A Look at Alternative Energy Source, the Solar Energy

What does it cost to turn on a light switch, run the TV all day, or take a long hot shower? How many hours a day, week, or year do we have to work just to pay for the gas in our cars, air conditioning and heating in our homes, or storage of old leftover food in our refrigerators? How early could a person retire if he never had to pay an electric bill his entire life? How many people would not be impoverished if they could forgo the monthly electric bill debt? Free energy, an untapped resource, means self-sufficiency, pride, and a better standard of living.

My first visible sign of infatuation with the free energy concept began with a high school chemistry project. I do not know if it was because I lived through the gas crisis of the late 1970s or if the DNA of my grandfather, the moonshiner, was struggling to emerge. The project consisted of researching the various methods and procedures of creating alcohol and then concentrating it by distillation. I was ecstatic when the clear liquid broke into a blue flame when lit by a match. I had actually created a substance that could fuel automobiles, heat homes, and produce electricity. Creating a mind-altering cocktail with this raw energy was the farthest thing from my mind.

My next step was solar energy investigation. The thought of a panel of treated glass exposed to the sun, with no other work involved, pumping out usable electricity was overwhelming. What a gold mine this was. No air pollution was being produced and there were no moving parts to brake. Later I learned that there were a few more variables to this energy production system, costly variables, such as inverters to transform and condition the electricity and battery banks to store it.

My study of alternative energy systems led me to an understanding of the difference between active and passive systems. An active system is one that functions with moving parts to facilitate the energy extraction process. Most solar water heaters are designed with motors to circulate the water. Most electricity producing processes use mechanical and electronic apparatuses to accomplish a usable end product. These are considered active systems.

My excitement climaxed upon the discovery of passive systems. A completely passive system is one that works all by itself with no moving parts. An example is a Tromb Wall. A Tromb Wall is basically a black concrete wall with a glass covering that has about three inches of air space between the two. When the winter sun strikes the dark surface, the heat is absorbed into the wall and heats the house on the interior. Air vents can be cut into the top and bottom of the wall to allow natural circulation of the rising heat. These vents add efficiency to the apparatus, yet there are no moving parts needed to induce its use. Another passive system is the solar chimney used on many of the pre-air-conditioning era homes. The sun-heated air inside the chimney would continually rise to the top and escape, causing cool air from under the house to be drawn inside. The removal of heat and constant circulation of geothermally cooled air made the living conditions bearable for a person in the hot humid Florida climate.

All these systems and many more make up what is now considered alternative energy. These substitutions are ways of using readily available sources and systems to produce the same results we achieve by burning coal, oil, and other non-renewable resources. Are they free? Even though many of the systems have a higher up front cost, the pay back period, or break even time can range from two to twenty years. After that time the system actually turns into a money producer through monthly savings. Some passive systems can be as simple as using more windows on the south side of the house to increase winter solar gain, or using a certain type of building material to decrease thermal siphoning. Some of these design features could be incorporated into standard building practices and produce substantial savings at no additional cost. Free energy is attainable and can improve the lives of all. Free energy means freedom from government and oil addictions, and constitutes a more sustainable way of life.