Solar Power Made Easier

Have you been thinking about solar power?  Are you wondering if the cost of the panels and installation is worth it?  Then you’ll want to know that the cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the last two years and now Westinghouse Solar has made solar power for your home even more affordable, and easier than ever, with their release of all-in-one rooftop solar kits.  Created with the DIYer in mind, these kits include everything except some wiring and tools.  According to the company, their technology uses up to 80% less parts than other systems, resulting in a much easier and streamlined installation process.  And Westinghouse claims their solar panels deliver 5 to 25% more energy than other brands.   

There are three differently sized kits available:  “The 20-panel contractor kit provides enough power for about 70 percent of a typical home’s energy needs. The four-panel “starter” kit is perfect for small installations — for example, on the sunny roof of a garage. The single panel “try it” kit is great for people who want to experiment with solar out for themselves on a budget.”

The solar kits are available from home improvement retailers, electrical distributors, contractors and local solar installers. Check out their website at Westinghouse Solar for more information.

Photo Courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr


Free Solar Panels?

Photo Courtesy Living Off Grid

At the Scientific American blog this week George Musser had an interesting post about having solar panels installed at no cost to the consumer.  According to Musser, “…a company such as SunRun or SolarCity installs panels on your roof at its expense and, in exchange, collects the government subsidies.”  Check out his article for the full scoop.

Highlight on National Gypsum’s ThermalCORE

Most buildings rely mainly on heating/cooling systems for climate control, and as we know, heavy reliability on those systems results in high energy usage and big energy bills.  National Gypsum is trying to change that with its ThermalCORE wall panels. 

ThermalCORE looks like regular drywall: a gypsum core sandwiched between sheets of fiberglass.  However, the mold resistant gypsum core is filled with Micronal® (produced by BASF).  Micronal is a “microencapsulated, high-purity paraffin wax.”  When this phase-change material reaches a temperature over 73°, the wax starts to melt and absorb heat (studies show it can absorb up to 22 BTUs of thermal energy per square foot).   When the temperature drops below 73°, the wax solidifies and releases the heat that it absorbed earlier.  The result is a more constant room temperature which means more energy efficient climate control.

Unlike most phase change materials that only work through a few hundred cycles before they lose the ability to completely melt and resolidify, ThermalCORE has been tested through 10,000 cycles, the equivalent of about 30 years.

ThermalCORE isn’t available in the U.S. yet, but is being tested in the Green Idea House being built in Hermosa Beach, CA.  Testing is also being done to examine how the panels will react in different climates so the panels can be customized by changing the amount of wax capsules (more for hot, humid environments, less for cold and dry).  And in Europe, where a similar product is already in use, savings from decreased A/C usage are estimated at about 20%.


The Easiest Way to Save Energy

Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida

Did you know that 25% of the money spent on home energy goes towards electric lighting?  Wouldn’t you like to reduce that cost?  Well, you can and it’s easy; not to mention, by 2014, you’ll have no other choice.

As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 incandescent bulbs are being outlawed starting in 2012, when 100 watt bulbs will no longer be available.  The 75 watt will go in 2013 and the 60 watt and 40 watt will wink out in 2014.

Why is the government telling us what we can plug into our light fixtures?  For good reason: “Incandescent bulbs force electricity through tungsten wires until they get so hot they start to glow. The bulbs have been described as space heaters that release light as a by-product, which sounds like a joke but is pretty accurate.” (Nashua Telegraph)  Basically these light bulbs waste 80% to 90% of the energy used just to heat up that wire.

What other options will we have? LED (light-emitting diodes) bulbs, CFL (compact fluorescent lights) bulbs and halogen incandescent bulbs will provide light with much reduced energy consumption.  And that means your electricity bill goes down and the pollution that is a byproduct of energy production will go down, too.  And while the initial cost of these light bulbs is higher than the incandescent bulbs, the lifetime cost is much lower.

One very important thing to know is that CFLs do contain mercury.  That is not a health issue while in the bulb, but if broken, mercury vapor can be emitted.  If that happens, you should air out the room for at least 15 minutes and use a wet rag to clean up all the bits and pieces.  Seal all that in a bag and dispose of the bag, either at a recycling center or in the trash.

The best way to dispose of burned out bulbs is to recycle them (in fact, some states require that you recycle them); recycling the bulbs insures that no mercury gets into the environment.  Some retailers, like Home Depot, ACE Hardware, Lowe’s and many others, will take used CFLs for recycling.  Visit the EPA website to learn more about proper disposal and where you can recycle your CFLs locally.