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Passive And Active Solar Energy

Learn what the difference is and how active and passive solar energy can be used in your home.

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There are two primary forms of solar energy: Active solar energy and passive solar energy. Not sure about the difference? Learn more about these energy types here and how they are typically used.

Passive Solar Energy

In the beginning the use of solar energy was limited to activities where the natural power of the sun could be utilized without any aid of other technologies or materials. In essence the power of the sun was used for natural heat and its ability to dry people or other items like clothing and foods such as berries. We call this type of solar power passive solar.

Essentially it is the process of trapping heat from sunlight.

passive solar energy

When we speak of passive solar energy today we are generally referring to the process of capturing energy (heat) by using specific construction techniques. Passive solar technologies include direct and indirect rises in temperature within a building or room using simple things like windows, overhangs, insulation and landscaping to capture and contain the heat from the sun.

Passive solar energy is the most typical home solar power currently in use. Many homes are designed for passive solar. With the proper use of glazing materials (lots of windows) and a southern exposure for your home a lot of heat can be captured.

By employing thermal mass (materials which hold in heat or block out cold) the heat from the sun can provide significant warming within a home.

If you have proper landscaping, the combination of passive solar energy, thermal mass and strategic landscaping can also provide cooling during hot weather making the whole house more efficient and less reliant on grid powered electricity.

There are many builders who specialize in the construction of passive solar homes. The cost of building a passive solar home is significantly less than building a home that is powered by active solar power systems for heating and water.

Passive solar systems are a core element of energy efficient housing. It helps optimize natural sunlight and heat within a home without the use of any other mechanical systems.

Active Solar Energy

Active solar energy technologies convert the energy of the sun into usable light and heat. An active solar system has the capacity to store energy for later use by storing it in batteries.

An active solar energy system uses electrical or mechanical equipment or processes to increase the usable heat in a system. Active solar systems have solar panels, collectors, batteries, voltage controllers and other system components including wiring so that the heat energy of the sun is collected, transferred and converted from DC to AC current that is compatible with the local electric grid.

The solar energy is then used to heat water or to generate electricity to power lighting and appliances within a home.

Which Is Best?

You may wonder which type of solar power is best. The true answer is that both passive and active solar energy have their place. It is not a matter of which is best. One should always begin by ensuring ones home is as energy efficient as possible using sound construction and lanscaping techniques. This will result in a passive solar home that optimizes the natural energy of the sun to both heat and cool your home without additional mechanical systems. It is the most responsible way to build or enhance your home. Once you have made your home as energy efficient (passive solar friendly) then you can consider additional active solar power to take your home entirely off the electric grid, generating all of your energy from the sun.

There are many benefits to adding and making your home completely solar powered. You are saving the environment, helping to reduce green house gas emissions and over the long term you are decreasing your energy costs and opening the door to getting paid for the excess power you produce that you don't use in your home.

The downside is the cost of building a totally solar powered home. Although prices are decreasing the costs remain prohibitive for most families and the payback period is still relatively long.

There is good news however. There are subsidies and grants to help defray the cost of going solar and with the decreasing costs and increasing energy costs for electricity more and more people will be able to afford building or enhancing their homes with active solar energy in the near future.

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