Renewable Energy

All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

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While the world has been distracted by hula hoops, pet rocks, dot coms, fiber optics and the latest new App to hypnotize the masses, engineers, and inventors have quietly been at work trying to understand what Tesla meant when he said,  “Ere many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point in the universe."

We have not taken these words lightly. This was a man with a visionary mind who had an experience walking through a park in Budapest that allowed him to see how matter forms from the substance of space. This vision during a heightened sense of awareness enabled his invention of the alternating current motors and generators that enabled the industrial age. Without these two inventions all fossil fuels would by now have been exhausted feeding Edison’s direct current machines.

U.S. Patent 433,701 - Alternating-Current Motor

Since Tesla’s vision, and before, there have been those with an inkling, an intuition, a knowing, that have been driven to experiment with a way to make energy without consuming resources. They will tell you space is not empty as has been taught and that the second law of thermodynamics must be modified to take this fact into account. Recently physicists who go into catatonic shock when the idea of an Aether is suggested, now believe that space is filled with what they call the Higgs Field and they claim to have found the Higgs Boson, all the while yammering on about super strings, dark energy and dark matter.

In the 21st Century, we are using energy conversion techniques discovered and put into use in the 19th century. Yes, the photovoltaic effect, steam turbines, fuel cells were all invented in the 1800’s.  Nuclear power is based on heating water to make steam to turn a turbine connected to a generator, what a concept! Energy conversion efficiency to generate large scale electric power has been stuck at a meager 30% due to the self imposed limitations of the 20th century mindset in physics. The 21st Century will soon see a manifestation of Tesla’s vision.

The Breakthrough

By eliminating back-torque through innovative magnetic circuit design, a reactionless AC generator has been built and tested. The Tewari Reactionless Generator (RLG) is now profiled in a new movie scheduled for release in Austria in March. The film debuted at the Viennale Film Festival.

Below is a review of the movie as seen through my eyes.

Movie Review: Out of the Void

On October 28th, 2015, the documentary film Out of the Void premiered at the Vienna International Film Festival. As far as I know, this is the first time a film of this nature has been presented to an international audience at a film festival. The film is in part a docudrama about the attempt to go beyond the known frontiers of science and to literally go into the void to extract energy.

It begins with film footage from the 1920’s of the Austrian Researcher Karl Schappeller during the time he attempted to design and build a device to harvest energy from the Aether. Schappeller did not succeed but his writings and work have been kept alive by a dedicated team of researchers from the UK and Austria who found and preserved drawings and documents found behind a stairway in the castle that served as his research lab.

The actors and production crew including, video, sound, editing, and set design succeed in recreating the work and vision of Schappeller. Interviews with local residents, now in their 80’s and 90’s are interlaced throughout the film adding a touch of authenticity to a man who was once the subject of wide press coverage and who became a local legend. The castle survives to this day and is available to the public for meetings and events.

The film jumps to the future and features a demonstration of a machine invented by Professor Claus Turtur from Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. The demonstration takes place in a wooden shack adjacent to the devastation of a coal strip mine. It is a high-voltage static apparatus slowly turning in a static electric field. It has been shown that the mechanical output is substantially over unity. It is obvious at this point that the laws of physics must be modified. The film then covers the current research, experiments and theories of Paramahamsa Tewari and documents tests of his Reactionless Generator filmed at his lab in India.

In his Space Vortex Theory (SVT), Mr. Tewari postulates and then proves by deductive reasoning the fundamental nature of a space and matter. The void makes up the interior of the electron and is created from the Aether as Nikola Tesla described when he said, “All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never ending cycles all things and phenomena.”

Tewari has proven the existence of the Aether (ether) using Space Vortex Theory to build machines with efficiencies greater than one. Efficiencies as high as 2.38 have been measured.  A more detailed description of the system tests is available at the links below. This discovery is a verification of his theories and those of other physicists such as Descartes, Maxwell, Helmholtz, and Kelvin. These physicists have pointed out that space is not empty as has been taught for over one hundred years.

Tewari’s discovery requires that the laws of physics as now taught must be modified to recognize that space is not empty and that the substance of space is the origin of matter as described in the Upanishads and known by the ancient seers of India for more than 10,000 years.

As Tesla also explained: Ere many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point in the universe. Paramahamsa Tewari, an electrical engineer and retired Executive Director of The Nuclear Power Corporation of India has built, demonstrated, and has had third party verification of a generator that produces more power than it consumes thus affirming Tesla’s vision.

Out of the Void is scheduled to be released to theaters in Austria in March.  The film is being submitted to other film festivals and distribution in other countries is under consideration.

The next showing of the film will be at the Diagonale Festival in Graz, which takes place from March 8th to March 13th. Please see the trailer. Sit down, turn up the sound and buckle your mental, emotional, and physical seat belts. The English version is here. The German version is here. Scroll down past the description to see the trailer and click on the play button in the middle of the picture.

Announcement of the film debut. Official Release: March 11 – 2016. Vienna, Stadtkino/Künstlerhaus on the evening of March 11th. Saturday, March 12th it will be in Linz, Moviemento-Cinema. March 14th to 16th it will be in Salzburg and Innsbruck.

Reactionless Generator Update

A new version of the RLG is under construction and is expected to be tested by the end of the year. Details to follow, as Mr. Tewari makes them available. More information is at the Out of the Void website. From the gallery, scroll through using the arrow on the right for scenes from the film. See also the Austrian Films website.

More Information on the Reactionless Generator can be found by following these links.

1. Test Report
2. Economic Times of India Report

Why we need this now.  Please review the articles I have posted on and pass on these thoughts as you see fit.

1. We Only Have One Chance To Get It Right: Transition to Renewable Energy
2. Why Life Exists on Earth: A New Perspective on Carbon Emissions
3. Criminal Racketeering by the Fossil Fuel Industry Suppresses an Industry And Accelerates Climate Change

References: Tesla Universe PDF.

Toby Grotz is a Food Not Lawns Kansas City course instructor and organizer. He is also working on increased efficiency generator and transformer design applications. Read all of Toby's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


solar as a retirement strategy

Establishing a secure financial future for your retirement requires that you explore a variety of options, but most homeowners don’t realize that installing a solar panel system can be one of the smartest retirement investment options available. By viewing a home solar panel system as an investment opportunity, homeowners can reduce or even eliminate their electricity bills, freeing up more than $1,000 in cash each year. With the increased availability of $0-down solar loans, homeowners that lack the cash required for an upfront purchase can still take advantage of solar as a retirement investment strategy. 

Solar: A Retirement Investment Option with High Returns

To ensure financial stability, retirees and those planning for their retirement generally invest in lower-risk options. Solar panels are a natural fit: they provide steady, increasing returns, similar to the high returns associated with traditional investments like stocks and bonds, but without the unpredictable fluctuations of those markets.

Going solar generates many significant financial benefits:

Solar significantly reduces or eliminates your electricity bills. Your solar energy system can generate up to 100 percent of your electricity needs, eliminating your electricity bill and freeing up more cash every month to spend or invest elsewhere.

With solar, you can hedge against future price increases. Utility electricity rates go up every year – in 2015, they increased by anywhere from 1.3% to 9.6%.  By generating your own electricity, rather than buying from your utility, you can protect yourself from unpredictable rate increases for the lifetime of your solar energy system (generally 20 to 30 years).

Solar increases the value of your home. Installing a solar energy system is an investment in your property. Multiple studies have shown that homebuyers are willing to pay more for homes that are equipped with solar panels.

Your solar panel system may even generate income. If you live in a state with a market for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), you may be able to earn extra money by selling them. Some utilities also offer production-based incentives that pay you for the electricity your panels generate.

Benefits of solar investments aren’t taxable. Unlike returns from more traditional investment vehicles, your financial returns from solar come in the form of monthly savings, not income (with the exception of SRECs), meaning they are not subject to taxation. 

Choosing the Right Financing for your Solar Retirement Strategy

Your solar energy system will save you money, regardless of the financing option you choose. However, some financing options will generate more returns than others. You can finance your system in one of three ways:

1. Buy the system outright. If you have a CD or other investment that has recently matured, buying your solar energy system in cash is the best way to reinvest it. The average homeowner who goes solar achieves payback in just 7.5 years, and keeps 100 percent of the financial benefits of their solar panel system.

2. Buy the system with a solar loan. If you can’t or don’t want to pay for the system in cash, many banks and other financial institutions offer $0-down, low-interest solar loans to help with your purchase. Monthly payments are typically lower than your monthly electricity bill, enabling you to save money right away. Homeowners retain 40 to 70 percent of the financial benefits of their system with a solar loan, depending on the loan terms.

3. Sign a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA). If you choose a solar lease, you pay no money up front and are charged a reduced monthly rate by the third-party owner to “rent” a solar energy system. This will likely result in 10 to 20 percent savings on your electricity bill for the duration of your lease agreement. A solar lease or PPA is a great option if your income is low enough that you cannot take advantage of the federal tax credit for solar.

Explore the Value of Solar as a Retirement Opportunity

The first step when considering solar as a retirement investment strategy is to find out how much solar can actually contribute to your retirement. EnergySage’s Solar Calculator can give you a quick snapshot of the relative value of different solar financing options in your area, based on your electricity bill and incentives available to you. If you’re ready to start comparing solar quotes, register your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to receive multiple offers from pre-screened solar companies at no cost.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Winter-Weather Solar, Explained

Winter weather solar explained

Memories of cold, snowy winters past can be discouraging even for the hardiest homeowner. If you’re considering going solar, you might wonder whether solar panels can produce electricity in wintry conditions. After all, if you look at solar as an investment, then it should be able to generate returns throughout the year as other investments do. Luckily, plenty of people have both solar panels and snow, and some of the most popular regions in the U.S. for solar have snowy winters. Don’t let winter weather discourage you from going solar!

'Winter-Weather Solar' Isn’t an Oxymoron

You don’t have to live in Phoenix or Los Angeles to achieve strong solar panel performance. As you consider solar panels for your home, remember that even if you live in the northern parts of the U.S., the worst of winter only lasts three months, so your days of low sunlight and heavy snow are limited. And the further from the equator you are, the longer your days are when the summer comes around—so while you may generate slightly less power in the winter months, you can make up for it with more sunshine in the summer.

What Happens to My Solar Panel Performance in Snow?

Solar panel snow problems are usually minimal. However, there are a few things that you should know about the implications of winter weather as you consider installing a solar energy system on your home:

1. All solar panels are designed to bear a certain amount of weight – and snow will usually not be heavy enough to cause issues. All solar panels undergo pressure tests to assess durability and quality. Ratings vary by panel, with higher pressure ratings indicating that your panels are better at withstanding the weight of heavy snow.

2. If snow covers your panels, they can’t produce power – but it’s easy to clean them off. Solar panels need sunlight to produce power, so if your solar panels are covered in snow, they will not generate electricity. Most panels are tilted at an angle, so snow will slide off on its own accord, but that can take time. You can take control of the situation by getting a solar panel snow rake or similar tool made for solar panel snow removal that won’t damage the panels.

3. Cold, sunny weather is actually good for panels. Winter months are actually good for solar energy production, as long as your panels aren’t covered by snow. Like most electronics, solar panels function more efficiently in cold conditions than in hot. This means that your panels will produce more power for each precious hour of sunshine during the short days of winter.

Popularity of solar in cold climates proves winter-weather solar works

Sunny states (like California, Arizona and Florida) are not the only places where solar makes sense. In fact, the top 10 cities for solar in the U.S. aren’t the sunniest ones. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranks Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York in the top 10 for states with the highest amount of installed solar in 2014. This is largely due to the fact that electricity prices are one of the biggest drivers of solar savings ­– the higher your electricity rates, the more money you will save by going solar.

Need further proof? Consider Germany, whose sunshine levels are similar to Alaska’s. For over a decade, this northern European country has led the world in solar panel installations, and solar makes a significant contribution to their national energy mix. Although other countries, including the U.S. and China, are starting to catch up, Germany’s success is a shining example of how winter weather solar can work in countries across the globe.

Now that you know that your solar panels can produce electricity in the winter, consider this: winter is also the best time to shop for solar if you’re a homeowner looking for the best value possible. With the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can compare equipment options and financing products from multiple installers to find the right solar panel system for your needs. Get an instant estimate or register your property today to get started.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



A Guatemalan family receives a micro-financed solar system on their home.

On Capitol Hill, a heated debate is underway about renewing the solar incentive set to expire at the end of 2016. Mixed into the political muck, the importance of solar energy subsidies manages to become murky.

3,000 miles away in a small shack in the rural Guatemalan hills, solutions are simpler. Amid the myriad of midnight insect songs, a boy and his mother see how solar powered lights shine a positive glow on their future.

By using a solar energy, the family has more to eat. Since the arrival of their solar system micro-financed by the Integral Heart Foundation, the family saves $200 annually on candles. That's 1/5 of their annual income! The boy has a reliable light to do his homework by and for the first time in his life, thanks to the foundation, he has homework to do. This educational opportunity offers him opportunities to escape a vicious cycle of generational poverty.

Solar Empowerment and The Integral Heart Foundation

The Integral Heart Foundation combines education for the poor with environmentalism in a way that bypasses the problems facing our developed world.

As economists and environmentalists worry about when the poor become "unpoor" and consume at the rate of the rest of us, solar-powered lights flicker to life in houses and schools in Guatemala. A young orphaned girl is learning to cope with trauma through meditation. Critical thinking and Philosophy are taught to students who a few years ago had very little opportunity to access education.

Kids engaged in the Critical Thinking class provided by The Integral Heart Foundation.

But students of The Integral Heart are not just learning to be successful, they are being taught values to bypass the consumerism and consumption that fuels the fires of the developed world.

"What's the point of helping the poor become just as messed up  [expletive omitted] as us?" someone asked me once in a conversation on educational development for the poor. It's an important question that usually goes unanswered in the structuring of development programs. But it's one that's been thought through by The Integral Heart Foundation whose model is designed to teach their students and dependents to be "better" than us.

Even more crucial, their educational model is built to create a generation of teachers who can exponentially spread the lessons they've been entrusted with.

Mick Quinn, co-founder of the Integral Heart Foundation, was interviewed by his hometown paper and asked what his ultimate goal was with his foundation. "Simple really," he said, "That our current senior students become teachers of the teachers so that the critical thinking and other education programs can continue to evolve long after we are gone."

How to Do a Lot with Little

Here's what's most surprising about all this: The Integral Heart Foundation supports the lives and education of 60 children and teenagers and supports 45 families to reach 350 individuals annually.

In addition to supporting general education, they have five different learning programs: Critical-Thinking, English, Spanish, History and Psychology. These programs go on in 4 separate locations. Since its inception in 2010, their solar power program has illuminated 21 homes and 3 schools. All of this is being accomplished on a $100k annual budget —  than what most charity CEOs make.

For the first time ever, an electric light shines from solar power in a hillside home in rural Guatemala.

How Your Help Can Take the Integral Heart Foundation to the Next Level  

The Integral Heart Foundation has grown from humble roots and is ready to take their model and program to the next level.

For five years, they've used borrowed space across different locations. Now, they are working to raise $20k by January to open an education center in time for the start of classes. This center will also be the hub of their microfinance solar empowerment program.

In the larger scheme of things, $20,000 is a drop in the bucket. But for 60 kids in Guatemala, it will open the doors to a bright future few could have imagined.

This link will take you to the Integral Educational Center’s crowdfunding page. Please reach out and join this cause by helping us reach this goal and passing it along to others. From all the kids in the program, muchisimas gracias!

Photos courtesy The Integral Heart Foundation

Luke Maguire Armstrong has worked in development everywhere from Guatemal, to Kenya, Uganda, and the Bronx. He lectures on topics ranging from human trafficking, economics, philosophy, creative writing, and international affairs. He is the author of the intrepidly acclaimed travel anthology The Nomad’s NomadFollow him @LukeSpartacus and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Most of us have noticed our utility bills increase considerably over the past decade and it’s not all attributable to greater electricity consumption (although that is also part of the problem). Homeowners are also paying more for each kWh they use. In fact, electricity rates have increased everywhere in the United States in the past decade, but the rates vary significantly from state to state. The rates also change from month to month, so we use a handy metric to compare rates across the U.S. in a consistent manner, the rolling 12-month average electricity rate.

As of August 2015, Washington has the lowest rate at 8.83 cents per kWh, whereas Hawaii has the highest at 32.55 cents per kWh. Within the contiguous U.S., Connecticut has the highest rate at 20.97 cents per kWh. The average rate across the U.S. for the same period was 12.61 cents per kWh. Find out how your state compares.  

If you happen to live in one of the states with higher than average electricity rates, you might be considering a switch to solar energy. In my post last month, I discussed how to determine if solar energy makes financial sense for you. This month, I will explain some of your options.

Status Quo

Many homeowners will put off the decision or opt to do nothing and stick with their utility. This might be the right decision in some states or for some particular cases, but for those of you who would do better by switching to solar, it’s important not to delay too much, as the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) is set to expire at the end of 2016.

If you’re unsure about whether you should stick with your utility, maybe you want to consider by how much your electricity rate has increased over the past decade. We call this the escalation rate. The average year over year escalation rate across the U.S. from 2005 through 2014 was 2.9 percent.  If you want to compare that to the average year over year rate of inflation rate in the U.S. since 2005, it was about 1.9 percent. In many states, the escalation rate for electricity has exceeded the inflation rate over the past decade.

Kentucky may have among the lowest electricity rates in the country, with a rolling 12-month average rate of 10.02 cents per kWh, but the average year over year escalation rate since 2005, has been 4.5 percent. The states with the highest year over year escalation rate since 2005 are Hawaii at 6.7 percent and Michigan at 5.5 percent, and the states with the lowest are Louisiana with 0.7 percent and Texas with 0.9 percent.

If sticking with the status quo doesn’t appeal to you, let’s consider your solar options.

Solar Lease

A solar lease is not unlike a car lease, in that it comes with little or no down-payment, you make regular monthly payments, and you don't own the system. A solar lease can be very tempting if you live in a state with high electricity rates and/or a high escalation rate over the past decade, especially when there are a number of companies offering zero-down lease options and the peace of mind that comes from someone else taking on the responsibilities of maintenance for years to come.

In the case of a lease, you get to use all of the solar electricity you produce. Any excess can be returned to the grid for a credit and if you need extra, you purchase it from the utility at the normal retail electricity rate. However, as with any third-party ownership agreement, you will not be able to claim the federal investment tax credit (ITC) of 30% for solar installations.

With a solar lease, it is very important to look at the fine print and to consider your situation carefully. Are you planning on moving anytime soon? If so, ask about your options because a number of homeowners have run into difficulties when it was time to sell their home - not every prospective buyer is going to want to take over your solar lease.

Is there an option to own the panels at the end of the lease term? And what is the escalation rate - in other words, by how much will your monthly payments increase every year? With a solar lease, there is generally a fixed escalation rate for the term of the agreement, so the cost of your solar electricity will go up, but because the escalation rate is fixed, you know exactly by how much it will rise, unlike with retail electricity. For more on leases, check out Anatomy of a solar lease.

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)

A PPA is another third-party ownership arrangement, where you do not own the panels (and cannot claim the ITC). It differs from a lease in that the electricity produced by the system is sold to you at a fixed per-kilowatt-hour rate that is typically less than the retail electricity rate from the utility. Moreover, the escalation rate for the solar electricity is fixed so you know by how much your rate will rise over the term of the agreement.

While this option may be very attractive because of the low or no upfront cost, and the fact that you are unlikely to be responsible for maintenance, it is not for everyone. Like a solar lease, it is very important to consider the fine print and your particular situation.

Solar Purchase/Solar Loan

A solar purchase generally offers you the best return on your investment (ROI) because as the system owner, you can take advantage of the generous ITC available at the federal level, in addition to any available state or municipal incentives. Moreover, your solar electricity is "free" for the lifetime of your panels (on average 25 years) with no risk of cost escalation. But it’s important to note that as the owner of the system, you will be responsible for any required maintenance, which is generally minimal most years, but will eventually include replacement of the inverter(s).

Most people, however, cannot afford an outright purchase, so another option is the solar loan, many of which come with a zero down-payment option. While you will have to pay interest on the loan, the interest rate is fixed for the duration of the loan and there is no escalation rate. Moreover, a solar loan can enable you to capture the ITC, while minimizing the initial investment required.

Again, it's still important to look at the fine-print; in particular, if there any dealer/loan fees that must be paid at the outset. Generally, the lower the interest rate, the higher the initial fees. For more on purchasing your solar panels, check out Buying solar panels for your home.


Electricity rates will surely rise in the coming years, but we don’t know by how much. We can only look at the past to get an idea of what might transpire. However, there are many things homeowners can do today to manage their electricity bills, starting with reducing electricity consumption, especially during peak periods, implementing home energy-efficiency measures, and switching to solar energy.

Fortunately, the cost of solar has decreased significantly, by about 50 percent in the last five years, so solar energy is becoming more and more affordable. Switching to solar energy doesn’t make financial sense for everyone just yet, but it does for those who live in states with high electricity rates and/or high escalation rates.

You can use Sunmetrix Discover to figure out if solar is right for you (just enter an address or zip code to get started!). But remember, if you live in a state where solar will save you money, or where it will very shortly, you don’t want to miss out on the solar Investment Tax Credit of 30 percent which is set to expire at the end of 2016.

Simone Garneau is the co-founder of Sunmetrix, an online consumer education and customer acquisition platform for residential solar energy. The goal of Sunmetrix is to help homeowners go solar. In addition to the 200+ articles about solar energy, Sunmetrix offers homeowners two main tools: Discover and GO. Read all of Simone's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Environmental impact of solar energy

Solar energy is a win-win: in addition to its significant financial benefits, going solar is also great for the environment. When your solar panels generate electricity, they produce zero emissions, which means they don’t contribute to climate change or health issues like more traditional sources of energy. They also draw their energy from the sun, an abundant resource that will be available and accessible across the world for the foreseeable future. All that said, what you may not realize is that there is actually an environmental impact of solar energy too.

Solar panels produce zero emissions once installed on your roof, which means their environmental impact is negligible for most of their life. However, solar panels aren’t zero-emissions resources for their entire lifetime – as they have to be manufactured in a factory first, as well as recycled at the end of their useful life. These two processes are where solar actually has an environmental impact.

Many researchers frame the environmental impact of solar energy with the concept of energy payback time, or EPBT. The EPBT tells us how long it will take for solar panels to produce enough clean electricity to “pay back” the energy that was used to produce them. This calculation varies depending on a few different factors, including:

1. The productivity of your solar panels. If you live in an area that has lots of sunlight, and your solar panels are very efficient, then your system will generate more electricity and have a shorter EPBT.

2. How your solar panels are produced. Some solar panels require more energy to produce than others. For example, thin-film modules have a smaller footprint than silicon modules, because less energy is needed to manufacture them.

3. Where your solar panels are made. Solar panels have to be transported from where they were made to where they will be installed. If your solar panels were manufactured in Europe or Asia but installed in the U.S. then they had to be transported further, requiring more energy usage and thus increasing their EPBT. 

Environmental Impact of Solar Energy Is Net Positive

The good news is that, while the EPBT of a solar panel is dependent on many factors, the market is moving in the right direction. In 1970, the average energy payback time for solar panels was 40 years. By 2010, that number had dropped to just six months.

As the solar industry matures, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to make solar panels more efficiently, which means that solar’s EPBT will continue to decrease. For example, in the past 10 years, there has been a 62 percent decrease in the amount of material used for silicon cells, thanks to increased efficiency and thinner designs. This decrease means that less energy is spent processing silicon during the manufacturing process. And as more solar panels are retired, recycling them will become more cost-effective and efficient too, further reducing their EPBT.

On top of that, it’s important to remember that solar panels can generate energy for 25 to 35 years. For the average homeowner, going solar is like eliminating the emissions created by a car that drives 18,000 miles per year – a tremendous environment benefit. So while the environmental impact of solar energy is greater than zero, its overall benefits far outweigh its costs.

In summary, the environmental impact of solar energy is minimal, but still something that should be considered when evaluating what country your panels were manufactured in, or what their efficiency rating is. By comparing options from multiple solar companies, you can find the best equipment package to minimize your environmental impact. Get an instant estimate or register your property to start your solar journey today.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Read Part 1, Resources, of this series here. Read Part 2, Electricity, here. Read Part 3, Water, here. Read Part 4, Food, here.

A happy home warms your heart and the sun warms your home, either way, heart or home, sometimes it can be too hot or too cold. In the Cascade Mountains, where I live, the outside temperature ranges from 100 degrees F in summer down to freezing in winter.

In any climate, the least expensive heat systems are the thermal features of the house itself designed to conserve heat and reduce fuel costs. My affordable small house has six inches of insulation in the walls (R19), ten inches in the ceiling (R30), all the pipes are insulated, the attic is ventilated, and the root cellar under the first floor is exposed to the earth. My shady front porch faces north and stays cool, while the attached greenhouse faces south and stays warm. There are operable vents on each wall of the two floors and a cook vent fan on the first floor and a ceiling fan in the second floor.

Heat energy is constantly flowing from hot to cold areas. Controlling heat flow by slowing it with insulation or increasing it with ventilation, collecting and releasing heat by storing solar energy, and/or burning fuels is how to manage heat for comfort.

Summer and Winter Modes

Renewable energy needs to be optimized for the season and often requires two sets of devices, for example, in summer I run a solar hot water collector and solar electric refrigerator; in winter I run a woodstove for space heat and hot water.

summer-winter modes

In order to see how my heat systems are working I use several thermometers: one placed on each floor, one on the porch, one in the greenhouse, one in the root cellar, two for the refrigerator/freezer, one on the woodstove, and one in the solar oven. Although I don’t need a thermometer to find out my pipes are frozen or that the hot water is cold, the temperature data helps me fine-tune my systems.

Wrestling with the Woodstove

Woodstoves do not have thermostats and do not put out heat unless constantly tended by hand. Pellet woodstoves have automatic hoppers, but purchasing bags of pellets is more expensive than my own silviculture harvest. Costs aside, keeping my woodstove stoked has led to choosing between losing sleep to keep it stoked every hour, or letting it go out overnight and waking up to a cold house and waiting until the woodstove has burned a few hours to bring the house up to a comfortable temperature.

Other issues with woodstoves: Starting the fire may cause smoke to back draft into the house. This is because the heat from the fire has to be great enough push cold air up the stove pipe before it will vent normally. I use a torch to start the fire — first directing the torch up the stove pipe for about 60 seconds, then ignite the wood and close the woodstove and its air inlet vent.

After five to ten minutes, the feeble flames generate lots of warm smoke and build up enough heat to travel up the stove pipe, and then I open the air inlet and add more wood.

If you are connected to city energy, or run a large electric generator and/or a large propane tank, you simply set the thermostat and then pay the cost of the fuel, which is much more expensive than renewable energy heat sources. My expenses are 10 times less compared to a typical utility bill in a nearby town. My annual fuel consumption: 15 gallons of propane (cooking), 20 gallons of gasoline (backup generator), and 2 cords of wood (space heat and hot water), supplemented with free solar energy for cooking, hot water, space heat, and electricity.

Solar Heating Options

There are two types of solar thermal heating for your home’s space heat or hot water:

1. Passive heating—has no moving components; heat is transferred by convection through a thermal mass and into the space or water to be heated.

2. Active heating—uses pumps or fans to transfer heated air or water past a solar collector and into a thermal mass.

There are two types of solar hot water collectors, each optimized for different climates:

1. Evacuated tube collector—are very efficient and most suited to cloudy climates. Evacuated tubes have a ‘heat pipe’ mounted inside which is connected to a manifold with additional tubes.

2. Flat plate collector—works well in sunny climates. Flat plate collectors are lengths of copper tubing connected to a manifold and mounted on the surface of a sheet metal plate, all painted black and enclosed in a flat box with glass to admit the sunlight.

Solar Cooking Options

Solar cooking is accomplished by using reflectors or lenses to concentrate the sunlight, thereby producing elevated temperatures where the food is placed for cooking. 300+ degrees F can be achieved in a box style solar cooker. One caution is that since the food must be loaded on the reflector side, eye protection must be worn.

You can re-purpose a conventional oven into a solar oven by cutting off the back top edge of the oven and adding a glass window and reflectors to admit sunlight into the oven. The food is loaded through the existing oven door, opposite the reflector side. You can make this as a built-in oven on the south wall of your home, so the oven door opens into the kitchen and the reflector and bulk of the oven is outside.

More detailed information on solar and fossil fuel heating and cooking methods are available in my book, Hut-Topia.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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