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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. These panels are distinctly different than those that produce electricity. A typical residential solar water-heating system reduces the need for conventional water heating by about two-thirds. Most solar water-heating systems for homes have two main parts: a solar collector and a storage tank. The most common collector is the flat-plate collector. The sun heats either water or a heat-transfer fluid in the collector. Heated water is then held in the storage tank ready for use. The tank can be a modified standard water heater but it is usually larger and very well insulated. Solar water heating systems can be either active or passive, but the most common are active systems. Active solar water heaters rely on electric pumps, and controllers to circulate water, or other heat-transfer fluids through the collectors. Passive solar water heaters rely on gravity and the tendency for water to naturally circulate as it is heated. Because they contain no electrical components, passive systems are generally more reliable, easier to maintain, and possibly have a longer work life than active systems.

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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