been two design methods that have emerged: passive and active. What these designs boil down to are essentially the methods in which they gather, store, and use the energy given to them by the sun.
Below are some detailed looks at both of these methods.
As I mentioned above, active solar design describes energy systems that capture the sun’s rays and stores them for future use. This method is either down in mechanical or electrical ways. From those aspects, there are two basic types of electrical systems that are set up: renewable electricity systems and solar thermal systems.
Renewable electricity systems typically are the panel systems that you see scattered in various areas. The ones you’ll see around residential areas are a little different though in that they are framed. Those framed panels collect energy through laminate solar cells onto the glass surfaces of the panels. From there, the panels begin converting the volts into alternating current power that household appliances use.
The other active system that can be used is solar thermal systems. These panels rely on the temperature more to store power. These systems collect the heat from the sun and store it in the form of water. This is standard for any kind of thermal system. Of course, these systems are restricted to areas where there is plenty of heat all year round. That said, there are some solar hot water systems that are designed for freezing climates as well. It’s for this reason that space heating relies on these sorts of systems over any other.
The other design is passive solar design. These types of systems are designed to leverage the site climate while the energy of the sun provides thermal comfort through heating and cooling. Unlike the active panels that can be placed down anywhere, these systems rely more on the design of the area where they are working in. If you want the most from these systems, you have to be optimizing the inside of the area to ensure it gets the most energy.
Because of these passive systems being so specific for buildings, there is only one type of system out there. Instead, what really matters is the overall internal design that you plan to install this system into – if you’re considering it. Everything from the location of your home to the microclimate, form and orientation is important.
Broadly speaking, the buildings that get the most benefit from these systems are ones that are facing 17.5 degrees east of due south. Most buildings are facing about 30 degrees due south. On top of that, the buildings that have high insulation levels, tight construction, shading elements at windows and thermal mass are able to benefit the most from these systems.
Should You Use Both?
While passive solar designs require you to go through more hoops, it is still a great system to use. Looking further into passive systems, they can reduce active energy needs of buildings over time since they are working behind the scenes to regulate the cooling and heating systems.
It’s hard to think that when you look at the active systems that are out in the open and providing energy for the building. But at the end of the day, I would recommend implementing both of these systems as they complement one another in a big way. As more people are moving to renewable energy sources, it’s important to have these established systems integrate with one another.
The best way to waste is by not creating it, and the best way to reduce energy consumption is by making sure you need less of it thanks to a clever design.
By implementing both systems, you’re allowing your home or building to produce less greenhouse gases, protect the environment, and save a lot of money. It’s a win-win situation for yourself. But those are only the tip of the iceberg for benefits.
Benefits Of Using Both Passive & Active Designs
On top of the benefits of using solar power in general, there are five other distinct benefits that make using both passive and active designs worth it.
You Save On Utilities
The first reason is an obvious one and that is saving money on your utility bill. Of course, we know the initial installation of active solar powered systems is expensive. Furthermore, if you want passive solar techniques, you’ll need to renovate your home or building, which costs money too.
But after all of those initial costs, you’ll experience a significant drop in your utility bills through various means. You have government incentives and you’ll have a much lower bill than what you are paying now. These savings may not seem like much but they can add up quickly.
In fact, you’ll make back those costs in a few years’ time. So, if you are planning on staying in the same place for a few years, it’s a smart investment for your household.
Removal Of Other Heating & Cooling Equipment
Again, passive solar design systems are all about leveraging heating and cooling from the sun. They’re meant to capture the sun’s rays and offer you a level of comfort that you can appreciate. If you are remodeling your home to have passive heating and cooling, you’ll be relying less on central air systems and furnaces as a result.
Since you’ll be relying on these passive measures for cooling during summer and spring and heating in the winter, you won’t be in huge need of those external systems in your home. This further cuts into your utility bill but also saves you money in other areas. You no longer need to repair and maintain systems if they break down, let alone buy that equipment for the home.
Active and passive solar design systems release zero greenhouse gases into the air. This slows down climate change on your end significantly which benefits the planet and us.
When we become less reliant on traditional methods of generating electricity – like using gas and oil – we are making a smaller carbon footprint and mitigating our effect on the environment and the surrounding area.
The only kind of emissions that solar energy ever emits is the production cost of the system itself as well as installing it. This is small in comparison to releasing pollutants into the atmosphere from traditional power-generating methods.
One that you might not have expected is that your health significantly improves when you have these systems installed. During wintertime, using passive solar techniques can help you stay healthier. Why that’s the case is a matter of looking at the effects of traditional heating systems.
In most heating systems, you are bound to be using a furnace to generate heat for your home. The thing about these systems though is that wrings humidity from the air in order to produce heat for your home. This leaves the air dry to the point it actually irritates the mucous membranes and encourages virus propagation.
The mucous membrane is the cells that produce mucus that protects your body from dirt and pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
By not having a furnace and relying on passive heating techniques, you’re not drying out the air. This allows you to have less allergic reactions and you can maintain a healthy moisture balance.
Higher Resale Value
The final benefit of having both of these systems is the fact that these appeal to potential homebuyers. Even though this technology has been around for a while, it’s taken this long for solar technology to be affordable for the general public. As such, this is a good avenue to improve your home and make it more appealing to homebuyers.
At the end of the day, having both active and passive solar systems installed in your home can command a premium on the real estate market these days since environmentally friendly homes aren’t incredibly common on the market at the moment.
For further proof, you can look at the study conducted by Lawrence Berkeley Labs. The study was looking at the difference in sales prices between homes that have passive and active solar designs in their homes and those that didn’t. They focused on California and got some strong results. Overall, the study concluded that homes that can produce a 3,100 watts system using solar energy were able to ask for at least an extra $17,000 for their home compared to those who lacked these systems.
While your home isn’t meant to be used as an investment tool, installing a passive and active solar system into your home kind of treats your home as one from this perspective. All the same, that investment can make it very much worth it in the current market.
Can I Install My Solar System Myself?
Another question we get asked a lot is whether you’re able to install your own active and/or passive systems. In short, yes, though it requires a good bit of effort on your part.
Installing a passive system takes a lot of work as there are a lot of considerations that need to be involved. After all, you’re designing your home in such a way that it’s able to produce heat during cold months and is cool during the warmer months. This requires a balance of sun exposure as well as shade.
We won’t go into too much of the details here but what we will look at is whether installing an active design is worth it. In the end, you certainly can be installing your own system, but it requires a laundry list of steps and considerations and general know-how.
The real question though is it worth going through with it yourself?
We can understand the initial desire for installing systems yourself. It saves you money, gives you a sense of accomplishment while also pushing you out of your comfort zone. But the fact remains that you’re installing a highly specialized project – even if you have a kit that gives you instructions along the way.
As such, it might not be the best of ideas for the various reasons mentioned below.
The Dangers of Installing Yourself
When looking at the dangers of DIY solar panel installation, there are two main reasons why installing yourself can present dangers to both you and your property:
- First is the overall height that the panels are installed at.
- The second is that solar panels are complicated electrical systems.
Looking at the details, active solar panels are either mounted on the roof or in the ground. In most situations, people would prefer the roof since with ground-mounted panels, you need to construct stable ground. This typically involves digging a hole, filling it with concrete, and placing the panels in there.
Roof-mounted panels are better since a roof serves as an appropriate mount.
That in itself creates issues since you’ll need to lift the panel up onto the roof. A single panel can weigh in between 33 to 50 pounds, the size of it being the determining factor. And you’ll be hauling many of those along with materials needed for racking and wiring.
This is all before installing which requires you to work on an angled surface.
If you’re not properly trained to handle this specific type of work, installing this yourself could be a nightmare. You’re saving money by doing this yourself, but those savings aren’t worth it if you end up falling and hurting yourself or worse.
But if you think you can still manage it, you still have to consider the fact there is electrical work involved.
Even though a solar panel isn’t actively producing power to you, it’s still generating some. Touching the panels while it’s exposed to sunlight means getting zapped with a couple of hundred volts of electricity.
Beyond that, installing these panels can also damage the building in various ways. Electricity is still flowing through the wires before mounting the panels to the ground or roof. If you installed it poorly, the system could damage itself and could start an electrical fire.
Because of these dangers, it makes sense that those who are installing solar panels have licenses and certifications to specifically install these solar panels.
On top of all of that, there are two other considerations to not be installing solar panels on your own. The first is the regulatory hurdles that are involved.
Before installing, you’ll need to get a permit from the local building department to install. In order for you to get permission, you’ll need to have a site plan that outlines how you’ll install the system. It’ll also include how you’re going to attach the panels to your roof, proof that your roof can support the weight, and a spec sheet of the solar system’s components.
All of this involves having an electrical diagram of the system along with calculations to show the components are compatible and safe. The final part of that permit is showing how you are planning to connect the system to the electric grid.
After all of that, you’ll need to get permission from the utility company. Along with that, you’ll also need to look at your area’s net metering plan. Knowing where you are in that plan ensures you are getting compensated properly for any excess electricity your system produces and pushes out to the grid.
The final bits of paperwork entails looking at grants and other incentives to see what you are eligible for. These vary from region to region. While that’s probably the best part – since it’s free money more or less – it can still be tricky to navigate it.
All that said, the second consideration is that despite getting various grants and incentives, you could still be throwing money out the window by installing yourself. This can come in the form of solar equipment warranties.
Typical solar panels today have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years and pay for themselves in the first few years thanks to the incentives, grants, and savings you’ll be making. But again, there is a huge cost of getting the equipment in the first place.
Manufacturers are confident in the overall quality of the products they are producing. As such, they will typically offer warranties on these products for up to 30 years – an average lifespan of these solar panels.
This is nice, however in order for these warranties to be eligible, you’ll need to install the parts exactly as they were intended by the manufacturer. Since this is a complex system we’re talking about, most people would probably make a mistake if they were to install it themselves.
The other thing to note with warranties is if you get an installation company to do it, they also offer warranties and incentives. Those are removed if you do this yourself.
At the end of the day, doing it yourself can seem like a good idea, but there are too many factors that are against you to the point it doesn’t seem worth it.
Going solar is a great idea for a wide variety of reasons. Not only will you be benefiting the environment, this also helps your community and yourself. With only a few temporary downsides to these systems, it’s a good idea to be making the switch now in the near future.