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WNY GOING GREEN: SOLAR ENERGY

Friday, 02.25.2011 / 2:08 PM / Blue & Gold Make Green
By Michael Jafari  - Graduate Assistant (2010)
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WNY GOING GREEN: SOLAR ENERGY
Energy can come from a variety of sources, such as fossil fuels and water, but those natural resources are not unlimited.  An energy source we can all use that has limitless usage is solar power.

Solar energy is the radiant light and heat that comes from the sun. Solar radiation, along with wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and biomass, make up most of the energy that is renewable on earth.  Because of its make-up and unlimited source, solar energy is better for the environment than other traditional forms of energy.

According to facts-about-solar-energy.com, solar energy is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). The Web site suggests that 1 kWh, or 1,000 watts, is the same amount of electricity used to burn a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours.  In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1999 determined that the average household uses almost 866-kWh per month, which costs Americans $70.68. 

Although most American homes depend on other sources of energy, some people are starting a new trend by installing solar energy into their homes or businesses.   A house’s solar energy system is mostly made up with solar panels, an inverter, a battery, a charge controller, wiring and support structure.  A structure like this could take one or two days to install and costs around $10,000 to construct, but that number does not factor in government incentives or savings on electricity bills. 

When the solar energy system is constructed in a 100-square foot area, it can generate approximately 1,600 kilowatt hours per year in a sunny climate (receiving 5.5 hours of sunshine per day) and approximately 750 kWh per year in a cloudy climate (receiving 2.5 hours of sunshine per day).  In fact, facts-about-solar-energy.com states that a 1-kilowatt home solar system can prevent almost 170 pounds of coal from being burned, 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere and 105 gallons of water from being consumed each month.

Besides providing heat for your house, solar energy can also be built in several house appliances.  More and more companies are starting to manufacture solar indoor lights, outdoor lights, solar chargers for electronic devices, solar water heaters, solar ovens and passive heat storage tubes.  Passive heat storage tubes are the most interesting household appliance because they are tall cylinder-like pillars built inside your house that capture light energy from the sun.

Constructing your home to include a solar energy system could take time and be a little expensive, but there are ways you can use solar energy and decrease your dependence on electricity, like drying your clothes by using a clothesline and thereby reducing the energy used by your dryer.  Consumerenergycenter.org states that in an average lifetime of a dryer, 18 years, the average cost to operate a dryer is $1,530.  By hanging your wet clothes up near a window or outside, you are saving on energy that is used to power your clothes dryer.

Another place that you can effectively use solar energy is in your bathroom.  When most people shower, they turn on heating vents that are located on their bathroom ceiling so they can clear the steam that appears on the mirrors.  By leaving your window or door open in your bathroom, you force the steam out of the room and prevent your mirror from fogging up.  In addition, you are using the solar heat to dry up the water rather than relying on electricity or gas.

For tips on helping blue and gold make green or to become a Green Team member, click here.

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