Solar power has been a staple in the green energy market. However, with growing environmental concerns about the negative impact of burning fossil fuels, it has become a popular topic of discussion. The challenge lies in discovering practical and efficient methods to harness this power source.
The sun provides unlimited and free energy, making it an attractive solution to reducing our dependence on expensive and polluting fossil fuels. In fact, the cost of solar in Washington state has decreased for the past few years.
However, one of the major hurdles for people who want to switch to solar power is knowing where to start.
Suppose you plan to use solar energy at home or in a work building. In that case, it’s essential to understand both active and passive solar energy systems. This will help you decide which approach is best suited for your property.
Here’s a discussion of the pros and cons of each one.
What Is Active Solar?
Active solar is a design strategy that utilizes mechanical and electrical systems to harness and distribute power in a building. It involves using equipment to convert solar energy into usable electricity or heat water for various applications.
Unlike passive solar design, active solar requires specific equipment to capture, store, and distribute the sun’s energy, such as solar panels, batteries, and pumps. These technologies are continuously advancing, and their efficiency is increasing rapidly.
One of the most common examples of active solar is photovoltaic (PV) systems, which use solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. PV systems can be installed on the roof or walls of a building, producing enough energy to power the building’s electrical systems or even feed the excess back into the grid.
Another example of this tech is solar water heating systems, which use collectors and storage tanks to store solar energy for heating water in households.
They offer greater control over energy production and consumption. Plus, they can be designed to meet specific energy needs, integrating with conventional heating and cooling systems to provide a more comprehensive energy solution.
Active solar presents numerous valuable benefits. These include:
1. Significant Savings On Utility Bills
The energy generated by PV panels reduces the amount of electricity you need to purchase from the grid. It results in a predictable return on investment as long as you maintain, clean, repair, and upgrade your panels regularly.
While photovoltaic panels, like passive solar design, require minimal maintenance, various issues may arise during their typical 25-year lifespans, such as cracks, dust accumulation, and misplaced modules.
2. Ease Of Monetization And Sharing
Many states offer net metering or feed-in incentives that allow surplus solar electricity to be fed back into the grid in exchange for utility credits or cash payments. These incentives can accelerate the investment’s payback period and enable the distribution of renewable energy to the broader community.
As a result, investing in active solar energy contributes to making the entire utility grid greener.
3. More Design Options
Various ways to incorporate solar PV panels into your residence or commercial building are available.
While rooftop solar installations are the most prevalent, ground-mounted PV systems and solar-enabled carports can also be great choices when the roof is not sizable or sturdy enough to hold solar panels.
4. Ensures Energy Independence
By installing solar panels on your roof and selecting the appropriate type of inverter, you can ensure dependable access to daytime power, even during an outage when the rest of the grid is down. Furthermore, you can store extra solar electricity in on-site batteries to power your appliances at night.
You may disconnect from the utility grid entirely with sufficient solar and storage capacity. This strategy is commonly used by tiny homes and facilities when connecting to the electrical grid is impossible.
Although active solar systems can be a viable energy source in various scenarios, the drawbacks of these systems may dissuade some homeowners from utilizing them.
1. Double Systems
Active solar systems can store heat without sunlight, which is an advantage. Nonetheless, they may not fully capture enough light in most locations to replace your heating and electrical systems. Consequently, you’ll need a different system to back them up, resulting in dual maintenance.
2. Limited Usage
Due to the drawbacks, only some technicians possess the required expertise in active solar systems. It makes installing an active solar system an expensive undertaking.
Furthermore, you’ll have to work with a technician to get the job done in case of maintenance or repair needs. Using an active solar system in a residential setting suits people prepared to invest in their system.
3. Initial Costs
The cost of an active solar energy system is high, with a complete setup for a single-family home costing upwards of USD$20,000. In contrast, a passive solar system that doesn’t require pumps would cost only half as much.
Furthermore, an active solar system consists of several components that need maintenance, with repairs that could quickly accumulate in costs.
Active solar systems depend on the sun to heat liquid, which can be water or an antifreeze mixture. A large area is necessary to produce enough hot liquid for practical usage.
Also, to cater to the heating requirements of a typical household, a solar panel as large as the roof may be required.
Due to the resulting weight, potential antifreeze leaks, and the need for regular maintenance, active solar roof installations may not be the most suitable option.
What Is Passive Solar?
Passive solar design focuses on deliberately arranging windows, walls, and floors to gather and distribute solar energy within a building. This approach is straightforward and doesn’t require mechanical or electrical components or moving parts. Vernacular architecture has a reputation for employing passive solar design intuitively.
Passive solar methods encompass several strategies, such as aligning the building according to the sun’s path, shading the structure, utilizing materials with suitable thermal mass characteristics for the local climate, and creating interior spaces that heat and cool the building naturally.
These reduce a building’s dependence on mechanical and electrical systems to regulate temperature and light. This design scheme is a fundamental concept underpinning high-performance building development.
Here are some primary advantages you can expect from passive solar systems.
1. Saves Money
Passive solar energy utilizes a readily available, naturally occurring, and cost-free energy source. Consequently, homeowners with passive solar design can enjoy reduced utility bills and long-term savings.
2. Environmentally Friendly
By utilizing solar power, homeowners can decrease their reliance on fossil fuels, which can contribute to preserving the earth’s non-renewable energy resources and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Low Costs
The passive solar design doesn’t necessitate costly equipment. Unlike active solar technology, which requires expensive materials such as solar panels, inverters, wires, and other equipment, it relies on smart design. This is especially advantageous for homeowners seeking to construct an environmentally friendly home without a substantial budget.
4. Minimal Maintenance
Passive solar solutions are often ‘set it and forget it’ in nature, as the name suggests. Once you’ve installed a window film or planted a tree, you’re essentially finished. These one-time investments can provide decades of financial and environmental benefits with minimal maintenance required.
Passive solar has several advantages, but it also has its own set of disadvantages.
1. Upfront Expenses
Passive solar heating necessitates meticulous design, as even minor glass selection or measurement errors can result in inadequate heating or cooling. Glare can also be an issue, and interior design must be considered during construction.
2. Heavily Dependent On Climate
Passive solar energy systems rely on the climate and are ineffective in areas with prolonged cloudy and dark weather conditions. These systems may not operate at peak efficiency or function in such environments.
Consequently, passive solar energy may not be suitable for specific regions like the far North or South.
3. Restricted Power Capabilities
Passive solar energy generation is inherently limited in its capacity. The only way to increase power output is to construct additional solar cells and panels, which can require substantial space and investment.
Buying automated sun-tracking panels may optimize energy production. They immediately adjust the angle of the panels to capture the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the day.
Which Strategy Is Best For Your Property?
Now that you’ve seen their pros and cons, you may ask which strategy best fits your property.
But there’s no straight answer to this since both strategies complement each other rather than compete. Each one can ensure substantial savings on utility bills and carbon offsets. Combining passive and active solar technologies multiplies these benefits.
Taking this approach can also lower the upfront cost of both investments. For instance, the more PV panels you install, the fewer passive solar improvements you require. Conversely, the more passive solar upgrades you make, the fewer PV panels you’ll need to power your property.
Harness It Your Way
Both active and passive solar technologies offer significant benefits for property owners looking to reduce their carbon footprint and energy bills.
While passive solar solutions require less maintenance and offer more long-term savings, active solar systems provide reliable power even during outages. They can be used to disconnect from the grid completely.
Rather than viewing these technologies as competing options, combining them can result in even more significant savings and environmental benefits.
Ultimately, the best strategy for your property will depend on various factors such as location, energy usage, and budget. Therefore, consulting with a qualified professional is essential to determine the optimal solution for your needs.