Smarter Living

June 12, 2014

Pinch more pennies with solar power

It’s hard to find a person these days who isn’t interested in saving a few dollars.

It’s hard to find a person these days who isn’t interested in saving a few dollars.

Whether it’s by clipping coupons or carpooling with co-workers, every little bit adds up to help keep the budget in the black.

So who’s interested in taking their penny-pinching practices to the next level? All you need to do is look toward the sky for inspiration. Nature’s original light bulb, the sun, has a bright idea that could save you more than just pocket change.

The power of the people

More people are turning to solar technology to keep their home energy costs at bay. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, last year alone, North Carolina installed 335 megawatts of solar capabilities, bringing the state’s total to 592 MW. That’s enough solar energy to power 64,500 homes.

Part of the reason for North Carolinians’ peaking interest in solar energy revolves around the drastic price cuts in the materials used to make solar panels – the silicon, glass and aluminum frames.

“We are seeing, in the last two to three years, a tremendous drop in material costs – 40 to 70 percent,” said Randy Lucas, board chairman for the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

Even better, experts like Lucas believe that the more popular alternative energy such as solar power becomes, the lower costs will dip, and that includes prices on the growing list of newly designed products that are solar-ready, such as air conditioners and refrigerators. “As with any technology, the more consumers embrace it, the more it drives the cost down,” said Lucas.

But if you’re not ready to line solar panels atop your roof yet, that’s okay. There are plenty of reasons to start small and test solar energy’s benefits through a few of the new solar products on the market today for residential homes.

Soak in the savings

You don’t need to orchestrate a massive transformation of your home’s heating and cooling system to see how solar technology can save you money. Test the water first and see how solar energy can heat your hot tub for less. The average monthly electric bill to operate a hot tub runs between $60 and $90, but Sunbank’s Solar Hot Tub Heater Kit can heat the water to more than 120 degrees for about half the cost using energy stored from its solar panels, according to the company’s website. $1,692 at thesunbank.com.

The reliability of rays

Winter brings the likelihood of powerful ice storms, which can sometimes lead to power outages. Instead of playing a waiting game in the dark while the utility company works to restore power, rely on a solar-powered generator to keep your lights lit, computers on, or refrigerated food cold. The Goal Zero Yeti 1250-Watt Hour Portable Solar Generator can store enough energy to operate appliances, electronics, or even home medical equipment. It’s silent and, because it doesn’t use gas, won’t unleash harmful fumes into your home. $1,400 at www.lowes.com.

Ease of use

Solar technology is relatively straightforward. Nature Power’s Savana Solar Patio Table, for example, has two solar panels that pull energy from the sun and store it in a battery pack hidden in the table’s drawer. Just plug in your smartphone, MP3 player, or tablet for a charge, even on a cloudy day. $250 at www.smarthome.com. Avoid large centerpieces and similar items.

Low maintenance

For the amount of power they generate, solar products are simple in mechanics and often require less maintenance. The technology behind the Estate Swing Single Swing Solar Gate Opener, for example, has only one power supply and fewer wires than traditional electric-powered gates. $479 at gatecrafters.com.

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