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Solar Panels

Solar panels in various forms have been around for decades, but have often been considered too big, too ugly and too expensive. But as with any technology, they have evolved over time. Higher energy costs make the pay back much less then it was a decade ago and as tax incentives began being offered, more manufactures began producing them, thus driving the costs down.

Solar panels basically come in two different types. The first is a product that is used to heat water.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an estimated 200,000 commercial solar water-heating systems have been installed in the United States. Although there are a large number of different types of solar water-heating systems, the basic technology is very simple. Sunlight strikes and heats an "absorber" surface within a "solar collector" or an actual storage tank. Either a heat-transfer fluid or the actual potable water to be used flows through tubes attached to the absorber and picks up the heat from it. Systems with a separate heat-transfer-fluid loop include a heat exchanger that then heats the potable water. The heated water is stored in a separate preheat tank or a conventional water heater tank until needed. If additional heat is needed, it is provided by electricity or fossil-fuel energy by the conventional water-heating system. By reducing the amount of heat that must be provided by conventional water-heating, solar water-heating systems directly substitute renewable energy for conventional energy, reducing the use of electricity or fossil fuels by as much as 80 percent.

The second type of solar panels are Photovoltaic, and are used to convert solar energy into electricity. Photovoltaic production has been doubling every 2 years, increasing by an average of 48 percent each year since 2002.

Since both of these technologies utilize the sun’s energy and since the sun is an intermittent source since it is sometimes covered by clouds and does not shine at night, these systems need to be part of an integrated system that acts as a back up when the solar equipment is not able to function. Both of these systems require trade offs involving the initial cost of the equipment vs. lower utility costs.


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