Solar Gadgets – Gotta Love Them

by: Rick Chapo

It has been claimed that our nation is infatuated with a variety of things from civil rights to freedom. Bah! If we are honest, we will admit we are infatuated with gadgets.

Solar Gadgets – Gotta Love Them

Forget the oil addiction, our biggest weakness as a nation is we are fools for gadgets. If it peels an onion 56 different ways, we have to own it. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself one question. When you go to a fair, how many gadgets do you end up bringing home? Be honest. There is no shame in it. In fact, I believe there is an argument to be made that a particular subject matter, whatever it is, isn’t mainstream until it includes gadgets. If this is true, solar energy may finally be a real alternative.

Most of us have far too many gadgets, particularly small personal gadgets. Cell phones, ipods, pdas, Bluetooth, I have them all. I find it somewhat ironic that all these small gadgets that are to make my life easier make me look like Sherpa walking around. Regardless, the digital age has one problem and you already know what it is. Gadgets require power and they always run down when you need them most. This, of course, results in you walking around with a power converter in your hand looking for a convenient outlet of some sort. Instead of looking like a junkie trying to find a fix, you can use a very useful new gadget.

Solar power packs are the latest and greatest thing when it comes to gadgets. Yes, I said solar. The packs come in a variety of forms, but they tend to look like the black folders for your compact discs. The packs are thin and light. When you are outside, you just unzip them, lay them in the sun and plug your power hungry gadget into them. The packs will put a charge into your gadget and you’ll be ready to go.

Finally, solar power we can use on a personal level. I guess it is here to stay.

About The Author
Rick Chapo is with – a directory of solar energy companies. Visit to read more solar power articles.

Solar Powered Cars

by: Jonathon Hardcastle

The elements of nature have been created for man alone. Every single need can be acquired and it is present in nature around us. Man only needs to travel and explore the hidden treasures of nature and use them for the fulfillment of his basic needs of life. Something that doesn't need any searching shines up above in the sky. The sun is the basic source of life on earth. If there was no sun no life would have been possible.

Sun emits light which is known as the solar energy and you may have heard and studied about solar energy being used for thousands of purposes. This energy has been used for heating systems and thermal power plants are run through solar energy and so on. When you read or hear about these things you simply pass on because this is too common.

When it comes to solar powered cars it is very likely that you stop and think for a while. It is a promising future prospect and you wish you live long enough to see only solar powered cars racing down the streets, no running out gas, no waiting at the filling station, no more paying for the petrol. Imagine how quickly you would be able to increase your standard of living.

Solar powered cars have been in existence since the mid of the 19th century. They have been increasing in number year by year and organizations tend to hold solar powered car racing each year and thousands of people invest their money and bet on their solar powered cars. The mechanism of these cars is very simple. The batteries installed in these light bodied cars charge themselves from the solar energy. Then this energy is converted by them into electrical energy thus it helps the motor run.

Now this prospect is very simple or more likely it sounds very simple and trouble free. The sun shines everyday and there doesn't seem to be any such problem with these cars. But the fact is that the amount of energy stored at a time by these cars enables them to drive at a very slow pace. The road has to be leveled and not steep because that requires even more energy. It will need more powerful batteries and more storage capacity.

Have you never noticed that this is the reason why solar powered cars are small; light weighed, and can carry one person at a time? There are many technical facts that render the concept of these cars as vague.

About The Author
Jonathon Hardcastle writes articles for - In addition, Jonathon also writes articles for and

Lighted Solar Stepping Stones

by: Scott Byers

A lighted stepping stone can add the necessary light needed to illuminate walkways around any home. They are inexpensive to install and use the sunlight as an energy source. They are a great way to conserve energy while allowing people to see where they are going. A lighted solar stepping stone can be made to look attractive. They can still be painted to match any outside décor. The stones are usually made of a hard plastic and have light bulbs inside. These stepping stones capture the sun’s rays and use the energy at nighttime to create light. One can find these stepping stones at many home improvement stores or online.

Another feature of a lighted stepping stone is the added sense of security. When people go away on vacation, they can feel safer knowing the stepping stone will be turned on to signify that someone may be home even when they are not. This will also allow people to have some light when they return home at night. A lighted solar stepping stone has many purposes in addition to looking attractive. The bulbs inside do not need to be changed often and the stones can capture enough energy to last a few nights even if the sun did not come out that day.

A lighted solar stepping stone adds light as well as beauty to any home. They are easy to install and useful when having an outdoor party or going for a midnight swim. The lighted solar stepping stone provides enough light to see even on the darkest nights. These stones can also be used to illuminate a garden to make it noticeable even in the dark. This is a nice touch when throwing a patio party or a family gathering. The garden will look alive and beautiful with the lighted solar stepping stone.

About The Author
Scott Byers is a contributor to, along with many other websites. Please visit our website if you would like to know more about how solar lighted stepping stones can improve your garden

6 Easy Steps to Estimate Cost of a Solar Power System

Solar power energy systems are not inexpensive. That said it's important to compare them within context of other types of home improvement projects. Home buyers and realtors view a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water heating system as a significant value-added improvement – similar to adding a deck or remodeling your kitchen. Plus unlike a deck or kitchen remodel, you also gain one-up on your power bills. Here are some foolproof ways to estimate the cost of a solar photovoltaic or solar thermal system and to figure out if a solar energy system makes sense for you.

So here Six Easy Steps To Estimate Cost of a Solar Power System:

Solar power energy systems are not inexpensive. That said it's important to compare them within context of other types of home improvement projects. Home buyers and realtors view a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water heating system as a significant value-added improvement – similar to adding a deck or remodeling your kitchen. Plus unlike a deck or kitchen remodel, you also gain one-up on your power bills.

Solar power systems often get an additional financial boost as well: many jurisdictions and utilities across the USA offer attractive financial incentives to drive down the upfront capital costs associated with a solar power system.

Here are some foolproof ways to estimate the cost of a solar photovoltaic or solar thermal system and to figure out if a solar energy system makes sense for you. Let's start with a home photovoltaic (PV) system.

Step 1: Estimate your home's electricity needs
To get started, it's good to have a sense of how much electricity you use. You'll have a better point for comparison if you find out how many kilowatt hours (kWh) you use per day, per month, per year. Your utility bill should include that information.

Of course, the utility bill will also display your costs and many utilities include a graph that displays how your monthly energy use/cost varies throughout the year. That helps you estimate where your highest energy use is and at what time of year.

New Home Construction

If you are constructing a new home, then you'll need to estimate your demand based on the type of equipment you plan to install and your home's square footage. The pross call this "your load".

To figure out your anticipated load, create a table to record the watt use for each appliance. Each appliance – be it a water heater, electric light, computer, or refrigerator – should have a nameplate that lists its power rating in watts. Or you can get the information from the manufacturer's website.

Some labels list amperage and voltage only; to obtain watts multiply the two together (amperage x voltage = watts). In another column, record the number of hours each appliance is expected to operate. Then multiple the watts and hours together to estimate watt-hours used per day. Since it's hard to anticipate all electric loads (it may get tedious scouting out every toothbrush and mobile phone cell charger), you might want to add a multiplier of 1.5 to be safe.

Step 2: Anticipate the future

In 2005, average residential electricity rates across the USA ranged from about 6 to nearly 16 cents per kilowatt hour depending on where you lived. Average retail and commercial electricity rates have increased roughly 30% since 1999 and the upward trend will likely continue especially as costs for the coal and hydropower used to generate that electricity rise as well. So think about your home electricity needs and present and future cost in relation to one another.

Step 3: How much sun do you get?

The Florida Solar Energy Center has conducted a study to examine how a 2-kW photovoltaic system would perform if installed on a highly energy efficient home across the continental USA (

The study accounted for all factors that impact a PV system's performance such as the temperature effect on the photovoltaic cells, the amount of sun peak hours in various regions, and the efficiency of inverter to convert solar derived energy from DC to AC.

As the study implies, solar photovoltaic systems work just about anywhere in the US. Even in the Northeast or in "rainy Seattle", a pv system can pencil out if designed and installed properly. In New York or New Jersey, a one kilowatt system should produce about 1270 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, in Seattle, a one kilowatt system should produce about 1200 kilowatt hours per year. In the Southwest, of course, those ratios will be much greater.

Solar contractors in your area can help determine the best size for your solar photovoltaic system.

Step 4: Size your system

In general, solar photovoltaic systems sized between 1 to 5 kilowatts are usually sufficient to meet the electricity needs of most homes. One advantage of grid-tied systems is that you can use solar PV to supplement or offset some of your electricity needs; therefore you can size your system to match your budget and always add to the system later if needed.

Also as a side note, here's a rule of thumb to remember to help you estimate the physical space your PV system might need: one square foot yields 10 watts. So in bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will produce 10 watts of power. A 1000 watt system, for example, may need 100 – 200 square feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used.

Step 5: Know your rebates

Many states and local jurisdictions offer rebates, tax credits and other types of incentives to homeowners for installing residential photovoltaic and solar domestic water systems. To view a comprehensive database of the incentives available for renewable energy visit

At the Federal Level, you can take advantage of a 30% tax credit (of up to $2,000) for the purchase of a residential solar system at least until December 31, 2008.

Step 6: Run the numbers

Although the cost for a solar PV system will depend on the size of the system you intend to install, your electricity rate, the amount of kilowatt hours you expect to generate, and the state/local rebates/tax credits that may be available, the formulas for calculating the returns are pretty much the same.

For those who appreciate having the formulas, use the ones listed below to do a quick ballpark estimate of how much a solar photovoltaic system might cost you.

Retail Price for Solar Photovoltaic System
+ Building Permits
- $2,000 Federal Tax Credit
- State or Local Tax Credit or Rebate
- Utility Rebate or Other Incentive
= Net Investment

Kilowatts of electricity generated from PV per year
x Kilowatt hours used per year
= Annual Kilowatt energy from the PV system

Annual Kilowatt energy from the PV system
x Current Residential Electricity Rate
= Annual $$ Saved

Yearly Excess PV Energy Produced
x $$ credit applied per watt
= Annual Value from Net Metering

Of course, a more accurate assessment can be made by a pro. Work with a solar power contractor to size and price the right system for you. As is true with any major purchase, don't hesitate to ask for several bids from different contractors.

Many solar power providers will provide you with a comprehensive estimate. Helpful information to know includes:

- Total cost to make the system operational (labor cost for design and installation and equipment costs)
- Equipment (Make and Model)
- Warranty info
- Permit costs, if needed
- Tax, where applicable
- Federal tax credits
- State or local jurisdiction tax credits or rebates
- Utility rebates
- Expected Renewable Energy Certificates or Net metering credits
- Expected operation and maintenance costs
- Projected savings

Solar Thermal (also called Solar Hot Water)

Solar thermal systems capture the sun's energy to heat water and are one of the most cost-effective renewable energy systems. They are used to heat hot water tanks and/or a heating system. A solar pool heating system is another type of solar thermal system designed specifically to heat a pool or hot tub.

Generally it's worth investigating the economic viability of installing a solar hot water system if you have an electric water heater with utility rates of at least 5 cents per kilowatt hour and have tax credits or rebates available. (It may even be worth changing out a gas-powered water heater if your costs are at least $8/million BTU).

The formulas for costing out a solar water heater system are similar to estimating the cost for installing solar PV system. Many solar energy professionals can help you determine what system might work best for you.

Heating Your Swimming Pool with Solar Power

Although few jurisdictions provide financial incentives for using solar energy to heat a swimming pool or hot tub, in general, using solar power to heat your pool is a "no-brainer" from a return on investment standpoint.

The electricity used to heat a pool during the swimming season often amounts to the same amount of energy that homes-without-pools consume over a year. Combining a solar thermal system to generate heat for the pool with a solar thermal pool cover to retain the heat generated can further maximize efficiencies and extend your swimming season.

Most installers recommend that a solar collector used to heat a pool is sized at roughly half the square footage of your pool surface area. Solar thermal panels typically last 10 – 20 years and come with a 10-year warranty.

How long it takes to break even on the cost of your solar power pool system depends on where you live. In California or other parts of the Southwest, you'll break even in 1 to 3 years but places as "far north" as Canada, a solar pool heating system pencils out over a slightly longer period of time.

About the Author:
Find more solar panel and solar power information at Cooler Planet.

Overview of a PV Solar Energy System

By Paul Calhoun

A typical Solar pv electrical system is described to refresh our basic electrical knowledge. This knowledge will allow us to be comfortable with the design of our pv solar system and have confidence that it is not over or under designed.
The pv Solar Energy System: A pv Solar system has the four major components.
1) THE SOLAR PANEL: This is the component that receives photons from the sun and converts the photon energy into electricity. The panels are rated in Watts.
2) CHARGE CONTROLLER: This component insures that the storage batteries are not overcharged and damaged.
3) STORAGE BATTERIES: The batteries store our collected electricity until we use the energy to power our appliance. Our electricity is store as the potential energy rated in Volts.
4) INVERTER: This component changes the current from our batteries, which is stored in direct current (DC), to an alternating current (AC) which is compatible with our household appliance.
Conversion of Sunlight to Electricity: Photovoltaic energy is the conversion of sunlight into electricity through a photovoltaic (pv) cell, commonly called a solar cell. A photovoltaic cell is a non mechanical device usually made from silicon alloys.
Sunlight is composed of photons or particles of solar energy. These photons contain various amounts of energy corresponding to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum. When photons strike a photovoltaic cell, they may be reflected, pass right through, or be absorbed. Only the absorbed photons provide energy to generate electricity. When enough sunlight (energy) is absorbed by the material (a semiconductor), electrons are dislodged from the material's atoms. Special treatment of the material surface during manufacturing makes the front surface of the cell more receptive to free electrons, so the electrons naturally migrate to the surface.
The output of a solar panel is usually stated in watts, and the wattage is determined by multiplying the rated voltage by the rated amperage. The formula for wattage is Volts times Amps equal Watts. So for our example, a 12 volt - 60 watt solar panel measuring about 20 X 44 inches has a rated voltage of 17.1 and 3.5 amps .
V X A = W
17.1 volts times 3.5 amps equals 60 watts.
Our solar panel rated as 60 watts exposed to 6 hours of peak sun will produce 360 watt hours of power per day. An typical; home will require 4000 watts of DC generating power to produce sufficient kwh to cover annual electrical consumption. This equates to 67 - 20 X 44 inches solar panels from the example above.
Wiring the System:
Solar panels can be wired in series or parallel to increase voltage or amperage respectively, and they can be wired both in series and in parallel to increase both volts and amps. Series wiring refers connecting a positive terminal of one panel to the negative terminal of an adjacent panel. This connection will produce voltage as the sum of the two panels and the amperage will remain the same as the output panel. Two 12 volt and 3.5 amp panels wired in series will produce 24 volts at 3.5 amps.
Solar panels can be wired in parallel by connecting positive terminals to positive terminals and negative terminals to negative terminals. Two 12 volts and 3.5 amps panels wired in parallel will produce 12 volts and 7 amps.
A series/parallel wired system refers to doing both to the above. This wiring scheme would produce 24 volts and 7 amps from our two 12 volt and 3.5 amps panels.
An inverter is a device which changes DC power stored in a battery bank to standard 110 / 240 volts AC. Nearly all our lighting, appliances and motors are designed to use AC power. Inverters come in sine wave and modified sine wave output. Most 11o volts devices can use the modified sine wave output. However, special devices that use lasers or silicon controlled rectifiers will require the pure sine inverter which is more expensive.
Auto transfer switching is a common internal feature which enables switching from one AC source to another and / or from utility power to inverter power for designated loads. Battery temperature compensation, internal relays to control loads, automatic remote generator starting and stopping and many other programmable features are available.
Charge Controller:
A charge controller monitors the battery's state of charge to insure that when the batteries need current when required and also insure that the batteries are not overcharged. Connecting a solar panel to the batteries without a charge controller seriously risks damaging the batteries and potentially causing a safety concern.
Charge controllers are rated based on the amount of amperage they can produce from a solar array. If a controller is rated at 20 amps you can connect up to 20 amps of solar panel current output. Advanced charge controllers utilize Pulse-Width-Modulation which insures the most efficient battery charging and extends the life of the batteries. Even more advanced controllers can include Maximum Power Point Tracking which maximizes the amount of current going to the batteries by lowering the panel's output voltage.
Many advanced charge controllers offer Low Voltage Disconnect and Battery Temperature Compensation as optional features. The Low Voltage Disconnect allows the terminals to be voltage sensitive. If the battery voltage drops too far the panels are disconnected thus preventing damage to the batteries. The Battery Temperature Compensation adjusts the charge rate based on the temperature of the battery since batteries are sensitive to temperature variations above and below about 75 F degrees.
The batteries for our system should be Deep Cycle units which are designed to be discharged and then re=charged hundreds or thousands of times. Batteries are rated in Amp Hours (ah) and are usually rated at 20 or 100 hours. Amps hours refer to the amount of current which can be supplied by the battery over the periods of hours. An example would ne a 350 ah battery could supply 17.5 continuous amps over a 20 hour period.
Like solar panels, batteries are wired in series and/or parallel to increase voltage to the desired level and increase amp hours.The capacity of the battery amp hour capacity requires careful sizing for the conditions under consideration. Longest periods of no sun or cloudy conditions, availability of generator or grid backup or a standby generator with battery charger are among the conditions for consideration. The size of the battery bank will depend on the storage capacity required, the maximum discharge rate, the maxium charge rate, and the minimum temperature at which the batteries will be used.
Overall Design:
As with all electrical systems there are voltage losses as the electricity is carried across the wires, batteries and inverters and these losses are dependent on the efficiency of each component. These efficiency losses vary from component to component, and from system and can be as high as 25 percent. A trained technician will be required to fine tune the system for efficiency.

I have a BS and MS in Metallurgical Engineering. Thirty six years spent in the development of semiconductors. Business experience in start up business plan. Currently, an oyster farmer and interested in helping the environment by deploying solar energy. Please visit my Blog for further discussions