Appreciating solar energys versatility

You can use solar energy in many ways, each with different costs and complexity. Later chapters and the upcoming section titled "Small to Supergiant: Choosing Your Level of Commitment" talk about some projects you can tackle. But for now, consider that solar power lets you do any of the following:

1 Generate electricity for general use: You can install a solar electric generating system that allows you to reduce your electric bills to zero. (See Chapter 17.)

1 Cook: Using the sun and your vivid imagination, along with a few easy-to-build ovens and heaters, solar power can help you put dinner on the table. (See Chapter 9.)

i Practice passive space heating: The sun can heat your house by strategic use of blinds, awnings, sunrooms and the like. (See Chapters 9, 13, and 16.)

1 Heat water: Use solar energy to heat your domestic water supply — or let sun-warmed water heat your house. You may need no electrical pumps or moving parts other than the water itself. (See Chapters 10, 11, and 12.)

1 Pump water: You can slowly pump water into a tank when the sun is shining and then get the water back anytime you want. You can also make your tank absorb sunlight and heat the water. (See Chapter 14.)

1 Heat your swimming pool: You can cover your pool with a solar blanket to heat it cheaply and efficiently. Or you can install solar hot water heating panels on your roof that can heat your pool year round.

I Add landscape lighting: You can put small, inexpensive solar lights around your yard and eliminate the need for high-priced overhead lighting powered by the utility company. With advances in technology, these lights actually look and work better than hard-wired versions.

I Provide indoor lighting: The technological boom in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) — small, electronic lights that take very little current and provide long lifetimes — has enabled a number of effective solar lighting systems for in-home use with very low power requirements. You can light your porches and even rooms in your house with a small, off-grid photovoltaic system connected to a battery. During the day, the battery charges so that you have enough juice at night to do the job.

I Power remote dwellings: You can completely power a remote cabin, RV, or boat with solar. (See Chapter 14.)

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