How Solar Energy Can Be Unleashed

Since the dawn of time, man has attempted to harness nature. It’s something of an obsession. We’ve cultivated crops, domesticated animals, built cities, dug up fossil fuels, and even landed on the moon. But, the most common and powerful source of energy at our fingertips has been ignored by many executives and innovators for far too long.

Until very recently, solar power has been a passing fad that only the most die-hard of green energy converts and NASA would tout, and yet the technology never died. It continued to develop, to innovate, and to become more efficient.

The first solar cell was created in 1941 by an enterprising American working with silicon named Russell Ohl. It’s been 70 years since that first breakthrough, and solar technology has come a long way.

Cars have been built with solar cellssolar cells powering electric car

By GoShow (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Houses have been taken off the energy grid with solar and wind energy sources. You can go out right now and buy your very own solar energy kit and start tapping into that the power of that great big orb in the sky.

With the world realizing with increasing urgency that our traditional energy sources just aren’t cutting it any longer, solar is finally coming into its own. This is a soon-to-be multi-billion dollar worldwide industry.

And, with the right tools and knowledge in your back pocket, you can be at the forefront, heating your water, powering your garden lights, or even bumping your entire home off the energy grid once and for all with green energy.

And it all starts with knowledge – the basic facts about how this innovative technology actually works and why you haven’t heard nearly enough about it in the last decade as our oil prices have skyrocketed.

It’s Not Just Solar Cells

Even if you know nothing about how solar energy works, you’ve probably heard about or seen those foil-lined, shiny solar cells that sit atop businesses and schools. These photovoltaic (PV) cells are just one form of technology at our fingertips used to convert the sun’s rays into a viable form of energy for our homes, electronics and cars.

But, with the right technology, the sun can be used for all sorts of other energy transference. The dream of converting your entire home to solar dependency doesn’t have to be out of reach. Ignore the critics that say it’s a passing fad or that the savings take too long to manifest.

Other technologies exist that provide opportunities to save money, and there are many methods available to do your part to minimize your carbon footprint. We’re talking about:

  • Solar hot water
  • Solar collectors
  • Active solar space heating
  • Photovoltaics

And that’s just the solar side of things. You can also boost your natural energy sources by utilizing wind power and by cutting back on your current consumption rates.

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10 More Ways to Cut Down On Electricity & Your Bills

Right now, there are a lot of conversations going on around the world about what we should be doing to resolve the energy crisis. Compounding it is the fact that our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a growing climate change problem.

But, as a consumer, you can do your own part to cut back on consumption. Not only will you help to reduce how much energy is used around the globe, but you’ll be preparing for further price increases, reducing your bills and making it possible to survive in a world where energy costs dwarf other basic necessities.

This article is going to help you try out a range of options that will outline where your energy is currently going and how you can cut back that use immediately. With a world depending on us, it’s our responsibility to take action now, not when our kids are grown and the earth has already been sucked dry.

1. Wash Clothes Smartly – Washing machines and dryers make upwashing machine a huge chunk of your monthly energy use. First off, cut down how often you do laundry. Only run the machines when you have a full load, and use cold water whenever possible. Additionally, check your exhaust vents, and have your washer serviced to make sure it is working properly.

2. Check for Leaks and Improper Insulation – Homes with poor insulation or leaks in air vents can bleed energy. Have an inspection done to check for thin walls, poorly sealed doors, leaking air vents, or other issues that can cause energy loss. In some cities, there are public programs for low-income families and the elderly to provide free insulation. If nothing else, home insulation is a big tax write-off.

3. Plant Trees Carefully – Trees around your home can provide much-needed shade in the summer and sun in the winter. Southern and western exposures are best, and you should plant deciduous trees so that the leaves are gone in the winter to let winter sun in. You can also install awnings each summer to reduce direct sunlight into your home.

4. Prewash and Load the Dishwasher – Dishwashers suck energy to heat water. To cut back on that energy use, scrape and pre-rinse your dishes, and then use a lower cycle for your dishwasher.

5. Hang Your Clothes to Dry – If possible, avoid using your dryer altogether. Hang clotheslines in your basement and backyard. As long as it is not below freezing outside, wet clothes will dry in nearly any temperature. The only issue can be with prolonged high humidity.

6. Seal Windows in the Winter – Leaky windows can lead to a tremendous amount of lost heat in the winter. Make sure you install storm windows, and that the seals around your windows are properly caulked to avoid leakage.

7. Use Shades in the Summer – Instead of letting all that sunlight into your house and fighting it back with an air conditioner, use shades that can let in the cool air but block the sunlight. Again, yowindow shadesu should also consider installing awnings to block direct sunlight.

By Sarah Stierch (originally posted to Flickr as Independence Hall) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

8. Don’t Idle Your Car Unnecessarily – Idling a car wastes gasoline. Most cars can be warmed up by driving them. Instead of sitting in your car and idling without moving, drive it to warm it up before you hit the highway. Additionally, avoid city streets whenever possible to improve gas mileage.

9. Tune Up Your Car Regularly – Regular tune-ups and oil changes in your car will improve gas mileage and reduce the need for costly repairs. Even if you have a new car with no problems, make sure you stick to your regular maintenance schedule to reduce potentially massive bills.

10. Reduce Weight in the Car – Take out any unnecessary weight from your trunk or back seat. Extra weight reduces gas mileage and slows your car down, also putting a heavier burden on the engine, which can cost you later.

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10 Ways to Cut Down On Electricity & Your Bills

Right now, your biggest concerns are the bills you have to pay, not the future of our earth’s energy sources. So, understandably, you’d rather hear what we can do right now to change what you spend than what you should be doing with money you don’t have to replace that energy use.

To start with, understand that cutting your bills is not as easy as waving a wand and waiting for meters to run backwards. It takes hard work and sacrifice to reduce the bills you currently have. And if you have a family, cutting down on expenses is going to be even harder. Children and spouses are not always amenable to giving up their refrigerator grazing habits or their superhot showers. So, put on your gauntlets and buckle down because we’re about to do some serious slashing of your budget.

Before You Get Started

Before you invest any time into cutting back your bills, I want you to do something very important. Call a family meeting, sit down with your kids and spouse, and discuss what’s about to happen. Many times, a backlash occurs because you don’t consult everyone before making changes. Putting up signs, unplugging appliances and canceling services can be frustrating for a family. So, instead of thrusting major changes into everyone’s lives without notice, sit down and ask them their opinions.

It may not change your decisions, but just by discussing it, you can lay out clearly why the changes are being made and how they will benefit everyone in the long term. Mention what the savings will be spent on, how you’re helping the environment and why you feel it is a necessary step. If properly communicated, your family should understand why these changes are being made.

1. Replace Incandescent Bulbs – Old fashioned, incandescent bulbs are a huge money waster, both in energy use and cost of replacement. Modern fluorescent bulbs can last up to 5 years and use a fraction of the energy. If you’re aiming for even bigger savings, go with LED light bulbs, which can last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use even less energy than fluorescents.

2. Unplug Your Devices – Most people figure that when they hit the power button, their appliance or electronic stops sucking juice from the wall. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. Electricity may not be flowing and getting consumed, but it is very much being used. So, don’t just turn devices like your computer and TV off; unplug them when not in use.light switch

3. Turn Off Lights – This is a simple one that you’ve likely heard since you were old enough to know what light switch is. But don’t just turn the lights off when not in the room.. Turn them off at all times unless you specifically need that light to do something.

By Numb631 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Buy Energy Star Appliances – The U.S. Government has a program that rates and labels appliances that are considered high efficiency in terms of energy use. Look for the Energy Star label, and research the energy use statistics, which by law must be labeled on all major appliances.

5. Wash Clothes Smartly – Washing machines and dryers make up a huge chunk of your monthly energy use. First off, cut down how often you do laundry. Only run the machines when you have a full load, and use cold water whenever possible. Additionally, check your exhaust vents, and have your washer serviced to make sure it is working properly.

6. Change the Thermostat – In the winter, drop your thermostat to a bearable temperature – around 68°F (20°C) during the day , 60°F (16°C) at night. In the summer, raise it to 78°F (26°C). The small difference from the standard room temperature can save you hundreds of dollars a year, especially if you live in an extreme climate.

7. Turn Off Your Computer – Computers leach tremendous alaptop computermounts of electricity, even when in hibernation modes. If you’re not using a computer, turn it off – simple as that. Additionally, make sure it is attached to a power strip that you can turn off whenever the computer is off.

By Jeff777BC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

8. Use Smaller Appliances for Small Meals – If you’re only making a small meal or feeding one or two people, avoid turning on your oven or stove. An Energy Star microwave or toaster oven will provide plenty of heat to warm up a bowl of soup or cook a cheese sandwich.

9. Use Power Strips to Control Use – Use power strips on every outlet that you can. They not only reduce direct energy use; they allow you to turn off the power being used without having to unplug every appliance individually. It’s also a good idea to have power strips to avoid surges that can harm your devices.

10. Go Outside Instead of Watching TV – The more time you spend inside, the more electricity you use. So, instead of constantly watching TV, surfing the Internet and playing video games, go outside and enjoy a sport or read a book.

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Why Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) Are the Future

Electrification of vehicles is the future. But, for most people, there still remains a psychological barrier against pure electric vehicles as they envision getting stranded with a dead battery and no place and/or no time to recharge.

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is the next logical step and we hear large car makers also touting the great benefits of PHEVs. You skip the gas station, save time and money, and it takes away the fear factor on the limited range.

Electric car wireless parking charge

PHEVs can deliver double the gasoline equivalent of a regular car and car owners could save money in their sleep, recharging in the off hours when electricity is cheapest. Compared with hydrogen fuel-cell cars, the infrastructure for electric cars already exists, requiring only more charging places.
Charging stations

Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids Charging at SanFrancisco City Hall public recharging station. By Felix Kramer (CalCars).

[Image retouched with Photoshop and uploaded by User:Mariordo[CC BY-SA 2.0(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],via Wikimedia Commons]

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