Wednesday, August 6, 2008

PRACTICAL USES OF SOLAR ENERGY

You can put solar energy to work for you and save energy and money. Switching to solar helps protect Florida's beautiful and delicate environment, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Today, there are three practical uses of solar energy for the homeowner: pool heating, hot water, and electricity for remote locations. Less use of electric power generated from fossil fuels means less greenhouse gas and acid rain emissions. Every kWh saved eliminates 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide, 0.2 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 0.25 pounds of carbon monoxide, and 0.01 pounds of nitrogen oxide emissions. To purchase solar systems, consult a local contractor.
Many communities are served by an energy conservation or solar contractor. Check the yellow pages under "Solar Energy Systems." Follow up on each potential contractor's list of references. Solar Pool Heating The most practical and popular use of solar energy for the homeowner is solar pool heating. A solar pool heater extends the swimming season from May through October to February through November (in Central Florida, water temperature at least 75 degrees). This amount of heating is equivalent to $1500 worth of electricity (heat pump) or natural gas for a 24' by 20' pool.
A solar system for a 24' by 20' pool costs $3200 to $4200. The installed cost of a solar system is about the same as a heat pump, or about twice the cost of a natural gas heater ($1500 to $7000, depending on the desired pool temperature and the size of the pool). Solar heater maintenance costs are much less than either type of conventional heater. An additional advantage of solar is quiet -- solar pool heaters are almost silent. The best type of pool heater collectors are the rubber
mat type, according to FEES specialist Gary Cook. The mats are virtually indestructible, and if damaged, are easily repaired. Gary has had this type of collector on his roof for over 12 years. The mats heat his 700 gallon hot tub from 75°F to over 100°F in less than one hour (two hours in winter). His swimming season is extended three months (Gary lives in Gainesville).
Solar Water Heating
Today, there are thousands of solar water heating systems installed in Florida. They put the sun to work heating water for showers, hot tubs, and dish washing. Reliable solar water heating systems are economical where natural gas is unavailable. Modern systems can supply at least 70% and up to 90% of a family's hot water needs. This can cut the typical Florida home electric bill by 10% to 13%. In this sense, a solar hot water heater is a good economic investment. The return on investment is the cash saved on utility bills. This corresponds to an annual rate of return of 7- 9%, very respectable for such a safe investment. Quality systems last as long as the home they are installed in. The Florida Solar Energy Center can provide their ratings of solar collectors and systems (see References). Solar water heating systems range in price from
$1600 for a small system serving two people, up to $5000 for a system that serves a family of eight. A quality system sized for a family of 4 costs $3000 to $3500. A solar water heater could save the average Florida family around $300 per year, and help protect the environment by reducing the pollution caused by generating electricity from fossil fuels. Be aware of a few important details when selecting a solar water heating system. A system sized for a typical Florida family uses two 4' by 8' collectors. Look for a system that uses a solar powered pump. According to Tom Lane* of Energy Conservation Services, most Floridians should select closed-loop systems that use antifreeze to protect the system from freezing. Drain-back systems are another option. (Openloop systems are suitable in South Florida and the Keys). The storage tank should hold at least 20 gallons of water per family member. Extra storage capacity is recommended, and is inexpensive. * Licensed solar contractor, Gainesville FL. (904)373-3220. FEES does not endorse brands or contractors.