Solar Heating for Your Home: Pt II

About a month ago (August 1, 2006 to be exact) I reported how our friends over in Great Britain were really “warming up to the idea” (couldn’t resist that) of using solar panels as a way of furnishing electricity to cut down on the spiraling costs of maintaining a household.

Apparently those crazy Brits were on to something: now a prefabricated modular housing manufacturer in Denmark called “Soltag” (a subsidiary of the Dane manufacturer Velux) has taken the concept of individually mounted solar panels one step further: they have created a prototype solar-powered modular home. A home that is auto-sufficient. A home that has integrated solar panels at every window, has a solar-paneled roof that tilts at a 45-degree angle facing south which permits the sun to heat, light, and ventilate the entire home. Solar panels imbedded in the sidewalk, driveway and patio added an extra punch to provide extra energy.

The result is a home that kind of looks like it was constructed out of Lego’s. But the last laugh is on the part of the home owner who purchases a Soltag modular home and suddenly notices how much is being saved on utilities. Estimated to be at least half (a traditional home consumes 96 kilowatts per hour per square meter, while the solar home consumes about 45).

The British aren’t the only ones taking notice. The European Union’s Department of Energy is so hot on the idea that they have financed the cost of Soltag’s prototype homes of which Soltag is offering two versions: one model that has a solar powered bathroom, kitchen, foyer and bedroom, and another model consisting of a solar-powered basement, living room and loft.

Solar panels on the windows make up nearly a third of the exterior space. As does the roof; which is completely integrated with solar panels which permits nearly twice as much light to enter the home at any given time.

That alone is making the UE smile as it represents an initiative on the part of Soltag to create a home that is economically accessible and energy saving. In fact, research and development agreements have already been reached with many countries in the European Union in an effort to get the Solar home off the drawing board and into the hands of consumers as soon as possible.

Meanwhile back in the United States, the concept of solar power isn’t quite reaching the same heights. Although the technology has been been embraced for quite some time. To a large extent, solar power has long been regarded largely as a novelty or, at best, as a niche market. However, demand is rising for distributed power generation and the technology that produces it.

The shipment of solar thermal collectors has been slowly-but-steadily increasing. According to the EIA (Energy Information Agency), between 1993 and 2005, nearly 100,000 square feet of solar thermal collectors has been shipped within the United States. Most of the current solar thermal systems are installed in California and Florida with these two states accounting for roughly 73% of the total solar thermal systems installed each year.

Net metering now available in nearly every state in the Union is a strong incentive for this kind of alternative energy because it allows excess power generated during peak hours of sunshine to reverse an electric meter, selling power back to the utility. In addition, many states encourage solar power installations by offering a 50 percent subsidy, making the net cost to an average homeowner about $5,000.

Approximately, 3% of the total energy consumed by the United States is used in heating water both in residential and commercial applications. Houses in the United States usually have standard tanks between 60 to 120 gallons. They can be easily retrofitted for solar thermal systems. Approximately 1.5 million homes have been fitted with solar thermal systems and 6000 are added each year.

At what point solar homes will break through the US market can probably be measured by the amount of time it takes for the rest of the world to follow suit. In the meantime, who would have thought that a small company like Soltag would be the impetus behind the solar-powered home in Europe!

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