Embodied Energy of Solar Panels
Discussion of the embodied energy of solar panels is something fairly new to the world of green energy. Using embodied energy of solar panels is a term that describes adapting old structures in a way that allows use of solar energy.
You might be surprised to learn there are groups of people who oppose solar energy. These are not anti-environment groups but are those who question whether the costs and emissions of building solar energy panels and other equipment are balanced by the use of solar power.
Part of the problem is the large amount of land that is required when installing solar panels to provide sufficient electricity for a building. New buildings may incorporate solar panels on the roof but that surface may not hold enough panels to completely provide power.
When adding solar energy to an existing structure the most common method of installation is add solar panels raised off the ground and interconnected. This can uses quite a bit of land and a town filled with piece of land covered with black solar panels will not be attractive to look at.
The color green is in today. On the packaging of many products you see a message about the environment or that the product is "green" or that it's powered by solar energy. Everyone loves to feel environmentally responsible and we would all love to live in a home without a power bill every month.
The U.S. Green Building Council has become influential in how commercial buildings are designed. This influence has been gained rapidly as the demands for clean alternative energy sources have grown.
The Council now awards it's own stamp of certification much like the Gold Housekeeping Seal of Approval that's been a designation of quality for years.
Some state and local governments are now passing building laws that require that Council certification. New commercial buildings must meet the minimum standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The new regulations usually apply only to structure of 10,000 square feet or more. There is a practical reason for such new laws. Huge manufacturing plants that are cheaply built with no concern for the environment or to power use can place a strain on the local power grid.
By adhering to the standards promoted by the Green Building Council, companies not only have buildings that are environmentally responsible but can use those standards to promote the reputation of the company.
Wired magazine likened the fad of ecofriendly products to "conspicuous conservation" ten years ago. Time has shown the trend to Green Living is not a fad but a movement.
As with any new technology some parts of the movement are brilliant and both conserve energy and improve quality of life. Many of the products and methods only provide the appearance of doing something without producing real environmental results.
This is true in the area of embodied energy of solar panels and how this trend is used. Slapping a few solar panels on the roof of a building may involve more style than substance.
However, blanketing the roof of a large single store manufacturing plant can cut the power bills in half and truly reduce the carbon footprint of that manufacturer.
To use the embodied energy of solar panels to replace our reliance on fossil fuels require us to add the panels in a way that does not destroy the appearance of structures.
We need to avoid mistakes of the past when urban renewal resulted in the destruction of thousands of historic, study buildings in many of our large cities.
The end result of the renewal was to change neighborhoods from street of classic structures that reflected the history of our society into poorly maintained boxes that quickly began to look like modern slums.
In part, the rush to add solar panels to old buildings is based on the belief that old construction will always be a building suffering energy loss.
Many think of old homes as lacking energy efficiency when in truth the opposite is the case. Many older historic homes were built with energy in mind. Coal and oil for furnaces at the time were expensive.
Homes were built with an eye to capturing the cross ventilation of cool breezes and using shade trees to keep spaces cool. Walls were thicker and plaster was a good insulator. Ceilings were high to allow hot air to hover far above the people in a room and provide protection from extremes of temperature.
Wise use of embodied energy of solar panels means adding solar panels in ways that work with the character of the building. A current trend to adding solar panels to parking lots by adding sturdy open sided covers to the lots is an excellent use of embodied energy of solar panels.
Slapping panels on a building list on the historical registry or filling the lawn with an array of solar panels is not the best way to proceed. Solar energy is the way of the future for many homeowners and businesses.
Proceeding cautiously and using good design methods will allow us to transition to embodied energy of solar panels without destroying the individual design characteristics of our town, cities and neighborhoods.