I'd like to power my condo with solar power. How do I do it?
I have floor to ceiling windows facing southeast. There is lots of sun. How can I power as many items as possible from solar power?0
First thing is figure out what you want to power. Do you want electricity, heat, hot water, cooking? Measure your load (how many kw's, btu's...) you need and then reduce it by getting the most efficient appliances possible in a house that is as well-insulated and as draftless as possible.
You can start small. I say Solar IS Civil Defense, meaning the flashlight, radio, cell phone, and extra set of batteries we need to have on hand in case of emergency or disaster can all be powered by a few square inches of solar electric cells. From there, you can power one room. My bedroom is essentially off-grid with a little over one square foot of solar electric panels and some rewired portable LED lights. Has worked fine for me over the last five or six years.
You might want to contact your local solar energy association and your state's energy office. They will be able to point you towards local experts.
My solar archive is at http://solarray.blogspot.com and you can find my email there if you have more detailed questions.
The biggest challenge in equipping your home with solar power is how to manage the energy. Gmoke was dead on with reducing the energy you use because it costs way more and takes up a lot more space to generate solar energy than it does to reduce consumption.
That being said, the electricity you do create will be DC current and, since most everything runs on AC, you will need an inverter (unless you have a host of DC appliances). Another challenge is storing the energy meaning you will need a battery to hold the energy while not in use.
To power a condo from one window would be difficult; even a small condo would require several panels. However, if you are interested in testing the water with solar energy there is an extremely affordable solar power kit that will give you just about everything you need to get started (you will also need to buy a battery from an auto parts store or Wal*Mart) for about 270 bucks. This kit plus a power strip could power a room or two depending on your usage/sun exposure.
You need to run a mature ROI calculation for this. Panels in lieu of windows means your room(s) are now dark(er); is that a compromise you can sustain? Also, consider solar as a total cost: panels plus inverters plus an energy store: you can easily make this more complicated by looking at tracking systems, micro-inverters, SRECs and grid storage for creative financing, and so forth. With those costs, determine what that means in reductions over your current costs for electricity. A condo just isn't going to provide the square footage required to collect enough solar to get you to net-zero cost.
The best you may be able to do is run thirty square feet of panels and collect power into deep-cycle batteries; you can invert that into something with outlets. You will lose efficiency in storage and inversions, but maybe that'll be enough for you. It's something I'll be doing to power attic fans this summer; at least I'll be able to continually pull air out of the hottest part of the house and get that heat blanket vented.
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