With the occurrence of Earth Hour last weekend, and with Earth Day rapidly approaching, we at Solar Energy World are using this opportunity to offer tips and advice for making aspects of your life a little greener. Today, our topic of choice is the office environment. Since you likely spend approximately 40 hours of the week in the office, along with time spent traveling to, from, and for work, a greener workplace could make a huge impact in your environmental footprint.
1. Choose green lighting options.
LED lights use less energy than older bulbs, so swapping out older fixtures can make a difference in your energy bills. Lights that turn on or off using sensors are another great way to save money over offices that are brightly illuminated, even if portions are unoccupied. Offices with large windows or skylights are at an advantage as well, since they can make use of natural lighting during the day, and open them for fresh air.
2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
It is such a common practice today, that it is likely that your office already recycles paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum. If not, you should definitely make the switch! Also, consider other materials that can be reused or recycled, such as wooden pallets or shipping materials. You can help reduce the amount of waste produced by reusing products like paper or plastic cups from the water cooler (or using a reusable water bottle), or by setting your printer to print on both sides of the page by default. Better yet, instead of printing many copies for meetings or to pass around to clients and coworkers, use the digital tools at hand and send emails, or use a projector.
3. Allow telecommuting.
Telecommuting is becoming more popular, and for good reason. Remote workers save companies big money by reducing the onsite services needed, such as heating and cooling, lighting, water and sewage, and even the amount of office space needed. Of course, this also reduces the workplace’s environmental footprint. Employees benefit as well, considering that commute time and fuel costs are eliminated, productivity increases, and work continues even through minor illnesses and bad weather. Irene Sanders of Cisco reports that, in 2012, employers saved approximately $2,400 per year for each employee that worked from home just one day per week, and that does not include the benefit of increased productivity and boosted morale.
4. Add plants to the office space.
A little greenery goes a long to way to improving indoor air quality. Plants can help filter indoor air, which is important since many materials, such as particle board, carpet, and paint give off toxins that lead to health problems and birth defects. Plus, cheerful plants and flowers can make any office seem more welcoming, and less sterile.
5. Use renewable energy.
This one is an obvious favorite of ours, but with good reason! Offset your office building’s energy usage by installing a solar power system, and you will not only save money, but you will reduce waste, and set a good example for neighboring buildings as well.
6. Keep up with maintenance.
Drafty doors and windows lead to heat loss or gain (depending on the outdoor temperature), which correlates with the amount of work your HVAC system must perform (unless, of course, your employees telecommute, in which case you would not need to maintain a certain temperature every day). Leaky faucets and pipes, and faulty appliances all contribute to energy usage or wasted water as well. Plus, broken pipes and electronics can lead to other hazards, like fire and mold.
7. Be smart about electronics usage.
Enable energy saving modes for printers and other electronic office supplies. Choose “quick print” modes for documents that do not require exceptional quality, such as drafts or notes, and you will save on the cost of ink. Unplug computers at the end of the day to reduce vampire energy loss (the electricity drain that occurs when a powered down device is still plugged into the outlet).
8. Order recycled or sustainable supplies.
Choose recycled or biodegradable products to lessen your environmental impact, and place large orders to be delivered in one shipment. This saves on packaging and transportation costs, and can also save money on shipping and handling expenses.
9. Plant a garden.
Just as adding plants to the interior of the office improves indoor air quality and atmosphere, adding them outside provides these same benefits as well. Planting a garden or a few trees creates a nice, welcoming appearance for your office, and improves the air quality. Add a few benches or picnic tables, and you have a great space for employees to eat lunch, or have outdoor meetings.
10. Publicize Your Policy!
Just like any workplace policy, your green policies and goals will only be effective if every employee knows about them. Post a sign reminding them to recycle, to unplug their computers, or reminding them of the option to telecommute. Social media solutions, like Practically Green’s Business Platform, can help you track employee’s green actions, and company progress. You may even find that other employees and coworkers have other ideas that could contribute to a greener, happier workplace!
Renewable energy is a goal for many developed countries, including the United States. Plugging into the existing power grid is the “norm”, while renewable resources are the next step. Interestingly enough, while many people in these countries may see solar power as a step beyond the traditional power supply, or even an innovative luxury affordable only to certain people, developing countries have a different experience.
It is difficult to imagine a world without electricity. While power lines that supply electricity derived from nuclear power, coal, or other non-renewable resources are the default option for something that has become necessary to life as we know it, people in developing countries must find ways to live off the grid. When the power grid is unavailable, light for visibility, heat for cooking, and power for medical supplies, communication, and more is extremely limited. One of the major ways to bring light and electricity to a place that does not have an electrical infrastructure in place, is through solar power.
Consider the alternative energy sources without an operating power grid. In a power outage, many people opt for battery operated flashlights, candles, or portable generators. These appliances must be refueled, whether by charging or replacing the battery, replacing a depleted candle, or adding gasoline. This means that they also create waste, or pose a health, safety, or environmental hazard.
Solar powered appliances, as well as those powered by wind or other renewable sources, are safer, longer lasting, and cost much less over their lifetime as fuel does not need to be purchased to keep them powered. In fact, companies like Fenix International (based in California) and Tough Stuff (headquartered in Mauritius) cater specifically to societies with limited power supply, and their products aim to improve the quality of life in developing areas. A renewable energy product known as the ReadySet has been used for more than a year in African countries, and is now becoming available in the United States. Used as a portable power supply, it can be recharged by a variety of means, including plugging it in when available, using the solar panel, or even powering it by bicycle. Allowing people to use reliable electricity independent of the grid has made the ReadySet a popular product overseas.
The benefits of a solar power system that make it desirable for those living in the developed world are the very things that make it a viable choice for those living without alternatives. Some people tend to see solar power as an option; for many people, solar power is the only option.
Are you tired of paying increasing rates to the utility company? Solar energy is clean, reliable, and free. Contact us for your free Solar Energy World consultation today.
Honan, M. (2012, July 17). ReadySet: How a Portable Power Pack Drives Dollars to the Developing World. Wired. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/07/ready-set-go-how-a-simple-solar-power-pack-is-driving-wealth-in-the-developing-world/
Marlow, J. (2009, October 16). Bringing Low Cost Solar to the World’s Poor. New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/bringing-low-cost-solar-to-the-worlds-poor/
By Samantha J. Majka
Solar power has been around since the earth has had a sun, and will continue to exist as long as that remains true. In fact, we have been using solar power as long as life as we know it has been in existence.
At the very bottom of the food chain, plants convert sunlight into glucose, therefore converting solar energy into a usable form. This stored energy moves up the food chain as the plants are eaten by animals, and those plants and animals are eaten as well. What this means is that all life is powered and sustained by solar energy.
We use solar power to warm our homes, by opening the windows and letting the sunlight stream through. We use it to heat our swimming pools, to cook food, and, at the very least, to see. Solar power is nothing new—but the way that we are able to use and apply it to our everyday lives has changed dramatically in recent history.
In ancient times, houses were constructed into the side of hills and mountains to use the heat that was stored from sunlight during the day, and released after sunset. Fast forward to the late 1800’s, and a solar powered steam engine was created, along with the first solar powered water heater, and an early version of photovoltaic cells.
The price of these new inventions was too high to be feasible for use by the masses. However, following the trends of all forms of technology, the price decreased over time. Today, solar power as we know it has become more affordable, and continues to become a more viable option for homeowners everywhere.
The entire world is taking notice. Germany leads the way with a goal to be powered by completely renewable power sources by 2050, and many other European countries are following suit. The United States has seen explosive growth in solar installations over the past several years, and with the introduction of the option to lease solar panels with little to no money down, it can only be expected that the number of solar power installations will continue to rise.
To stay updated on the ever improving world of solar power, follow Solar Energy World on Facebook.
By Samantha J. Majka
Here at Solar Energy World, we love the new and innovative technologies that involve solar power. In fact, we spend a lot of time blogging about the great benefits of solar energy, and how it can not only help reduce your carbon footprint, but also seriously reduce or eliminate your energy bills. However, we understand that many of our readers may be browsing the Solar Energy World website for more information regarding the basics of solar power; after all, what better place to seek information than from the fastest growing solar energy company in the mid-Atlantic region?
Think about the sun. You already know that the sun is an abundance of light and heat. Both light (electromagnetic radiation) and heat (the speed and movement of the atoms in matter) are forms of energy, and we use both of these forms of “solar energy” every day. You have probably used a simple, solar powered calculator at some point, and you may have even tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk on a hot summer day. These, and even simple activities like sitting in the sun as opposed to the shade for warmth, are ways that we use solar power. So how do you take solar energy a step further and use it to power everyday things, like your hot water heater, a solar cell phone charger, or even your entire home?
The answer is in photovoltaic or PV cells. PV cells are comprised of materials like silicon. When radiation from the sun (sunlight) hits the silicon atoms, the electrons that bond them together increase in energy and begin to move more rapidly. This increase in energy allows the affected electrons to become part of an electrical current, which then can be used to power your home. The free, negatively charged electrons that create what we know as electricity flow through our homes through the wires that make up the electrical system, as they gravitate toward a positively charged surface.
While sunlight is a constant, daily occurrence, the amount of solar panels you need to fully power your home depends on the amount and quality of sunlight that hits the panels, largely dependent on your location. It also depends on how much electricity your home uses, and the efficiency of the solar panels themselves. As technology improves, the efficiency of solar panels increases.
This information is great for the times when the sun is shining, but what about on rainy days, or when the sun sets every night? Can you still power your home with the electricity gathered from the sun?
Absolutely! Solar energy can be stored in several ways. The electricity can be stored in the same way that rechargeable batteries are charged. However, the more popular, and less expensive, way of storing solar power is through net-metering. Net-metering allows the excess electricity created using your solar panels to flow back into the existing electrical grid. When this happens, the electric meter on your house will roll backwards, like a credit on your account. If you need to use the electricity, you draw it back from the grid, and the meter will roll forward. If you do not need to use the excess energy, you may be able to sell it to the electric company.
When a solar energy system is tied to a grid or connected to the grid it is capable of sending electricity to the grid that can be used at a later time when the system is not producing electricity. This system is a semi-autonomous electrical generation system linked to the mains feeding electricity back to the grid. The mains being the general-purpose AC electric power supply.
The tied inverter can take the DC energy and convert it into electricity that is phased matched. The local solar energy system is also phase matched allowing for electricity to be interchanged when needed.
A grid tied system works in conjunction with the existing grid. In the most simplest terms pulling energy from the grid when needed and supplying energy to the grid when energy is not being used at the solar site.
Post written by: David Zamostny, Solar Energy World Intern
A solar energy inverter, also known as a photovoltaic inverter, is an essential component to any solar energy system. This device converts the variable DC output of the solar array into AC current which your home uses. This current can be used in a local off-grid network or interchangeably with a grid connection.
Grid tie inverters – are used to convert DC energy into alternating energy used to power businesses and homes. Once loss of utility supply occurs, grid tie inverters shut down automatically for safety reasons and do not provide backup during power outages.
Battery back-up inverters – special inverters designed to draw energy from a battery and export excess energy to the utility grid. These inverters can supply AC energy during a utility outage, and are required to have anti-islanding protection.
Solar micro inverters – convert DC energy from a single panel the AC energy. The energy from all of these panels can be combined and sent to the specific consuming devices. This allows for each inverter to separately monitor its own panel. This makes it easier to add components to the system rather than add one panel and changing the characteristics of the whole system.
Stand-alone inverters – normally used in isolated systems, stand-alone inverters draw DC energy from batteries that are powered by a solar array. Typically, these inverters are not tied into a system and don’t require anti-islanding protection.
Anti-islanding – the process that prevents circuits from remaining powered after all power is cut off from the grid source.
How do I know I am getting maximum production from my system?
Maximum power point tracking is a technique that is used by inverters to get the maximum output from the photovoltaic array. The inverters will sample the output of the photovoltaic array and apply a resistance load to obtain the maximum power for any specific environmental conditions in order to achieve maximum possible power.
Post written by: David Zamostny, Solar Energy World Intern
Photovoltaics (PV) is the process of creating electrical power by converting solar radiation into DC current electricity by using semiconductors that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaic power uses solar energy panels comprised of cells that contain the photovoltaic material.
Photovoltaics can involve a single cell however this is typically not the case, since a single cell cannot produce enough power. Generally the cells are electrically connected to form photovoltaic modules, or as we know them, solar energy panels.
Photovoltaic Effect – this involves the creation of voltage when a specific material is exposed to light. In this process, generated electrons bounce between different bands in the material causing a buildup of voltage (the junction of two substances exposed to light). This effect first observed by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel.
Initially photovoltaics were used to power satellites and space stations orbiting in space, recently the majority is used for grid connected power generation for homes and businesses. With the development and implementation of electric cars, photovoltaics technologies continue to expand.
While there are many positives there are a few negatives. These would include cost and the fact that photovoltaics produce only DC current that must be converted. Secondly, current cannot be produced at night or when it is significantly cloudy. Solar power is also dependent on the limited power density of a locations insolation, a topic discussed in an earlier blog post.
Post written by: David Zamostny, Solar Energy World Intern
Solar energy actually dates back over 2,500 years ago. While nowhere as complex as systems today, the Romans used the sun as a natural heat source to the point where they had to enact laws regarding sun rights.
Commercially, solar power made its debut in the late 1800’s. After black boxes started dotting the rooftops of Baltimore, Charles Kemp patented the first solar water heating system. The original systems were basic: the back boxes held water that were heated throughout the day. Kemp combined this style with the scientific principle of a hot box and the Climax was born.
Known as the simple batch system, the Climax cost $25 and would save homeowners around $9 a year. Sales to wealthier Marylanders supported the business originally, but Kemp would later move to the sun-rich grounds of California. By 1900, the Kemp had sold over 1,600 systems.
By 1909, William Bailey transformed the solar heating system, fixing one of the major flaws of the Climax. Since Kemp’s system was entirely housed outside, it meant hot water was only possible during sunlight. The water would cool off as soon as the sun sank below the horizon.
Called the Day and Night, William Bailey invented and patented a thermosyphon system, which kept the heating component outside to reach the sun, but stored the heated water inside so it would retain heat. Bailey also targeted sunny California to sell his solar energy system, and soon put Kemp out of business. The Day and Night sold over 4000 units from 1909 through 1918.
As production of the solar thermosyphon system prospered during the 1920’s, economics soon made the solar heat irrelevant. With the discovery of large amounts of natural gas in California, the cost to heat water plummeted and solar energy systems could no longer compete for business. Bailey did invent a gas version of the Day and Night that flourished in Florida, but the mass production of electricity made the new system obsolete as well.
Today, the tides have changed. While solar energy is still requires an upfront investment, new technology, financial incentives, and the increasing cost of oil make solar once again a financially viable option (see how much you can save with our Solar Savings Calculator).
There are many essential variables to consider when calculating how many photovoltaic solar panels you need and what type. How much energy am I using? How much sunlight does my house receive? What are the most efficient tilt and panels that would be useful to use? Each solar power system is different, which is why our installation crew designs a specific solar power system to meet your individual needs.
The first of these variables involves calculating how much power in watts your household uses on a daily basis. Using your electrical bill and/or a kWh (watt-hours) load tool you can calculate total watts you use per day or month.
The next step would be to calculate the amount of useable sunlight in your area or insolation, when your solar panels will produce their rated voltage. This can be done using a solar calculator to find the tilt and size of a suitable system, and total hours of usable energy or you can use solar insolation table to determine the average hours of sunlight.
Determining the size of the system
To then calculate the size of the system in kW (kilowatts), divide watts-hours by your insolation value. In order to account for average energy losses and inefficiencies you can increase this number by 30%. This will give you the size of the solar energy system needed in kilowatts.
What type of solar panel is right for me?
This all depends on how much energy you need to produce and how much space you have. It is possible to have one bigger solar panel that produces the same watts-hours as six smaller ones. It is also possible that one type of solar panel is more aesthetically pleasing than another. This may be the case with the new SunPower solar panels.
The best way to determine how many solar panels you need would be to have a professional come to your property to survey the proposed area. This is done as part of a solar assessment. During the solar assessment, you’ll discover all the financial benefits that come along with solar too.
Born in Paris, Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891), a French physicist in 1839, is known for his studies in the solar spectrum, magnetism, electricity and optics. He is best known for his discovery and unraveling the key principle to solar energy cells, the photovoltaic effect. He received his doctorate from the University of Paris, and eventually took a professorial position at the Agronomic Institute of Versailles. He was especially interested in phosphorescence and luminescence, chemical reactions caused by exposing certain substances to light. In the1840s he found that these reactions could produce an electric current in both liquids and metals. The connection between light energy and chemical energy was seized upon by many scientists in the following years, and research has led to the development of the photoelectric cell.
The photovoltaic effect is the basic physical process through which a photovoltaic cell converts sunlight into electricity. Sunlight is composed of photons which are packets of solar energy. These photons contain different amounts of energy that correspond to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum. When photons strike a photovoltaic cell, they may be reflected or absorbed, or they may pass right through. The absorbed photons generate electricity.
Post written by: David Zamostny, Solar Energy World Intern