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Today’s guest post is from Dan Harding, resident solar expert at CalFinder, a site that is (among other things related to home improvements) intent on the education of homeowners as to the benefits of residential solar energy and technology.

Today, Dan talks about how solar energy is an emerging and evolving technology into the mainstream for homeowners and the construction industry, along with some of the very compelling reasons to investigate solar power as an investment in your home, and as a means to lower energy costs, and promote clean energy …

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Like a wave, green energy is spreading across the United States and appearing in some unexpected places. It’s important for green builders and homeowners alike to know how green energy is disseminated, how it arrived at this pivotal moment in the U.S., and where it’s likely headed in the future. Here’s a breakdown of the rapid-fire growth of green building and solar energy.

What are the Top Forms of Green Energy?
Clean, renewable energy is popping up all over the country. Here are a few of the major players:

  • Solar power is finding use in thousands of global applications, from individual houses to solar-powered space satellites.
  • Wind turbines are spreading across the plains, lining river valleys, mixing with large-scale solar plants and even looking to spin offshore.
  • Geothermal power plants are used to harvest energy from deep within the earth.
  • Industrial waste (and waste heat) is recycled to create electricity.
  • Ocean energy is just scraping at its surface potential.

Of all of these, solar energy currently has the most diverse array of applications, and seems to have the most potential overall. Solar cells line boats, planes, and automobiles. Solar panels blanket urban and rural rooftops, desert landscapes, industrial sites, building facades and parking lots.

Furthermore, the sun not only feeds clean electricity into the power grid, but its thermal energy is also used to heat homes, warm domestic water and swimming pools, ventilate houses, cook food, cool homes and mistily water gardens. As consumption of solar power grows, so do the tools we invent to harness that power.

So how did we get to the exciting growth phase we’re experiencing today?

All About Aesthetics: BIPV
Once upon a time, it was common for unwitting neighbors and neighborhood associations to find solar panels unsightly, so innovators came up with building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). These days, such negative perceptions have mostly passed, but many homeowners would still prefer a sleek, nearly invisible home solar power system. BIPV products include solar shingles, solar lighting, solar attic fans and a number of exciting technologies in development, including solar paint, solar siding, solar windows and more.

Efficient Home Energy
Related to BIPV, of course, is the more comprehensive approach to green building, a trend taking off even faster than residential solar power, as homeowners work to shore up their home energy efficiency before seeking out options for energy independence. Insulation, sustainable materials, efficient appliances, CFL and LED lighting, as well as all the products above, combine to manifest the current spread of solar power and green energy.

How Solar Helps Green Builders
This symbiosis between green energy and green building is evidenced by the variety of ways solar power can contribute points in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings system. Any solar electric or solar heating and cooling system will contribute significantly to green building credits. Also, everything from passive solar home design (think south-facing windows for maximum solar heat in winter) to the reflectivity of a roof count as green building techniques.

Furthermore, solar energy is especially adaptive to residential buildings, because as of yet, it is the only green power option that is scalable to the size of a single-family rooftop. There are residential wind turbines in the works, although none have yet penetrated the housing market to a significant extent, and geothermal heating and cooling is increasingly popular and well worth it, but no other green energy source has seen the sort of rocket ship-takeoff that residential solar has seen over the last decade.

Where Does Green Energy Stand Today?
Now, despite all this growth from the solar industry (average 30 percent or more annual growth) in recent years, solar power still accounts for less than 1 percent of national energy consumption—about 7 percent for green energy in general (including biomass and hydroelectric). Critics of the solar movement are quick to point this out in arguing for the absurdity of solar power as a viable energy resource. Yet an easy rebuttal to any such argument is the absurdity of U.S. energy consumption in the first place—housing less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consuming 25 percent of its resources. Imagine if the U.S. consumed only its own share of global energy supply. Then what would our energy mix look like?

Regardless of summaries, tables and percentages, however, the solar market is growing fast, especially in the residential sector. A fact owed to progressive early adopters, solar federal and state incentives, continued innovation and increased manufacturing efficiency, as well as the growing number of avenues available for individuals that want to use green energy. These include green power options from electricity providers, group buying, solar leasing, community solar gardens, renewable energy credits, power purchase agreements and even doing-it-yourself.

Such is the dissemination of green building and solar power. Out of one renewable energy source comes a web of energy resources, all increasingly available at the fingertips of homeowners and individuals across the globe.

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Thanks, Dan.  And thanks to Dean Dowd of CalFinder who helped set up Dan’s post here on the BuildDirect blog, too.

For up-to-the-minute news and links about solar energy and technology, be sure to Follow CalFinder on Twitter. Also, you can also ‘like’ CalFinder on Facebook.

Cheers!

Rob.

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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.