Solar is getting hotter every day.
Within five years, solar power in homes will make financial sense for people even with moderate incomes, said Bud Annan of Scottsdale, former director of the solar energy department for the U.S. Department of Energy.
It’s because technology costs are coming down, and electricity prices are going up — as they have in California. Arizona Public Service is giving incentives to homeowners for installing solar electric and water heating systems, and Salt River Project is considering them.
"The California energy crisis has jump-started the solar energy business in Arizona," Annan said. "The market is so large, they’ve created 500 new businesses installing solar in the last two years (in California)."
Paul Symanski, an independent energy consultant with ADD Energy in Scottsdale, contends that solar is a wise investment with a return better than the stock market. He’s giving a talk at SolFest, a festival set up to provide homeowners with information on energy and environmental issues.
Even if the financial savings don’t add up for all homeowners, they can help the environment. Annan said the by-products of electricity combine with pollution from vehicles to create the dreaded "brown cloud" that hangs over the Valley. Also, water is used extensively in the production of electricity.
HERE COMES THE SUN
Some people associate solar energy with the 1970s, when cars snaked through the streets as drivers wearing Dr. Scholl’s sandals waited for their turn at the gas pump.
If you’ve been to a department store lately, you’ll see Dr. Scholl’s are all the rage again, and solar is coming back into fashion, too.
Homeowners can choose from a number of options for using solar; below are a few specific examples. This isn’t an exhaustive list, so do your homework before installing anything.
You might have different costs and cost savings based on any number of lifestyle factors, including the size of the pool, size of the home, number of people in the home, how many showers are taken, what kind of appliances are in the home and when the electricity is used.
Solar pool water heating: When the pool filters run, the water circulates out of the pool and up through dark solar panels to heat, then flows back into the pool. The collectors are typically made of ultravioletresistant plastics.
Al Keir of Scottsdale installed a system on his roof in 1998 for $2,900 to heat his 11,500-gallon pool. It takes up about 425 square feet.
It doesn’t heat the pool all year, he said, it just extends the swimming season about a month on each side. But this year, because of the early heat wave, his family has been swimming since mid-March.
Solar domestic hot water heating: One option is a closedloop system using a heat transfer fluid. It flows through the solar collectors and heats, then moves into an enclosed coil piping system in the water tank.
Symanski installed a solar hot water system in his home in December 2000, and says he saves $20 a month on his electric bill, averaged out annually. He has two 4-by-8-foot collectors on his roof.
They’re made of a tempered, textured glass with a metal frame. The water heater still uses backup power from the utility in case of a run of cloudy days.
Solar electricity production:
Silicon solar modules called photovoltaic panels directly convert the sunlight into electricity that then flows into the home. Excess power goes back onto the grid and the power company buys it back at a wholesale rate.
Symanski said a typical 1 kilowatt system uses about eight to 10 (2-by-5-foot) modules and can provide 10 percent to 20 percent of the energy of a typical home. Before incentives, this costs an average of $7,500, but after a 50 percent rebate from APS and a $1,000 tax credit, it comes to $2,750. This system will save about $100 per year.
Bryan Beaulieu is building a really cool house.
So cool, in fact, that it doesn’t have an air-conditioning unit, even though it sits in the searing Scottsdale heat.
"My wife is allergic to air-conditioning," he said, "so that’s why we’re building this."
Beaulieu, a thermodynamics engineer and the director of engineering at Taliesin West, is basing his house on eco-friendly and energy-efficient principles, including using hydrogen power produced from solar power. One of his goals is to create a prototype for others who want homes that use "green" technology and ideas.
"There’s really nothing that needs to be invented," he said. "It’s all been invented. It just needs to be used."
Beaulieu will talk about his project 1 p.m. April 18 during SolFest Southwest, and there will be a model of the house at the American Hydrogen Association booth April 17-18.
He hopes once the house is complete, Scottsdale — which has a green building lecture series and been supportive of his project — will allow groups to tour it.
"We hope kids will associate a cool house with energy efficiency instead of giving something up," he said.
Here are a few of the ideas going into the house:
• Instead of forced air heating and cooling, Beaulieu is using radiant heat tubes running through the floors and cooling tubes through the ceilings. Thick concrete walls and floors help insulate.
• The house is positioned so the afternoon breezes will blow through the four waterfalls on the property and function as natural evaporative coolers. They also recycle the gray water from sinks and tubs to water plants on the roof. The plants act as a natural air cleaner to filter the toxins from the smoggy air that blows up from the Valley below.
• The house is built as a hexagon, with a computer-operated ventilation system in the roof and windows. Solar panels frame the ventilation hole in the roof, so they’re integrated into the architecture.
• Vacuum tubes act as solar hot water collectors to heat the pool, spa and hot water for the home.
Families can learn more about saving energy, living healthier and helping the environment April 17-18 at WestWorld of Scottsdale during SolFest Southwest.
Actors/activists Ed Begley Jr. and Peter Coyote will speak, and there will be 150 exhibitors, 60 workshops, bands, dance performances and a "KidZone" with games and art projects.
Seminars include environmentally responsible ("green") building and remodeling, water conservation, hydrogen energy, solar electric energy, solar water heating, eco-friendly products and social change issues.
SolFest Southwest: A Celebration of Hearth & Sol
Where: WestWorld of Scottsdale, Polo Field, 16601 N. Pima Road
When: 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 17 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 18
Cost: $10 adults; $5 seniors and students; children up to age 12 free; parking $5 (free for vehicles with four or more passengers)
Information: (928) 649-8180 or go to www.solfestsouthwest