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How Schools Can Reduce Energy Costs
Our children are our country’s future. Yet so many school districts today face budget constraints that restrict the learning experiences they are able to provide their students. One way to help the situation is to examine a school’s energy use profile, and implement improvements to energy efficiency. Not only can energy-efficiency initiatives free up funds, many of them can also be incorporated into curricula and/or used as teaching devices to provide myriad hands-on learning opportunities for kids.
Here are some energy-conservation tips for creating more energy-efficient schools:
7 Ways to Conserve Energy at School
- Do an energy audit. The first step to reducing your school’s energy use is to know how much you’re using to begin with. Hire an energy auditor to conduct a thorough audit of your school building, including a blower door test and thermal imaging. If you can, find an auditor who is willing to demonstrate the equipment to the students in a presentation and/or during the actual audit.
- Start a recycling program. Recycled materials take far less energy to produce than new ones. They are also less polluting. Involve the kids in setting up and managing a recycling station at your school.
- Turn off the lights. Train students and teachers to switch off the lights when a classroom is not in use. In classrooms with large windows, encourage them to rely on natural daylight when possible. Have students create posters and signs to remind people to turn the lights out when they leave.
- Switch to LED lighting. Lighting is often the most cost-effective way to save energy in a large building. LED bulbs use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs, and last over 20 times longer.
- Adjust the thermostat. Set the temperature to 78 degrees in warm weather and 68 degrees in cool weather. Use fans as necessary to keep everyone comfortable. Use a programmable thermostat to set the temperature even further back when the building is not occupied. Explain to students how much energy and money it will save the school, and how it will help the planet.
- Eliminate drafts. Students will enjoy creating stuffed snakes to place under doors, and window quilts to keep cold air out at night. Enlist your facility manager to insulate and weatherize your school building.
- Install renewable energy. Many school districts nationwide are adding renewable energy infrastructure such as wind turbines and solar panels to their campuses. Not only do these save money for the school in the long run, but they also provide many teaching opportunities.
What Energy-Efficiency Measures Will Benefit Your School?
These are just a few ideas any school can use to reduce energy costs while creating educational opportunities for students. There are many more ways to save energy at school, though. Why not enlist the help of students at your school and research even more ways for your school to save?
6 Things To Know Before Buying Solar Panels
Seeing more solar panels lately? If so, your neighborhood is in line with current trends. Industry analysts Frost & Sullivan predict continued exponential growth in solar for the next five years, with solar becoming a mainstream global power source by 2020.
With that in mind, you may find yourself considering adding solar to your own home. If you are, here is what you need to know about solar panels as you prepare to go solar:
Choosing the Best Type of Solar Energy for Your Lifestyle
When you head to the car dealership to pick out a new set of wheels, you’ve got a lot of choices. Whether you choose a pickup, a minivan, a sedan or a convertible depends a lot on your lifestyle needs.
Going solar is no different (although you won’t have to face the bewildering selection of choices that you would at the auto lot.) There are different types of solar to fit diverse needs and preferences.
Your first decision is between photovoltaics (PV, or solar electric) and solar thermal (typically solar water heating, but there are solar thermal space heating applications as well). Of course, you can always do both!
If you choose PV, you’ll also want to be aware of the types of solar panel systems: off-grid, grid tied and grid tied with solar battery backup.
Where Will You Put Your Solar Panels?
Solar panels have certain requirements that must be met for optimal safety and efficiency:
- Exposure to sunlight: Any type of solar panel needs to be placed in full sun. Solar electric panels are especially sensitive to shading. Most people prefer to mount panels on their roof, but if yours is shaded there are other options: such as ground mounting, or mounting the panels on a nearby garage or other outbuilding.
- A sturdy roof: If you do plan to go with the rooftop option, be sure your roof and trusses are sturdy enough to support the weight of the panels, including wind resistance. Also, think ahead. It is difficult and costly to replace a roof once the panels have been installed, so if you have an older roof consider getting it re-roofed first. Choose as durable a roofing material as you can afford. Standing seam metal roofs are ideal for solar panels because they are easy to mount panels on and will last a lifetime.
Higher energy needs require a larger, more expensive solar energy system. It pays to be proactive about energy efficiency before investing in solar. Some home and business owners find that the savings they realize with a smaller system are enough to cover the cost of new, energy-efficient appliances!
Plan for Future Use
When planning your solar system, think ahead. Will you be growing your family? Or downsizing? Might there be an electric car in your future? Keeping these things in mind during the planning stage will help ensure your satisfaction for years to come.
Financing Your Solar Panels
The cost of solar has tanked in the last decades as the technology has become more mainstream. It’s also much easier to find financing; many local banks are now as happy to offer loans for solar panels as for any other home improvement project.
Keep in mind that there are still plenty of incentives available for both residential and commercial solar energy installations. What’s more, if you are planning to connect your PV panels to the grid (which most people do), you should be aware of your local regulations regarding net metering: You may be able to sell your excess power back to the grid, which will improve your ROI even more.
Choosing the Right Solar Panel Installer
In some areas you may find that you have many choices when it comes to choosing a solar installer — including startups and some that do solar on the side. While some of these companies may do credible work, it pays to be choosy when it comes to your solar provider. Remember you’re dealing with structural concerns along with electricity and/or fluid-containing HVAC systems — not something you want to trust to just any company! Your best bet is to find a dedicated solar provider that has been around long enough to have a trustworthy reputation, and will be there for you if and when your system ever needs maintenance.
Planning Your Panels: The Next Step
Now that you understand what to know about solar panels, it’s time to get your questions answered. The best way is to speak with an expert — like one of our experienced solar panel installers. Contact us today for a free solar estimate. Our friendly and knowledgeable technicians will be glad to answer any questions you may have, from site issues to financing!
Where Do Solar Panels Store Energy?
It’s common to hear people speak of solar panels as though they were all you need to go solar. However, solar panels are just one piece of the picture. A solar panel simply captures the sun’s energy and converts it into electricity or heat. Sometimes you can use that energy right away. But the sun isn’t consistent, and neither are your energy needs. On bright, sunny days, your panels may produce more than you need at the time. At night or on a dark, stormy day, your panels may produce little to nothing for a while. However, those are often the times when you need the energy most.
Clearly, just creating energy from the sun isn’t enough. You also have to have some way to store that energy so it’s available for use when you need it.
Have you ever asked yourself, “How is solar energy stored?” If so, you’re in the right place, because that’s exactly what we’re going to explore here.
Solar thermal storage
Have you ever walked barefoot on the beach after a sunny day and felt how warm the sand stays even hours after the sun sets and the air gets chilly? That’s because the sand absorbs and traps the sun’s heat, and releases it slowly — effectively storing the warmth. This is an example of solar thermal energy storage found in nature.
“Solar thermal” refers to generating heat — as opposed to electricity — from the sun. Many of the big commercial solar energy plants are actually solar thermal devices. They use huge parabolic solar collectors to collect the sun’s heat, and use that heat to create steam, which in turn powers a generator to produce electricity additional resources. Instead of sand, these energy plants use materials such as thermal oil or molten salt to store the sun’s heat.
That kind of solar thermal energy isn’t practical for residential use, but a solar water heater is. In a solar water heater, special panels are used to heat fluid directly with the sun. The heat is then transferred to a domestic hot water tank for use in showers and laundry. The water is thus used as an effective solar energy storage device.
Solar battery storage
The most popular way to use solar energy is as electricity, or photovoltaics. Storing electricity effectively requires a more complex technological solution than storing heat. The most widespread solar power storage method is the battery.
In the early days of residential solar, people would use whatever batteries they could find to store their solar energy. 9-volt car batteries were popular, but they were not optimal. Even when companies started manufacturing batteries specifically for solar systems, the early ones were expensive, bulky, short-lived and required frequent maintenance.
Battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds since then. Today, many types of batteries are available to provide excellent power storage for your solar system, including lead-acid, lithium-ion and redox flow batteries. Look for even more improvements in battery performance, safety and longevity in coming years.
Another way to store solar energy is a fuel cell. Solar power is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored in a fuel cell to be converted into electricity at a later time. Fuel cell technology is still in its infancy, but many promising breakthroughs are happening — and it’s reasonable to expect widespread use of solar fuel cells in the near future, especially in electric vehicle applications.
Using the grid to “store” solar power
Finally, let’s consider the electrical grid. While the grid is technically not a storage device, it’s so large that for practical purposes an individual business or household with solar panels can use it as one. In other words, when you’re connected to the grid it can absorb any excess energy you’re producing at any given time. And if you need more than you’re generating for a time, it’s there for you to draw on. It’s a win-win arrangement because it allows you to use as much electricity as you want when you want, and helps maintain the resiliency of the grid. If net metering is available in your area, it also allows you to sell your excess energy for a profit.
It’s possible to use more than one type of solar power storage at once. For example, the latest trend in solar is to use a hybrid grid-tied/battery system. That way, you have power when the grid goes down, but can still enjoy the advantages of grid connection.
Which type of solar energy storage is best for you?
Which solar storage solution you use will depend on what type of solar energy system you have — as well as your lifestyle, budget, space and other needs. In particular, solar battery technology is constantly changing, so if you’re interested in a battery system, you’ll want to speak with an expert who is up to date on the latest types and models available. To discover more about the available solar storage solutions that will work best for your needs, call us at (410) 560-9032 and ask to speak with one of our solar storage experts. Or, request a free solar estimate online, and we’ll be in touch with you soon!