Go solar…for less

Consumers are beginning to understand the long-term value of investing in renewable energy. A possible payback, tax benefits, then free sunlight for heating and power are attracting people across political lines to solar energy. State-of-the-art systems are one approach, but inexpensive, commonly available materials can also be used to make simple, do-it-yourself solar collectors. Find out how you can go solar for less than you might think.

Listen to a Good Dirt Radio 5-minute eco-spot on do-it-yourself solar.

Locate resources and information on this topic.

Read the transcript below.

Welcome to Good Dirt Radio, reporting on positive solutions, taking root.

Consumers are starting to understand the long-term value of investing in renewable energy. A possible payback, tax benefits, then free sunlight for heating and power are attracting people across political lines to solar energy. State-of-the-art systems are one approach, but inexpensive, commonly available materials can also be used to make simple, do-it-yourself solar hot air collectors.

Victoria Hollick is an energy economist and president of Conserval Energy which makes the patented ‘Solar Wall.’  She says space heating is one of our largest energy costs and claims that hot air systems are the cheapest and most efficient kind of solar heating.

Hollick:  And I’d actually consider it to be one of the most accessible technologies for homeowners who are looking to maximize their renewable energy production while minimizing their cost.  It gives you basically the biggest bang for your buck.

Udgar Parsons, a retired dentist and dome greenhouse builder in Pagosa Springs, CO, built a cheap but efficient hot air collector, low on a south wall and angled up to the sun, to help heat his shop.

Parsons:   Well, I call it a solar hot box.   And it’s a very, very simple mechanism.  You bring air from the building into one end of the hot box with a solar-powered fan and that fan drives the air all the way along the length of the hot box and into the building at a much higher temperature.  All it is, is an insulated back to the box and then the actual sun shines on dark painted sheet metal that absorbs the heat of the sun.  And then there’s a dead air space in front of the sheet metal that the air flows along.  And the front of the box is made of an insulated polycarbonate that keeps the heat inside the box.  Basically what it does, the air goes in at about 65 or 70 and comes back out into the building about 150 to 180.   And its all free because the fan is solar-powered. But after we installed the hot box and put a little extra insulation on the ceiling of our shop, we found that our monthly heating bill went down from about $300 to $160.    And so in terms of cutting down your heating bills and also reducing your carbon footprint, I think it’s a wonderful device.

Parsons says his hot box cost about a thousand dollars in materials and a day’s labor.  He created a hybrid by installing black painted copper tubing that heats glycol, when the sun shines. A small solar pump circulates the fluid to a used radiator, heating the shop’s kitchen.  Parsons also powers his electric forklift with sunlight.

Michael Brennan, the Director of Facilities for the School District in Durango Colorado, showed us their heat wall, a similar system that can turn a south-facing wall into a solar heater.

Brennan:  The construction is very simple.  As a matter of fact, any homeowner or business owner could duplicate this very simple system.  It’s a framework that’s added onto an existing wall.  The framework is hollow, its facing south, its covered with louvered, dark metal so it gains heat quickly.  The air comes in the bottom of these vertical channels so that as the air heats it naturally rises.  Then fans come on and blows that air into the gymnasium.    We found it very effective, it was an experiment at the time but we’re very satisfied with the results.  It doesn’t replace our normal conventional heating system but it certainly moderates our utility costs.  

John Shaw is a master electrician and master plumber.  Shaw Solar, installs new solar thermal and photovoltaic systems in the Southwest but Shaw explains how people can go solar for less than the cost of a new system.

Shaw:  One of the best un-tapped resources for solar hot water systems are systems that were installed in the early eighties.  There was great tax credits and a lot of systems got put in incorrectly and there’s a lot of  equipment on the inside as well as the collectors on the outside.  Putting an ad in your local paper is a great way to get a hold of these at a fraction of the cost of new systems.  And, for new photovoltaic systems, there are a lot of blemished units out there that you can get that carry full power warranties and that’s a great way to reduce the cost of a new solar PV system.

There are many variations of homemade solar air heating systems that can be designed to retrofit an existing structure. Consider checking out renewable energy for your home or business.  For more information about do-it-yourself solar, please visit us at gooddirtradio.org.

Did you know that most power companies now offer green power at competitive rates?  With the climate crisis in mind, we urge you to consider calling your provider to switch to clean power.

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