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Renewable Energy

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

All Kinds of Solar: Understanding the Options

It's surprising how many different ways you can use solar power. People tap solar energy for heating, cooking and electricity, and for all those tasks there are both commercial products and DIY plans. Here's a quick overview of the many ways people choose to go solar.

Photovoltaics (PV). Put photovoltaic panels on your roof, and they can produce electricity for your home. Here's an article about a home-size PV system, a plan to use a smaller PV system for  DIY solar lighting, and information about how to calculate the costs and payback period of your own PV system.

Solar Hot Water. A solar water heating system can provide all the hot water your household needs. Learn about the benefits of purchasing a solar water heater, or how to build your own.

Solar Space Heating.  You can also use the sun for home heating. Learn more about the commercial options for solar heat collectors with this buyers' guide to solar heating, or find out how to build your own. (This simple DIY space heater heats the air directly, while this more complex solar heating plan heats water and warms the building with radiant floor heat.)

Passive Solar Design. Another strategy for heating your home with the sun's energy is to capture heat through the entire building's design, rather than through a single solar heat collector as described above. Here's an article with more about using the principles of passive solar design to take advantage of natural heating and cooling.

Concentrating Solar Power. When you buy electricity from your utility it usually comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels, but in a growing number of locations utility companies are offering clean renewable energy from sources such as hydropower, wind — and yes solar. One of the most promising technologies for these large solar power plants is concentrating solar power.

Other Uses for Solar Power. There are many other ways people are harnessing the sun, including with solar cookers, solar food dryers, solar water distillers and solar tractors and mowers.

Do you use solar power in your home? Have you found other ways to tap solar energy? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.


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