Human Impacts Institute attended a Solarize North Brooklyn information session at El Puente to learn about solar panels. This was particularly helpful for us because we are working on a a building retrofit project at HII’s headquarters at the moment. Although we have heard about solar energy for quite a long time – it is renewable, cost-efficient, and can reduce our dependence on fuel oil – much has changed in the past decades: the technology has advanced, tax credits are now available, and much more people are putting solar panels on their rooftops.
Solar Energy can be used in two major ways. First, solar water heating is a sophisticated technology and has been used and developed worldwide for more than thirty years. Solar water heaters are cost-efficient and easy to use in that they only need a solar collector and a well-insulated storage tank. Solar heating can be used to heat water in the home, saving energy usage up to 50%, since 15-20% of home energy consumption is for heating water. Additionally, it can be used for Solar Photovoltatics, also known as PV modules/ or PV panels, which are composed of a number of PV cells that work to convert solar radiation into direct current electricity for home or businesses.
Why do we need to go solar? First of all, it’s cost-saving. A solar electricity system will lower your home electricity and heat bills considerably. It will also improve air quality; it’s from a clean, renewable, and free source – the sun! Additionally, solar energy slows down climate change. Unlike traditional ways to generate energy, like burning fuel oil or coals, it doesn’t emit pollutants or greenhouse gas. Furthermore, power failure will never occur because solar panels can generate electricity when New Yorkers most need it, such as during a power outage.
Solar panels are made up of smaller sections called PV cells. The PV cells are usually made of light – absorbing materials, mostly thin-layered silicon that generates a “photovoltaic effect”, resulting in current flow. Buildings require specific characteristics in order to install solar panels: the panels need to be South facing so they can access more sunlight; minimal shadings are preferable so the panels can catch the sunlight; and the roof needs to be in good condition. Once installed, a solar panel can even protect your roof!
New York City has an excellent solar system incentive program. Take a 3 kW PV panel system, for example: the initial cost will be around $35,000 with no discount and incentives. But with city, state and federal tax credit, it will end up with one third of the system cost, totaling about $11,500! With group purchasing, you can potentially save an additional 15%. With 5750 kWh electricity generated annually, it takes about eight years to pay back the installation fee.
HII is now launching its building retrofit project for “green building” demonstration. We have been developing a proposal to open up our rooftop, basement, backyard and storefront for education and demonstration in the past two months. Installing solar panels and solar PV systems is definitely in our plan. Sounds interesting? Stay tuned for our next step (Follow us on HII website, facebook and twitter)!
By Celia Cui, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Services Intern