Active Solar Design

Solar Array on Garage

Active solar design elements of a home energy system consist of solar electricity (photovoltaic panels) and liquid solar hot water heating. Designing alternative energy systems into your home will help increase energy-efficiency and decrease dependency on non-renewable resources.

Active solar design collection systems should be given as much consideration as other aspects of home design.  Active solar systems should be designed into the home from the start, making their installation easier as well as making the panels more aesthetically-integrated into the home. When solar arrays are mounted to existing homes, they often look foreign and do not compliment the aesthetics of the home. By integrating solar panels and liquid solar arrays while the home is still in the design phase, the arrays will look like they are naturally part of the home and can be an aesthetically-pleasing element. When designed into the home, solar arrays can serve multiple functions such as providing shade as an awning or creating privacy walls. The panels can also be positioned on the sunniest parts of the home, maximizing energy production.

Collaboration between designer and energy specialist initiated from the onset of the home design lends to an overall decrease in the cost of the active solar installation. Installing solar panels after a home has already been designed and built always requires modifications in mounting. The arrangement of where the solar array is positioned might be difficult to access for installation, repair, and maintenance.  All of these issues could have been considered if solar panels were designed into the initial home design.

The primary  active solar systems installed today are what is called “Grid tied systems”.  Grid tied systems make a lot of sense if there is a electric grid to tie into. In Northern climates like Montana our best weather and sun angles occur during the summer and fall months.  During these months a grid tied system is essentially collecting the energy at the solar panel then distributing it to the electric grid.  Homeowners are credited the energy gains that their solar array has collected.  Later in the year when the sun doesnt shine the homeowner is using the local grid power for their energy needs paying with the credit they derived in the summer months.  Such “grid tied” systems are set up differently than “non grid tied” systems in that the panel arrays are designed for maximum solar gains through setting panels are angles to the sun that derive the most energy rather than consistent year round performance.

“Non grid tied” systems are an option for those that do not have access to a power grid.  Such systems are more expensive in that they require inverters that change the electrical current from DC to AC.  Such systems also require arrays of batteries to store the energy.  As battery performance is in a constant state of evolution “off grid” systems are evolving so that the batteries last longer, store more energy, and require less maintenance.

By producing energy “on-site,” you utilize locally available and renewable energy resources.  Implementing a active solar design approach promotes and creates local jobs involved in home energy assessment, installation, manufacturing, and design. Using alternative “on-site” energy keeps the home inhabitants connected to their energy production and consumption, which often promotes energy frugality. Homeowners who purchase conventional energy from the grid are often disconnected from their energy usage and consume more.  A simple example of this is wood heating. Home owners that heat with wood stoves have a good idea of how much wood they need to cut, stack and split in order to make it through the Winter. Additionally, they are typically good at rationing the usage of their wood fuel.Roof solar Panel array