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Solar Power: Are The Promises Coming True?



Solar Panel By Marufish Via Flickr

You see them everywhere in my neighborhood: Signs that declare that the homeowner has taken the plunge and “gone solar.”

The evidence is also on the roof tops and mounted on poles in backyards or behind an industrial building: The flat, blueish panels that look like futuristic windows, which are actually photovoltaic panels that turn the power of the sun – that would-be sunlight – into voltage, which we commonly call electricity.

While the signs encourage passersby to join in the solar power movement, the panels on roofs and in backyards – sometimes one or two, sometimes many thousand that cover acres of land – are becoming so commonplace that you don’t really have to explain them, anymore. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to review the basics of solar power. How good is it? Does it work? How do you make the conversion? Can you go all the way, getting all of your electricity needs from panels that you own? And what if your solar panels make too much electricity? What can you do with that?

Furthermore, how is this done? Can you build a photovoltaic system yourself, or is it best to purchase off grid solar kits that make the process so much easier?

Here are some basic answers, which I will begin by offering some small corrections. First of all, if you live in a city or a very rainy location, you might not see a blooming of solar panels in your neighborhood. Living in Apartment 14-M in a sky scraper in New York City hardly allows many options for a personal solar panel system for you or your neighbors. Nevertheless, the Solar Energy Industries Association projects solar power will grow 119 percent in 2016, a rate the association calls “staggering.”

What is fueling this run on solar panels, which are more prevalent, of course, in sunny, rural areas? Basic economics is one factor. If you own your own backyard photovoltaic power system at home, someday you will have produced enough power to allow you to scoff at people still paying electric bills. Another factor is global warming, a potentially catastrophic environmental problem that is pushing more and more people to take responsibility for their own carbon footprints (which means how much impact they personally support or make regarding fossil fuel pollution).

So, how good is photovoltaic technology? One of the joys of solar panels is the point that they have no moving parts. Yes, they are mounted on frames that allow the owners to orient them as directly as is recommended toward the sun. But the panels themselves just lie there, basking in the sun. According to Clean Technica, they will generally last 25-30 years, requiring very little maintenance along the way.

Of course, you can purchase enough panels to provide electricity for any size home, be it an off-grid tiny house or an oversized mansion. The first step for any homeowner is to first do a load analysis, which can be as simple as looking at your utility bills or calling your electricity provider to get a historical record of your home’s electricity usage.

You can also purchase an electricity meter, which will certainly come in handy for after you have gone “off grid,” when you are responsible for your own electricity production.

Typically, says Home Power magazine, a home uses 25 to 30 kWh per day, although a highly efficient home may use as little as six to 10 kWh per day.

This information brings to mind a key factor in the decision to go “off grid.” When I write “kWh,” it certainly helps to know what that means, which might be a good time to mention that knowing the basics of electricity is certainly a fundamental reality if you produce your own electricity. Off course, you can buy an all-in-one kit that makes the conversion easier, but the fact remains that the more you learn about the basics of electricity, the better off you will be.

A “kWh” is a unit of electricity use over time. It is a unit of energy, just as one BTU (British thermal unit) or one calorie is a unit of energy. With electricity, however, energy is best understood when it is explained with its relationship to time.

By comparison, kW is not a unit of energy, kW refers to power. When it comes to electricity, that means how fast something is generating or using the energy.

One kW is equal to 1,000 watts. You know for home lighting, homeowners generally use light bulbs that range from 10 or 20 watts all the way up to 150 watts or more. So 1,000 watts would be the power needed for 10 light bulbs of 100 watts.

You could certainly use a simple equation to understand how much electricity your home uses by counting light bulbs – a house with a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner and electric heat, among other appliances, would use the equivalent of X number of light bulbs. It is best, however, to call an electrician or a solar power expert to arrange for a personal audit of your home so you know how large a system you might need with a conversion to solar power.



Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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