Uses of Solar Panels

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According to "The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook," by Dan Chiras, solar power enthusiasts have essentially three ways to harness solar energy: active, passive and photovoltaic. You can use solar energy harnessed using these methods to power your home and get a discount on your electricity, as well as for heating the air and water you use in and around your home.

Heating Water

  • Solar energy is a powerful source of heat energy that can be used for heating water for household use. Solar-heated water can be used in pools, bathtubs, and showers. For applications which require hotter water than solar heating can provide, solar energy can be used in combination with existing water heating technology to minimize the use of conventional energy sources in heating water. Homeowners with pools can use a pump to transfer water heated by the sun to heat the water in their pool.

Heating Air

  • Solar energy can also be used to heat air. Homes can be equipped with radiant heating coils that are powered by heated water. Solar energy can be collected outside using solar panels which heat water. The heated water can either be pumped into the house to heat the inside through the radiant heating panels or it can be stored in a heat sink for use at night or during period of low sunlight.

Generating Electricity

  • Solar cells harness electricity in a process scientists refer to as "photovoltaic". Photovoltaic cells are specially designed cells that convert solar energy directly into electricity of the direct current variety, according to "The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook," by Dan Chiras. Direct current (DC) electricity is the kind found in your standard battery. You can use solar energy to power your home with alternating current electricity if you have a power inverted that converts the current.

Net Meter

  • Net metering is not a way to track your activity on the internet; it is actually a way to save money on your electric bill by supplying electric energy back to the grid using photovoltaic solar energy technology. Because you can use solar energy to produce electricity, you can use that electricity to save money on your electric bill. "Net Meter" is a program which allows consumers to put power back in the grid using alternative generation methods. That means that the solar energy you produce will go back on your bill as a credit in cold, hard cash. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the net meter program is a set of guidelines which require energy companies to credit you back for the electric energy you put back in the grid. Currently, the net meter program is available in limited areas. See Resources for a link to the Department of Energy page about Net Meter.

Combination Arrays

  • Because solar panels take up so much space, solar energy technologies are best used in combination for the maximum efficiency. According to Chiras, photovoltaic solar cells only harness about 12 to 15 percent of the available solar energy into electricity, leaving a large chunk of solar energy unharnessed. To make use of more of the remaining solar energy, photovoltaic panels can be used in combination with heat-based solar energy systems to get the most out of each square foot of your solar setup.

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