The Role of Solar Energy in Green Buildings
August 15th, 2019 | By Roger Kuznia
August 15th, 2019 | By Roger Kuznia
Green building arose out of the understanding that the built environment can affect the unbuilt or natural environment in both positive and negative ways. Green building is a methodology that tries to enhance the positive effects of the built environment while mitigating the negative ones. This effort includes the entire life cycle of the building.
The sustainable development concept can be traced to two concurrent events in the 1970s. The energy crisis brought about by an oil shortage caused by an embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). At about the same time, public concern about environmental pollution was on the rise. These two factors created a desire for more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient construction practices.
Although there are many definitions of green building, the basic tenets have coalesced around the planning, design, construction, and operation of buildings that take into account the following: water use, energy use, material selection, indoor environmental quality, and the building’s effect on its immediate environment.
Green buildings incorporate a variety of techniques and practices to reduce and eventually eliminate the impact of buildings on the environment. The practice emphasizes using renewable resources such as both active and passive solar power. They also focus on having green rooftops featuring small trees, plants, and rain gardens that conserve water.
With green building’s focus on sustainability and green energy, it is no surprise that solar power systems play a big role in their construction. The sun is an unlimited resource that can be used to generate power throughout the world. Green buildings take full advantage of this by utilizing solar panels and renewable power whenever possible.
Passive solar relies on daylight and the building’s orientation to provide heat and light without any other technology. It encompasses window placement, skylights, and more. Correctly placed windows bring sunlight in and a thermal mass, such as brick, concrete, adobe, or water stores the heat when the sunlight hits it, then gradually releases it at night.
An active solar energy system, whether on the roof or ground-mounted, converts solar power to electricity. Solar panels provide energy independence, supplying clean, renewable energy for the life of the system.
Energy efficiency and renewable power are key factors in reducing carbon emissions and slowing the effects of climate change. Energy consumption in the U.S. isn’t going down, and almost 90% of the houses that are expected to exist in 10 years in the U.S. have already been built. This means that we can’t improve carbon emissions and move toward sustainability without retrofitting existing buildings with solar power.
Retrofitting existing homes with solar power is just as important as building and buying new homes that have been built as green buildings. Homeowners who don’t want to build or move to new homes can make changes to their existing home to make it closer to a zero-energy home. In fact, retrofitting an existing home can be more environmentally friendly than building a new green house. A new home, even a green one, uses energy and materials while an existing home already has used that energy, so the “energy cost” of adding solar to an existing home is less.
Avoiding and reducing extensive developments alone is a good reason to retrofit existing homes. If you want to retrofit your home with a solar energy system, you’ll need to consider the following factors.
Solar power systems require space. How much power you can generate depends on the number of panels you install. For most homes, southern exposure is key for solar power, which means having a roof that faces south or west. And keep in mind that peak energy generation happens when the sun is highest in the sky. How much space you have with southern exposure should be taken into consideration when deciding how many solar panels for your system.
Any time you want to install a solar energy system, you need to determine how much power you will need. This will determine how much space you need for solar panels. If you don’t have enough space for the panels that will meet all your energy needs, you still can install some solar panels to take on part of the load. Many of our customers opt to do that. Or you can take advantage of available land and install ground-mounted panels.
Once you’ve installed solar panels, the panels will supply your home with energy during the day. There is still the issue of meeting your energy needs at night, though our solar systems have that covered. That’s because our solar systems are interconnected to the power grid, allowing you to draw from the grid when your home’s needs dictate. Your cost for drawing that power at night is offset by the excess energy your home generates and sends back to the grid during the day. That is a process called net metering, and it’s one of the reasons why going solar at your home is so beneficial. You benefit from all the energy your solar panels produce, whether your home directly uses it or not.
Future-proof your solar energy system
Your energy needs may change over time, so take this into consideration. Will you be purchasing an electric car that will need to be charged? Do you have teenagers who use a lot of appliances and devices? Do you have a sauna you like to keep heated? Consider all these factors when you think about your energy usage. This will help you decide on the number of panels to meet your energy needs.
In the long run, the best approach to reducing carbon emissions may be aggressively retrofitting as many existing buildings as possible, from period homes to recent construction. This has three benefits: reduction of carbon emissions, reduction of material used when possible, and prevention of further aggressive land use that could lead to over-development in some areas.
Turning the majority of homes into energy-efficient, green buildings using solar energy will take some time, but as a country, we are heading in the right direction. If the answer to the question “What will your next (or current) home be like?” is powered by clean, green renewable energy, you are part of the solution. The green building of the future may look a lot like your home.