Solar energy is radiant heat and light from the sun that has been harnessed for reuse. The means for harnessing this energy has been known to be in existence in varying forms since the seventh century B.C. when humans were thought to have used a magnifying tool to focus sunlight to light a fire. By the third century B.C. “burning mirrors” were used to reflect light from torches for religious ceremonies.
Flash forward, by the 1800’s, solar panels as we know them, hadn’t even been invented yet and harnessing energy from the sun was commonplace and was used commercially and in homes. According to the Institute for Energy research, it was in 1883 that Charles Fritts produced the first solar cells made from selenium wafers, however what we use today are silicon photovoltaic cells. These were invented in 1954 at Bell Labs by Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, with research funding coming from NASA to support satellite technology.
In the 1970’s, there was a huge push for research in solar power. There was also a push for the use of solar in all areas where it made sense and coming from all levels of society. Federal building requirements for solar heating and cooling were mandated and tax credit incentives were created for homeowners. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect and by the mid 1980’s, the program had run out of steam and basically collapsed.
Solar panels aside, some things have become so common that we don’t necessarily think of as being involved in solar energy, like having windows installed in our homes. Windows grew into wonderful sun rooms as we learned how much we could benefit collecting and trapping heat and light in the colder regions.
Our general understanding of the effects of the sun’s energy is fairly decent. We understand that color, material and exposure make a difference. For example, we know that a black car with black interior is going to be hotter inside than a white car with light tan interior, if left in the sun on a hot day for a period of time.
As for materials, black ceramic tile floor will hold more heat than a black wood floor if the sunshine is shining directly on the floor through a window. Let’s think about outdoor flower pots- heat evaporates water and heat rises, so if we have potted plants in dark blue painted ceramic pots, or worse, dark metal, the heat of the sun will nearly steam the potting soil and dry out the plant much faster. If, however, your ceramic pots are painted white, the color will reflect the light away and won’t get nearly as hot, thus reducing the need to water as often. So where else is this level of understanding showing up?
Los Angeles is painting select inner city streets white to reduce their surface temperature during the hottest parts of the year by whooping 50 degrees in an attempt to reduce heat islands. Companies are creating coatings for roofs for the same reason. The Cool Roof Rating Council rates thousands of roofing material types for the level of reflectiveness so you can select one that will keep it cool instead of heating it up. If you have dark asphalt shingles, a 95 degree day could create 170 degree roof temperature, increasing the temperature of your attic. Your attic is where the ductwork is for your air conditioner. If your attic is over 130 degrees (likely on 95 degree day), then so is your duct work (often metal) that is supposed to be pushing very cold air into your home to keep it cool. Is it any wonder why our power bill is so high in the summer? This is, of course, only one of many reasons why our electricity bills are so high.
Florida is known as the sunshine state as we have an abundance of unobstructed sunlight- it is free, clean, non-toxic and generously shared unconditionally. Only a handful of cities in the Southwest, like Yuma, Arizona have more days of pure sunshine. Florida did, however, set the record. According to currentresults.com, “St. Petersburg, Florida gained the world record for the most sunny days in a row when the sun beamed down for 768 consecutive days from February 9, 1967 to March 17, 1969.”
Solar energy is far and away the state’s most abundant energy resource and estimates have placed the state’s potential at 2,902,000 Watts which would produce about 5,274,479,000 MWh an amount much larger than the state and countries total electricity consumption of 231,209,614 MWh and 4,125,059,899 MWh in 2010.
With all this sun being our daily normal, selenium solar panels having been invented in 1883 and the current silicon photovoltaic edition back in 1954, and the capacity to produce more than we use, why are they not as common as windows? Three reasons, cost, politics and because the banks and appraisers don’t understand the value. Thankfully, these are changing- albeit slowly.
According to the Orange County Register, California has just mandated that all new construction will include solar panels. In a place where 15 to 20 percent of homes already have solar panels installed voluntarily, instillation becoming mandatory for all new homes doesn’t seem unconscionable.
Florida is a different story as we have a few different dynamics in play here. First, electricity is not terribly expensive in Florida, so the cost savings as an incentive isn’t as appealing as in other states. Politics and corporations jockeying for control have been the other issue, with these two contenders trying to figure out what rules they can make into requirements, so they can be sure to make money off of something that’s free, that they currently have no control over and they don’t have to create- sunlight. Thankfully voters rejected the 2016 amendment that would have, among other things, given the power company the right to charge owners of solar homes more. With that behind us, we are seeing both a growing number of solar companies and an increase in installations. If you are interested in looking into solar panels for your home, Energy Sage is a great website that generates multiple quotes from available installers near you.
Want to start smaller? Give something a test run? Start with these DIY favorites that are super simple and make a big difference. Solar lights for your yard/driveway are a beautiful edition to any home. Why go through the expense of paying to wire the yard for electricity, so you can then pay for the electricity when the sun will do it for free and with no wires to bother with? Have that one section of your exterior that you wish had a light but wasn’t anywhere near a power source- add this simple and effective single security/motion sensor light.
With hurricane season almost here, instead of preparing with everything that requires batteries, get these solar powered 20LED lamps. For recharging purposes- hurricane or not, this combination of solar charger for phones/iPads/tablets and battery to store your collected energy, will give you the opportunity to get used to how easy it is to stop using electricity. If you are serious about trying to give this a go, take the next step up, to this 500-watt rechargeable Lithium-ion battery to store your collected solar.
Solar is so accessible with so many simple and inexpensive DIY editions and just as many options for the whole-house systems, that out of habit, we’ve come to a place in time where we are actively choosing to pay for something that is costing us money and damaging the earth instead of electing the free source. Like continuing to pay rent and not electing the rent to own option that was always available and now we’ve spent far more than the cost buy it in the first place, but we are still electing to rent. Thankfully, we know better now… and when you know better, you do better. Cheers to better living!
Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Or want to share your experience? Let me know!
Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company www.lifewithmoxie.com, CEO of Moxie Creed www.moxiecreed.com, skincare beyond chemistry. You can reach her at Julie@lifewithmoxie.com
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