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Alternative Energy

Alternative energy refers to energy sources which are not based on the burning of fossil fuels or the splitting of atoms. The interest in this field of study comes from the undesirable effects of pollution both from burning fossil fuels and from nuclear waste. Fortunately there are many means of harnessing energy which have less damaging impacts on our environment.


Solar Energy

Solar energy can produce enough electricity and hot water to drop your utility bills to all time lows and almost eliminate them completely.  When your systems are designed properly they can all but eliminate the need for utility companies. 

Photovoltaic Arrays

Photovoltaic Arrays are glass clad panels with materials called semiconductors sandwiched in between them.  The most popular semiconductor currently used is silicon.  When the energy of the sun hits the cells of silicon the cells absorb the energy and in the process knocks electrons loose.  The electrons are compelled by the electrical fields contained in the photovoltaic panels to move in one direction and form a current.  The current is then attracted to the strips of metal in the panel that allow it to be used externally.  While utility companies in other states will buy your generated electricity back from you, California regulations do not allow them to do so.  The strategy for the consumer in California is too generate electricity during the day, turning the electric meter for your house backwards.  Since there are different monetary rates for energy being used during different times of the day, you can control when you use the most electricity and save money.  By purchasing a special meter for your house that determines the time the energy is being used and by using the majority of electricity at the lease expensive time of day, you can save a lot of money.  Evening and late nights have the least expensive rates.  So if you do your laundry and vacuuming at night, it will cost you less than if you did it during the day time.  Coupling this type of scheduling with a well designed photovoltaic array and you will have a scenario in which your electricity bill can become nonexistent.


Solar Water Heaters

Solar water heaters are a series of tubes that are installed in either a glass clad panel or a black plastic array.  Like photovoltaic arrays, solar water heaters are oriented toward the south for the most exposure to the sun.  The higher end components of a system include a plate with copper tubing soldered to it.  It is then painted with high temperature black paint and clad in glass panels to retain the heat.  The less expensive models are sheets of black plastic tubing.  Both of the styles function in a similar way.  These systems are very simple; they collect the radiation the sun emits and concentrates it on the fluid passing through the tubing in the panel.  Some designs are better than others and usually the higher priced ones will last longer, are more efficient and give a better return on your investment.  While the less expensive designs work well but will deteriorate over time.  Solar water heaters have a few applications that can save a lot of money spent on natural gas and electricity used to heat water.  These systems can generate hot water for domestic heat; which is the hot tap water you use to wash your clothes, your dishes and you bath with.  It will heat the water being used to heat your house, if you have hydronic baseboards or radiant heat built into the floor of your home.  There are even forced air heaters that have heat exchangers in them that will draw off the heat supplied by the solar water heaters.  However, the most common residential use of solar water heaters is the swimming pool.  People have been heating their pools with solar energy for many years because it is simple, affordable and dependable.



Wind Generators


Wind farms have been around for years.  They are an efficient way to generate electricity however, there are drawbacks when using these efficient behemoths.  Although it is a clean, nonpolluting source of electricity, producing no acid rain, oil spills, or radioactive waste, it does have it's drawbacks.  Some environmentalist call them Condor Cuisinarts!  The truth is these machines are detrimental to all species of bird life in the vicinity of their operation.  However, the battle between the developers, the ever growing need for more energy and the environmentalist have come to one common denominator.  Wind powered turbines are here to stay.  Studies show that the impact of global warming, changing weather patterns and air pollution would be far worse for the wild animal habitat then the lethal encounter birds would sustain by the blades of a windmill.



Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is captured by using the heat below the outer layer of the earth's crust.  By pumping water below the surface at "hot spots" where the earth's crust is thinner, the water is turned into steam.  The steam is used to turn turbines and generate electricity.  Hot spots are found all over the world,  they are a very efficient and clean resource for energy.  In Northern California the Geysers encompass a 30 acre field that, now retrofitted with a system to recycle treated waste water, will generate 880 megawatts per hour through 21 generating plants - enough energy for the entire Northbay or the city of San Francisco.



Tidal Energy

Tidal energy has been captured in many different ways.  One way is by building a lock or reservoir that fills as the tide comes in.  The water is then trapped in the reservoir and slowly released through turbines that generate electricity.  Another way oceanic tides are used to generate energy is with large underwater "wind mills" that turn as the water passes by them.  Floating docks with hinge actuated generators have been used with some success capturing the surface movement of the ocean.  In some areas where the tide is extreme, underwater turbines, like the ones pictured above, can generate over 10 mega watts of electricity per hour in a six mile and hour current.



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