Thursday, June 6, 2013

New Solar Guide for HOA-Governed Neighborhoods

As part of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership, The Solar Foundation (TSF) is pleased to announce the release of a new guide designed to educate homeowner association (HOA) boards and other leaders in planned communities on best practices for encouraging solar development while respecting community interests and maintaining local authority.

The guide, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Processes, helps HOA-governed communities overcome administrative roadblocks to pursuing solar energy. In a climate where the process for obtaining HOA approval for solar is too complex, or where restrictions present in architectural guidelines reduce or eliminate the economic benefit of investing in solar, the recommendations provided in TSF's guide can provide a clear path forward.

"Currently, approximately 13 million housing units in the United States are governed by homeowners associations," notes Philip Haddix, TSF Project Manager. "When architectural guidelines governing solar energy systems are unclear, when approval processes are overly complex, or when allowable restrictions reduce or eliminate the financial benefits of going solar, homeowners can be more reluctant to adopt solar. The recommendations presented in our guide provide HOA leaders with simple measures they can adopt to overcome these barriers to solar development."

TSF's guide provides examples of actual architectural guidelines in use across the nation today that have been developed to protect community interests (such as aesthetics, tree preservation and planting, and health & safety) while allowing for solar development to occur according to simply and effectively communicated design guidelines. In addition, and because HOAs are often permitted to place restrictions on solar development that may negatively impact system performance – and thus diminish the value of a homeowner's investment in solar – part of the guide is dedicated to helping community leaders understand the basic technical aspects of residential solar energy systems. Finally, because much of an HOA's ability to restrict solar development is dictated by any solar rights provisions on the books in a given state, a significant portion of the guide focuses on helping readers understand the nature of these provisions.

Ed Murray, President of Aztec Solar, Inc. in California, notes the importance of focusing on community education. "Many states have adopted solar rights provisions designed to prevent HOAs from prohibiting solar energy installations. Despite the existence of these laws, such as the California Solar Rights Act, there is still a widespread lack of understanding of what HOAs can or cannot control when it comes to solar."

The Solar Foundation is an independent national nonprofit working to demonstrate the global benefits of solar energy through public education & outreach efforts, high-level data collection, and innovative research. The guide was produced for the Department of Energy's Solar Outreach Partnership in support of the SunShot Initiative's goal to reduce the cost of solar energy in the U.S. by 75% by the year 2020. The Partnership works with local governments and their stakeholders to provide educational outreach and complimentary technical assistance, designed to help communities overcome specific local barriers to solar development.

SOURCE The Solar Foundation

Friday, May 31, 2013

Solar-Powered Father's Day Gifts 2013

Go green for Father's Day this year and surprise Dad with a fun (and useful) solar-powered gift!

The ultimate solar gift, of course, would be a complete household solar system. A solar pool heater, solar water heater or solar electric system is the gift that keeps on giving, reducing energy bills for years to come. But if you're looking for a great solar gift on a smaller budget, consider one of these innovative gadgets:

Solar BBQ

The COOKUP 200 Solar Grill
Is your dad the family grill-master? The COOKUP 200 uses the power of the sun to grill up delicious dinners with no smoke or CO2 emissions! The COOKUP 200 is designed and manufactured in France and reaches cooking temperatures close to 400 degrees F. The grill is quickly assembled, with no tools required, and conveniently collapses into a carry bag included with purchase. 

GPS Solar Watch

Seiko Astron
Seiko Astron GPS Solar Watch
Dads on the go will love the Seiko Astron, the world's first GPS solar watch. It recognizes all 39 times zones on earth and, using a low-energy consumption GPS receiver, it automatically identifies the time of day and time zone. The Astron is incredibly accurate, keeping time to one second every 100,000 years. Best of all, it takes all the energy it needs from light and never needs a battery.

Solar Radio/Flashlight/Cell Phone Charger

Microlink FR160
Eton Microlink FR160 Solar Radio
Like a Swiss Army knife, the Eton Microlink FR160 solar radio packs a lot of functionality into a small package. This self-powered radio can be charged using solar power or a hand crank, making it a convenient gadget for camping or emergencies. It receives AM and FM radio plus all 7 channels on the NOAA weatherband. Additional functions include an LED flashlight and a USB cell phone charger. Priced at just $30, the Microlink radio is budget-friendly, as well.

Solar Kettle

Sunrocket Solar Kettle and Thermos
Better than an ordinary thermos, the Sunrocket solar kettle boils water on the go, giving dad the ability to brew up hot drinks anywhere the sun shines. Using solar thermal technology the Sunrocket combines a vacuum tube with reflective panels to concentrate solar energy. It can heat 17 fluid ounces of liquid in 30 minutes and will retain heat for hours like a thermos. The hot water it produces can be used for drinking, washing, cooking or rehydrating foods. The heat treatment can also kill water borne bacteria.

Solar Hybrid Robotic Lawnmower

Husqvarna Automower
Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid Robotic Lawn Mower
Give Dad a rest from summer lawn care with the Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid. Similar to robotic household vacuum systems, the Automower cruises around the yard until the mowing is complete. It stays within underground boundary wires set by the homeowner and avoids any obstacles that are at least 6 inches tall. After an hour of mowing, the mower returns to its charging station for a boost before completing its job. A 12-watt solar panel on its back collects solar energy while an electric charging station provides additional power.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Solene - It's Not Your Grandpa's Solar Water Heater

The American solar water heating industry has experienced its share of ups and downs through the decades. While the benefits of solar water heating haven't changed much, the technology has. Early limitations that prevented solar water heating from reaching mass appeal have been eliminated, making modern day systems as convenient as traditional water heaters.

"We Put 'Em Up, Old Sol Does the Rest"

The first commercial solar water heater, the Climax, was introduced to California homeowners in the late 1800's. Patented by Clarence Kemp, the Climax sold for $25 and promised savings of about $9 per year in coal. An ad from the time, featuring a housewife in "Gibson Girl" attire and another family member in the bathtub, states, "We Put 'Em Up, Old Sol Does the Rest." 

Climax Solar Water Heater Ad Circa 1890
A circa 1890 advertisement for Climax Solar Water Heaters

The ad goes on to explain the benefits of solar hot water. "Hot Water…Without Fire, Without Cost, Without Inconvenience. Set on or set into (flush with) your roof will give you the luxury of hot water without the discomfort of maintaining a stove and heating the interior of your house."

But when cheap natural gas was discovered in southern California, the market for solar water heating systems in the area effectively dried up. In the following years, interest in solar hot water remained limited to warm, sunbelt states because the systems couldn't withstand freezing temperatures.

Carter Era Boon

Nearly a century later, a combination of generous government incentives and a rise in fuel prices brought about a renewed interest in solar water heating. By the early 1980's, it seemed as if every new house had a solar water heating system installed. DIY solar water heating plans were popular, as well, with Americans building systems from a wide array of materials.

This boon spawned a plethora of problems, however. While some manufacturers sold and installed high-quality systems still in existence today, other disreputable salesmen and poorly trained installers took advantage of homeowners. These non-professionals put systems on rooftops which failed to generate the expected energy performance or panels that leaked due to improper installations. A lot of these systems, and many of the DIY panels, suffered freeze damage making them even less desirable.

By 1986, tax rebates disappeared, oil prices plummeted and most solar manufacturers and contractors went out of business.

All the Convenience of Traditional Hot Water Systems

Following the "solar crash" of 1986, a handful of professional manufacturers continued to develop improved solar water heating technology. Solene solar hot water systems, for example, manufactured and distributed by UMA Solar, are at the forefront of today's solar water heating industry.

Solene systems feature all the convenience and reliability of traditional hot water systems combined with the substantial savings and environmentally-friendly benefits of solar water heating. 

Solene Aurora Solar Water Heater Collector
The Solene Aurora solar water heating collector combines efficiency with convenience.

Solene systems are the highest-rated in the industry and can be configured for all climates and weather conditions. With certifications including FSEC, SRCC, ISO 9001:2000, OG-100 and OG-300, Solene systems and collectors qualify for current federal, state and utility company rebates and incentives. These incentives, combined with significant monthly energy savings, make Solene solar water heating systems a great investment. Most Solene systems pay for themselves within 5 years. Because these systems typically last 20 years, homeowners can enjoy an additional 15 years of free hot water.

Today's eco-conscious consumers can appreciate solar water heating for more than the financial rewards, however. By investing in solar energy, consumers reduce their carbon footprint, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and leave a legacy of clean energy for generations to come.