Re: Solar power conversion
The most effective use of solar power is passive heating and cooling. (Yup, cooling.) A properly designed home can capture tremendous amounts of solar energy in cold weather, reducing active heating loads by quite a bit. A properly designed home can also use solar energy to reflect and reject heat, reducing cooling loads. Unfortunately this is not an easy retrofit, as passive solar applications generally require the home's design to be built with the sun in mind from the ground up.
The next best application of solar energy in the home is hot water. Active thermal energy capture is currently a much more efficient and cost-effective process than photovoltaics. Water heating is also one of the home's most energy-hungry processes which makes it a cost-effective project.
I do not recommend photovoltaics at the moment, as you are looking at an extremely long payback period and minimal impact to your home's energy profile. Electrical power under optimal conditions would be on the order of 100W per square meter of PVs, at a cost in the thousands of dollars. You could install a system that would take care of most of your home lighting if you are running CFL, but the thing is that it would provide light when you need it least. Attempting to store energy for later use is possible, but the losses incurred would significantly decrease effective energy yield.
Here's how I would procede:
-First I would create an energy profile for my home. I would want to break down energy consumption into space heating, water heating, and misc. electrical loads. In GA you also want to assess cooling loads.
-Then I would look for ways to improve the home's passive properties. Would more insulation reduce heating and cooling loads? How about awnings to reduce heat absorbtion through the windows when it's warm? A step further might include ceiling fans to improve interior ventillation with minimal energy loads.
-Finally, I would look for ways to supplement active loads. For hot water, any number of thermal collection systems are available. Should work extremely well in your climate, too. For electrical loads, have you considered a windmill? The cost/benefit is much better than photovoltaics, though it would take a fairly involved study to determine if your location is suitable. It's easier to assess the potential of solar using existing data that's fairly easy to get.
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