Every time you open up that bill from the hydro company, or the gas company, or the oil bill, you see the same thing: energy costs just keep going up. Supply and demand dictates that as demand rises, so does price. And if supply should fall, the price will likewise increase. At the moment, prices are going up due to rising demand.
If predictions of peak oil are correct, however, soon the price will start to increase because of decreased supply. While power can come from alternative resources, chances are the cost of power is linked to the cost of fossil fuels. The only way to stop this train is to get off. Either society has to get out of the fossil fuel bind, or people, individually, have to do so.
There are two types of solar heating systems available to the homeowner. The first is active solar heating, using the sun to heat water to heat the house, or to heat up water for domestic use, or both. The other type is passive solar, letting a house be warmed simply by letting the sun in.
Active Solar Heating
Active solar heating systems use rooftop-mounted collectors and water to absorb heat from the sun and distribute it to the house. Using phase-change salt, it is even possible to store the heat and release it later, say at night, when the house becomes colder. In cold climates, these systems can only really supplement heating systems in winter. Alternatively, the warm water from the solar collector can also be used to supplement the domestic hot water tank.
Passive Solar Heating
A passive solar house has large, south-facing windows that are fully exposed to the sun in winter, but sheltered from the higher sun in summer. Facing the windows would be a large, dark thermal mass, like brick or concrete, that can absorb the heat, and then release it as the house gets cooler. Phase change materials can be used here, as well, for greater efficiency. Like the active systems, this is more of a supplement to some other heating system in colder climes.
Solar heating systems are most effective when the collectors, whether active or passive, face south, without any trees or obstacles to block the way. In areas where it snows, the rooftop collectors need to be kept free from snow and ice. With water in the pipes, there is a good chance it will freeze if covered for too long.
As hydro and fossil fuel prices continue to rise, solar heating systems begin to make sound economic sense, as well as being the environmentally friendly choice. While solar heating systems are most effective when the house has been sited on the property properly, the systems are still effective regardless of the orientation of the house. So even adding the systems after the fact is still effective, even if it is only as a supplement to other sources of heat and hot water. The added energy will reduce consumption and cost.
Solar power is the ultimate source of energy, and it’s time we returned to it, and shrug off the yoke of fossil fuel forever.