Solar power home accessories

Let's look at the uses that solar power can be put to in a domestic environment.

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The debate over the advantages and disadvantages of current energy production methods has moved up a gear in recent years. With the ratification of the Kyoto treaty by many governments, people are now looking afresh at how power is produced and consumed.

The Sun

Using the power of our stellar neighbour is now directly in reach of almost all homeowners, using both passive and active power systems.

Passive Power is where we use the suns energy directly to heat up an object and then utilise the heat for our benefit.

Active power is where we transform the energy into electricity.

Solar panels are found on everything from watches and calculators to car roofs and sailing boats. As the technology has improved the solar powered future seems to be in full swing. Any device, gadget or appliance that can run on a battery can be run on solar power.

The simplest passive power system we found was a way of retaining a more stable temperature in a greenhouse. This is achieved by placing a large lidded water-butt inside the greenhouse, and covering the outside of the butt with black paint.

The butt now acts as a heat storage device, taking in heat during the day and releasing it at night.

This may seem rather amateur, but actually follows the same principles as are used when designing passively heated homes from scratch. A heat store like this is without doubt the cheapest and most effective passive solar tool available to the gardener. It really works brilliantly and can keep a greenhouse frost free all year round. What a great use of the sun's power.

The next step up in solar energy use is a project to build a passive water heating system. At its most basic this comprises sending water slowly through black painted pipes exposed to the sun.

This has been successfully achieved using the slope of a roof with small bore pipes attached in an long snake.

Active solar power is most common in calculators which use the photovoltaic effect, converting sunlight directly into electricity. There is no reason why we cannot scale this up so that large arrays of photovoltaic cells are producing all (or more than) our domestic needs. With advances in efficiency and lowering of costs this is now becoming an option to be considered seriously in northern lattitudes. The BBC reports that by the end of 2005 Germany will have 150,000 homes powered by PV.

In the United Kingdom, brands such as Thermomax and Sunset are offering Solar power home accessories to ordinary households.