Solar energy is the cleanest, most abundant form of energy on the planet. The sun delivers over 1000 times the energy that the whole of mankind uses every year. By harnessing just 1 percent of this energy, we could power the world ten times over. Of course, doing this would require billions of dollars and a fundamental change in our energy policies. So, instead of staring at that huge mountain, let’s talk about things you can do at your home without spending a dime on solar arrays.
What is Passive Solar?
Passive solar energy is usually defined as energy that is utilized without the aid of a mechanical process. That means anything that uses the heat energy of the sun without changing it into electricity. No PV cells here. The simplest form of passive solar energy is something you’ve known about ever since the first time you stepped out into the sun. Your skin absorbed the energy from the sun, and it warmed up your body. Maybe on occasion you found yourself sitting behind your sliding glass door, basking in the warmth of the mid-fall rays. This is exactly what passive solar energy does – it heats you, your home and anything else that it touches.
Harnessing the Sun Indoors
The best way to collect solar energy is to install High Solar Gain Low-E windows. These windows will allow up to 71% of sunlight and heat energy into your home and keep it there. These windows are sealed with Argon gas to prevent heat from escaping the home. Simply open your window shades whenever you want to warm up. By coupling the right window with thermal curtains you can easily control the interior temperature of your home without having to rely on your heating and air-conditioning system.
In addition to windows, adding a series of water pillars to your interior can add a visually striking and extremely energy efficient focal point to your home. Clear Plexiglas tubes placed in areas with moderate to high sun exposure can, when filled with water, absorb the heat of the sun. During the evening, the heat in the tubes is released back into the home. This type of system has been a favorite of eco friendly greenhouses for decades (except they use black rain barrels to maximize the heat gain).
Of Positions and Planting
If you happen to live in an area where temperatures routinely reach the 90s or higher during the summer, passive solar heating might be causing your utility bill to skyrocket. Those Low-E windows that are great during the winter could be roasting you alive in the summer. To combat this, while still retaining the positive passive solar heating effects during the winter, plant a few deciduous trees directly between your windows and the position of the sun between noon and 5 pm during those summer months. The foliage will block out the sun during the summer, and once it falls during autumn, will allow it back through.
There are literally hundreds of ways to use passive solar energy to your advantage. Tell us about your favorites in the comments section!