Snow-coatged solar hot water heating panels on a Poughkeepsie NY rooftop (C) 2013 Daniel FriedmanSolar & Renewable Energy
Solar Energy System Types, Uses, Installation Best Practices

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These solar energy articles discuss how to choose, install, diagnose, & repair renewable energy systems for buildings including active and passive solar heating & solar hot water heating systems, solar powered electrical systems (photovoltaics), along with building insulation & ventilation design & retrofit tips to save energy where solar or other alternative energy systems are in use or planned.

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Solar Energy Designs & Retrofit Improvements in Buildings

Solar electrical power array, San Miguel de Allende (C) Daniel Friedman Solar electrical power array, San Miguel de Allende (C) Daniel Friedman

The green power solar electrical panel array shown above is distributed by Desmex Solar and is installed in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This solar energy system provides all of the electrical energy required by a small restaurant, including powering lighting and nine refrigerators and coolers in the building.

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Our page top photo illustrates an extensive photovoltaic solar panel system installed on a building providing commercial rental space in New Paltz, N.Y. The property owners expect a rapid payback on the system cost thanks in part to government incentive program assistance. Satisfied with the performance of the solar panels in reducing building electrical costs the owners intend to install a similar system on residential apartment space in New Paltz as well.

Solar Energy Articles, Information, Products, Sources

Solar heating installation (C) Daniel FriedmanOur articles listed below provide detail about solar energy sources, installation, maintenance, inspection, diagnosis, and repair.

Articles in this series include solar energy, solar heating, solar hot water, and related building energy efficiency improvement articles including material reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.

We include links to solar design guides and other authoritative sources.

Our photograph (left) shows solar panels, both photovoltaic and domestic hot water heating systems, on a rooftop in Surprise, Arizona.

According to the Pennsylvania DEP who provide a nice introduction to solar power, solar energy systems are divided into three major categories: passive solar systems, solar-thermal systems, and photovoltaic solar systems.

The text below is adapted and expanded upon from that source:

Definition of Passive Solar Systems: Using Building Design Features to Take Advantage of & Control Solar Heat Gain

Direct solar gain (C) Daniel Friedman

Passive solar design (PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN METHOD) takes advantage of a building's structure to capture the sun's heat, either storing or distributing it, reducing the need for conventional heating, cooling and/or lighting.

Examples of passive solar design include large, south-facing windows, dark colored tile floors (BLOCKBED RADIANT FLOORS - SOLAR DESIGN), stone fireplaces, brick interior walls, "sunspaces" (or greenhouses) and super-insulation.

Passive solar buildings are often equipped with features, such as overhangs (SOLAR SHADES & SUNSCREENS) and ventilation systems, which keep them cool in the summer months and warm in the winter months. Passive solar buildings may also make use of special window glazing (SUNGAIN, FILMS, LOW-E GLASS) to control un-wanted heat loss in cold weather and un-wanted gain in hot weather.

See PASSIVE SOLAR HOME, LOW COST for an example of a low-budget passive solar design.

The effectiveness of passive solar heating is discussed at PASSIVE SOLAR HEAT PERFORMANCE.

Our passive solar gain photo (above left) is from the author's New York home.

Definition of Solar-Thermal Systems: Using Solar Energy to Heat Water to Operate Electricity-Generating Turbines

Power plants often use fossil fuels as a heat source to boil water. The steam from the boiling water then rotates a large turbine, activating a generator that produces electricity. Solar-thermal concentrating systems use sunlight as the heat source, eliminating the need for fossil fuels.

There are three types of solar-thermal concentrating systems & parabolic troughs, parabolic dishes and central receivers. Parabolic troughs, primarily used for industrial purposes, are curved reflectors that focus sunlight into a line receiver in which fluid is heated.

Parabolic dishes, also used in industrial applications, are bowl-shaped reflectors that focus sunlight into a small receiver through which passes a heat-transfer fluid. Central receivers, which have traditionally dominated the U.S. Department of Energy's solar thermal program, are sun-tracking mirrors that focus sunlight onto a large receiver.

Residential heating of water using solar systems is not in turn for the generation of electrical power as the PA DEP outlined above, but rather to produce domestic hot water (SOLAR HOT WATER HEATERS) or in some cases, heat storage or to heat swimming pools (SWIMMING POOL SOLAR HEAT, INDOOR). Special applications of solar heating or boiling of water of interest to smaller-scale users includes SOLAR WATER DISINFECTION such as might be used at a remote cabin or in areas where potable water is not available.

Definition of Photovoltaic Cell Solar Systems: Using Solar Energy to Create Electricity in Arrays of Devices that Change Sunlight into Electrical Energy

Solar powered street lighting, Haddonfield NJ (C) 2013 Daniel Friedman

Photovoltaic (PV) cells, or solar cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. [A photovoltaic cell is an electrical device made of layers of semiconductor materials that are excited by sunlight and give off electrical energy.]

As the sun strikes a PV cell (PHOTOVOLTAIC POWER SYSTEMS), the semi-conducting materials within the cell absorb the sunlight, producing electricity. Solar cells are often used as simple systems that power small calculators and wristwatches. More complicated systems provide electricity for pumping water, powering communications equipment, lighting homes, and running appliances.

In residential applications, photovoltaics are also popular for remote cabins where conventional electrical power is not available (REMOTE ELECTRIC POWER, PHOTOVOLTAIC).

A series of solar cells form a PV array or "solar panel." Between 10 and 50 solar panels are needed to power an average household. PV panels are installed on buildings in places of maximum sun and minimal shade in order to take full advantage of the sun's power. There is very little maintenance required to sustain solar equipment. So long as panels are kept clean, they can last approximately 20 to 30 years. Also see SOLAR COLLECTOR EFFICIENCY COMPARISONS.

Our photovoltaic solar panel photo (above left) shows the use of passive solar energy to power street lighting in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Solar Grid-Tied vs Distributed Solar Systems

Snow-coatged solar hot water heating panels on a Poughkeepsie NY rooftop (C) 2013 Daniel Friedman

Our photo illustrates snow-coated solar hot water heating system panels on a Poughkeepsie NY rooftop during snowy winter weather.

A solar grid-tied system links a series of solar panels through a power inverter to the utility's electric grid. The solar panels generate a direct current (DC) by drawing on energy from the sun.

The inverter then converts that direct current to an alternating current (AC), which electronic devices and appliances can use. Batteries are not necessary to supplement the system and any excess electricity generated by the solar panels is redirected by the inverter back into the grid where it can be used on other premises.

Distributed solar systems work independently from a utility's electric grid, using batteries to store the power. Similar to a grid-tied system, distributed solar panels typically use a power inverter to convert the direct current from the sun into an alternating current, to be used on location. However, some systems function without an inverter and run only DC appliances.

Index to Solar Energy Information at InspectApedia

Solar Water Heating Systems

Closeup of a solar water heater collector unit (C) Daniel FriedmanSolar water heaters use renewable energy - sunlight - collected in outdoor rooftop or ground-mounted solar collectors to heat water which is circulated by a pump between a hot water storage tank and the panels.

The upper end of a simple solar water heater collector is shown in our photo at left. Look closely and behind the corrugated plastic surface, at the top you can see the horizontal black tubing that moves water through the top end of this collector.

Solar water heaters have been in use for decades, with popular use at remote cottages or off-the-grid buildings and are likely to see increasing use in much of the world as energy costs continue to climb.

  • SOLAR WATER HEATERS discusses the basic types of solar hot water heating systems and provides links to in-depth information from a variety of expert sources

List of Solar Heating Systems, Panels, Controls, Components, Packaged Systems

Schematic of a solar water heater hookup (C) - Lennox IndustriesSketch at left courtesy of Lennox Industries.

  • Access Water Energy, PO Box 2061, Moorabbin, VIC 3189, Australia, Tel: 1300 797 758, email: Moorabbin Office: Kingston Trade Centre, 100 Cochranes Rd, Moorabbin, VIC 3189
    Australian supplier of: Greywater systems, Solar power to grid packages, Edwards solar systems, Vulcan compact solar systems, water & solar system pumps & controls, and a wide rage of above ground & under ground water storage tanks: concrete, steel, plastic, modular, and bladder storage tanks.
  • 2 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Cells, Hughes Solar Energy
    Superior Class A Monocrystalline Solar Cells. These cells have no facial marring and a uniform deep blue phosphorous layer. These cells are used to create high-quality, DIY solar panels and can be assembled in series to make solar modules that exceed production quality, while saving hundreds of dollars off retail. There are now a lot of online sellers selling Evergreen,Motech and German castoff cells that do not rate as the advertised wattage or are thin line errs.We have never done this and never will.We do not prey upon the lack of knowledge of new,inexperienced buyers and want solar accepted and used as widely as possible.Its is not only good for business but the future of solar energy! This sale is for 36 solar cells.
  • Sunforce 22010 12-Watt Folding Solar Panel, Sunforce
  • Sunforce 37015 60-Watt Solar Panel - Crystalline, Sunforce,
    The Sunforce 37015 60 Watt Crystalline Solar Panel is designed for RVs, homes, boats, back-up and remote power use, 12-volt battery charging, and solar power stations. Built with high efficiency crystalline cells, this weatherproof panel is easy to install and comes equipped with wiring, brackets and screws. And for more power, you can easily connect multiple panels. This panel has a maximum output of 60 watts and 4 amps.
  • Sunforce 7 Amp Charge Controller
    The Sunforce 60012 7 Amp Charge Controller prevents overcharging of 12-volt batteries. It is intended for use with 12-volt solar panels, and can handle up to 7 amps of array current and up to 100 watts of solar power. The controller is easy to use with a charging light that indicates that your battery is charging, and a green light that indicates a fully charged battery. The 60012 measures 4 x 1 x 2.5 inches (WxHxD) and weighs one pound.
  • Sunforce 50044 60-Watt Solar Charging Kit
    The Sunforce 50044 60 Watt Solar Charging Kit gives you another reason to love the sun -- it'll help keep your batteries charged. This kit is excellent for cabins, remote power, back-up power, and 12-volt battery charging. The kit includes a PVC mounting frame, 7 Amp charge controller, 200-watt inverter, and wiring/connection cables. And with the built-in blocking diode technology, this charger kit is designed to protect against battery discharge at night. You can also use this kit to maintain the charge on any 12-volt battery for clean, silent operation of various electronics, such as deer feeders and landscaping pumps. The 50044 features a built-in ultra-bright blue LED charging indicator, and is a great choice for automobiles, recreational vehicles (RV), tractors, all terrain vehicles (ATV), boats, electric fences, telemetry and more, and it is even effective on cloudy days. This battery charger kit is made of durable ABS plastic and amorphous solar cells and has a maximum temperature range of -40 to 176-degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cobra CPI 1575 1500 Watt 12 Volt DC to 120 Volt AC Power Inverter, 1500 Watts Continuous Power, 3000 Watts Peak Power, Three grounded AC receptacles and 5-Volt USB output - [Quoting]
    This inverter provides household power on the go. It converts battery power to 120 V AC household power, allowing you to power up office equipment and household appliances from your vehicle. This unit is ideal for such appliances as microwave ovens (1000 watts or less), coffee makers, laptops, TVs, video game consoles, CD and DVD players, cell phone chargers, and more.
  • Cobra CPI-A4000BC AC Power Inverter AWG Cables

List of Solar Heating Design, Installation, Repair Books & Guides

  • Solar Design Books and Guides
    • PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN KEY ELEMENTS - what are the key elements in passive solar design? - US DOE (supplemented with additional photos, commentary, text) - Online text
    • Passive Solar Design Handbook Volume I, the Passive Solar Handbook Introduction to Passive Solar Concepts, in a version used by the U.S. Air force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at
    • Passive Solar Design Handbook Volume II, the Passive Solar Handbook Comprehensive Planning Guide, in a version used by the U.S. Air force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at [This is a large PDF file that can take a while to load]
    • Passive Solar Handbook Volume III, the Passive Solar Handbook Programming Guide, in a version used by the U.S. Air force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at
    • The Passive Solar Design and Construction Handbook, Steven Winter Associates (Author), Michael J. Crosbie (Editor), Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-047118382 or 0471183083 is available at and via the The Passive Solar Design and Construction Handbook, Steven Winter Associates (Author), Michael J. Crosbie (Editor), Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-047118382 or 0471183083 is available at and via the InspectAPedia Bookstore
    • "Passive Solar Home Design", U.S. Department of Energy, describes using a home's windows, walls, and floors to collect and store solar energy for winter heating and also rejecting solar heat in warm weather
  • The Homeowner's Guide to Renewable Energy: Achieving Energy Independence through Solar, Wind, Biomass and Hydropower (Mother Earth News Wiser Living), Dan Chiras, ISBN13: 9780865715363
    The coming energy crisis caused by a peak in global oil and natural gas production will profoundly affect the lives of all North Americans. As the price of these vital fuels rises, homeowners will scramble to cut their fuel bills. Two options for meeting the upcoming challenge are dramatic improvements in home energy efficiency and efforts to tap into clean, affordable, renewable energy resources to heat and cool homes, to provide hot water and electricity, and even to cook. These measures can result in huge savings and a level of energy independence.
    The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy tells you how. It starts by outlining the likely impacts of fossil fuel shortages and some basic facts about energy. It then discusses energy conservation to slash energy bills and prepare for renewable energy options. Focusing carefully on specific strategies needed to replace specific fuels, the book then examines each practical energy option available to homeowners:
    • Solar hot water, cooking, and water purification • Space heat: passive and active solar retrofits • Wood heat • Passive cooling • Solar electricity • Wind-generated electricity • Electricity from microhydropower sources • Emerging technologies—hydrogen, fuel cells, methane digesters, and biodiesel
    The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy gives readers sufficient knowledge to hire and communicate effectively with contractors and, for those wanting do installations themselves, it recommends more detailed manuals. With a complete resource listing, this well-illustrated and accessible guide is a perfect companion for illuminating the coming dark age.
  • The Renewable Energy Handbook, Revised Edition: The Updated Comprehensive Guide to Renewable Energy and Independent Living, William H. Kemp,
    This revised edition of The Renewable Energy Handbook focuses on the unique requirements of off-grid living as well as using "green" energy for homeowners who remain connected to the electrical utility. The book contains chapters on:
    * Energy efficiency and economics * Home heating and cooling and domestic water heating * Photovoltaic, wind, and micro-hydro energy generation * Battery selection and inverters * Backup power, wireless communications, etc.
    It includes comprehensive specifications for many of the products available in the market today. Whether you are just curious or an industry expert, this handbook will show you how to stretch your energy dollars (doing much more with less) while powering your home with renewable energy. And, unlike fossil fuels or nuclear energy, renewable energy frees you from worry about dumping today's pollution on tomorrow's children. Since its release in 2003, The Renewable Energy Handbook has been a top-selling technology book and is recognized as the best in its field. This edition has been fully revised for 2010 and beyond. It has been increased in size to an easy-to-read 8 x 10 inch format, and it is augmented with hundreds of illustrations, line drawings, photographs, and appendices.
  • Solar Engineering of Thermal Processes, John A. Duffie, William A. Beckman, Wiley; 3rd Ed (August 25, 2006), ISBN-10: 0471698679, ISBN-13: 978-0471698678
    The updated, cornerstone engineering resource of solar energy theory and applications. Solar technologies already provide energy for heat, light, hot water, electricity, and cooling for homes, businesses, and industry. Because solar energy only accounts for one-tenth of a percent of primary energy demand, relatively small increases in market penetration can lead to very rapid growth rates in the industry???which is exactly what has been projected for coming years as the world moves away from carbon-based energy production. Solar Engineering of Thermal Processes, Third Edition provides the latest thinking and practices for engineering solar technologies and using them in various markets.
  • Solar Power Your Home For Dummies, Rik DeGunther, ISBN13: 9780470596784, [Quoting]
    Want to take advantage of solar power in your home? Whether you’re looking to save on your energy costs by adding a few solar components or you want to build a solar-powered house from the ground up, Solar Power For Dummies, 2nd Edition takes the mystery out of this energy source and shows you how to put it to work for you!
    This new edition gives you hands-on tips and techniques for making your home more energy-efficient though solar power—and helping the planet at the same time. Plus, you’ll get all the latest information on changes to federal, state, and local regulations, laws, and tax incentives that seek to make solar-power adoption more feasible.
  • Solar Electricity Handbook: 2010 Edition, A Simple Practical Guide to Solar Energy - Designing and Installing Photovoltaic Solar Electric Systems, Michael Boxwell
    The Solar Electricity Handbook is a practical and straightforward guide to using electric solar panels. Assuming no previous knowledge of solar panels, the book explains how solar panels work, how they can be used and explains the steps you need to take to successfully design and install a solar electric system from scratch using photovoltaic solar panels. Accompanying this book is a solar resource website containing lots of useful information, lists of suppliers and on-line solar energy calculators that will simplify the cost analysis and design processes.
  • Solar Power (Energy for Today), Tea Benduhn, [Review quote]
    Packaged in a small, square format, this title presents a surprising amount of information about solar power in brief sentences that are calibrated to newly confident readers’ abilities. The short chapters start with essential definitions of terms such as solar system before moving into topics such as renewable energy and greenhouse gases. The selection of well-chosen color photos, which are crisply reproduced on each page, is particularly strong in final chapters about solar technology, and the close-up images of a solar-powered car and tent will attract young browsers. Readers will likely need help with advanced concepts, for example, global warming, which is illustrated with a helpful diagram, but the language is direct, clear, and enlightening. A short glossary, resource list, and index close this strong title in the Energy for Today series. This will partner well with Helen Orme’s Energy for the Future, also reviewed in this issue, in elementary units on the environment. Grades 2-4. --Gillian Engberg
  • Solar Power Your Home For Dummies, Rik DeGunther
    Want to take advantage of solar power in your home? Whether you’re looking to save on your energy costs by adding a few solar components or you want to build a solar-powered house from the ground up, Solar Power For Dummies takes the mystery out of this energy source and shows you how to put it to work for you!
    This friendly, hands-on guide is packed with tips for making your home more energy-efficient though solar power—and helping the planet at the same time. You’ll see how to survey your home to determine your current household energy efficiency and use, and evaluate where solar power would best benefit you. You’ll also calculate what the return on your investment will be before you make any decisions. Once you’ve decided on a project, you’ll see whether it’s best to hire a contractor or do it yourself. We leave no stone unturned
  • Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry, Travis Bradford,ISBN13: 9780262524940
    In Solar Revolution, fund manager and former corporate buyout specialist Travis Bradford argues—on the basis of standard business and economic forecasting models—that over the next two decades solar energy will increasingly become the best and cheapest choice for most electricity and energy applications. Solar Revolution outlines the path by which the transition to solar technology and sustainable energy practices will occur.
    Developments in the photovoltaic (PV) industry over the last ten years have made direct electricity generation from PV cells a cost-effective and feasible energy solution, despite the common view that PV technology appeals only to a premium niche market. Bradford shows that PV electricity today has become the choice of hundreds of thousands of mainstream homeowners and businesses in many markets worldwide, including Japan, Germany, and the American Southwest.
    Solar energy will eventually be the cheapest source of energy in nearly all markets and locations because PV can bypass the aging and fragile electricity grid and deliver its power directly to the end user, fundamentally changing the underlying economics of energy. As the scale of PV production increases and costs continue to decline at historic rates, demand for PV electricity will outpace supply of systems for years to come.
    Ultimately, the shift from fossil fuels to solar energy will take place not because solar energy is better for the environment or energy security, or because of future government subsidies or as yet undeveloped technology. The solar revolution is already occurring through decisions made by self-interested energy users. The shift to solar energy is inevitable and will be as transformative as the last century's revolutions in information and communication technologies.
  • Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series), Bob Ramlow, Benjamin Nusz, ISBN13: 9780865715615
    Heating water with the sun is almost as old as humankind itself, and it is done all over the world. Yet there are strangely few resources on the topic in North America.
    Solar Water Heating fills this gap. It reviews the history of solar water and space heating systems from prehistory to the present, then presents the basics of solar water heating, including an introduction to modern solar energy systems, energy conservation and energy economics. Drawing on the author’s experience as an installer of these systems, the book goes on to cover:
    * Types of solar collectors, solar water and space heating systems and solar pool heating systems, including their advantages and disadvantages * System components, their installation, operation, and maintenance * System sizing and siting * Choosing the appropriate system.
    Since people often get turned off by the up-front cost, the book focuses especially on the financial aspects of solar water or space heating systems, clearly showing that such systems can save significant costs in the long run. Well-illustrated, the book is designed for a wide readership from the curious to the student or professional.
  • Solar Cooking: web search 07/20/2010, original source:
    User-friendly Solar Ovens for Outdoor and Indoor Use,
    Investigators: Li, Peiwen, Institution: University of Arizona, EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia, Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009,

    Objective: The goal of this project is to develop safer and user-friendly solar ovens for indoor and outdoor cooking. Use sunlight for cooking has long been envisioned as an energy saving and clean technology that can greatly benefit people. Currently, solar ovens and solar cooking devices mostly use parabolic dish or trough reflectors to concentrate sunlight. It is often unsafe or unpleasant for people to access a cooker which stands at a focus point in front of a reflector. They can easily expose themselves to the concentrated sunlight accidentally. Blockage of sunlight by people moving around the concentrator is also disadvantageous for the receiver to get the maximum amount of sunlight. Therefore making a solar cooking device to be highly safe and user-friendly, and even capable of indoor use is the objective of this research.
    Approach: Instead of reflective solar concentrators, large Fresnel lenses are to be used to concentrate solar light. Fresnel lenses manufactured using the state-of-the-art technology and material are thin, light weight, and cost effective. For outdoor cooking, the focused sunlight is casted on a heat dissipation metal block, which receives and conducts solar heat to a hot surface. The concentrated sunlight is effectively protected from exposure to people who operate and cook. Optical fiber cable is to be developed to transfer the concentrated sunlight into a house and provides heat to indoor cooking device. Strong sunlight will be well harnessed in such a process, and safety is assured. A capstone senior design team by six students from mechanical engineering and optical engineering will be formed to carry out the research, design, and prototype fabrication in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Arizona.
    Expected Results: Prototype solar ovens will be built, which includes an effective solar tracking control system, a Fresnel lens and optical system, and a metal block serving for heat conduction and hot surface. The power level of the solar oven for outdoor cooking or barbeque is projected to be around 1000 W. For indoor solar oven, the power level largely depends on the effective solar light transferring technique to be developed in the project. The targeted power level is around 500W.
    Supplemental Keywords: Solar energy, User-friendly solar oven, Sustainable development, Clean technology, Innovative technology, Heat transfer, Thermal protection, Optical system, Multi-Disciplinary,

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