Electricity

10 Ways Anyone Can Go Solar and Save on Energy

The more electricity you use, the more you pay for it. And in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent upon tech devices, something’s gotta give. Luckily, there’s a way to save money on those bills and help the environment, all at the same time. You just need to capture those intense rays of sunshine and use them for free energy. There are many ways you can harvest energy from the sun. Some methods are free and have been in use for thousands of years. Others require an investment in technology, but in some cases you can even make money by capturing free energy from the sun and selling it!

1. Solar panels

A few years ago, it would have been unusual to spot a house with solar panels on the roof, but now solar panels seem to be popping up in neighborhoods all over. If you have a south-facing roof (or west-facing) and get lots of sunny days in your area, installing solar panels to generate electricity can be a smart investment. The cost of solar panels has dropped in recent years, and with major players such as Tesla starting to produce solar panels, further price drops and improvements in capability may lie ahead. If your solar panels generate more electricity than you use, in many states you can sell this extra energy to the utility company and make money through net metering programs.

Cost: Thousands of dollars up front, depending on square footage installed.

Potential savings: About a thousand dollars per year, depending on your location.

DIY? No, solar panels typically require professional installation.

2. Passive solar heating

This method of harvesting energy from the sun is not new and does not require any special technology. My house has a solarium with south-facing windows to allow sunlight to flood in during winter months. The solarium walls capture the warmth and radiate it back into the house, providing free heating. Any south-facing windows you have in your house will work to provide heating benefits in winter. Open curtains on your south-facing windows on winter days to let light and heat in. Close curtains at night during winter and when the sun is shining in during the summer.

Cost: Free if you have south-facing windows.

Potential savings: Hundreds of dollars per year.

DIY? No, look for south-facing windows when choosing or building a house.

3. Solar water heater

Heating water requires a lot of energy, so why not capture some of that free energy from the sun instead of running up your electric or gas bill? A solar water heater circulates water through an insulated collector using a water tank that is painted black to maximize heat collection. This hot water can be used directly or can be fed into a traditional water heater to save energy.

Germs power new paper batteries

paper battery
paper battery

Engineers in upstate New York have invented a folded paper device that looks like a decorated art project. But don’t be fooled. This is actually a paper-based battery. No, it doesn’t look like any of those metal batteries running flashlights or smartphones. This alternative to electronics is based on paper. It represents a step forward in the field of papertronics (short for paper electronics). In these systems, the battery can be printed on a page. Well, most of it can: The battery’s power consists of living bacteria.

Paper electronics are simple to make and inexpensive, notes study leader Seokheun Choi. He’s an enginee at Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York system. These batteries also would be flexible and disposable, he adds. And powered by germs, they need no electrical outlet to recharge. They just need more bacteria, which can be found everywhere — including in dirty water.

Most batteries use chemicals to generate electricity. Substituting bacteria can be an advantage, Choi says. “They are cheap, self-repairing and self-maintained,” he notes. What paper-based batteries won’t do is generate much power. They do, however, create enough to run small devices in faraway or dangerous places — such as a battlefield. They might also find use in medicine. For instance, they might power tiny sensors, such as the types used to measure blood sugar.

Choi and Yang Gao, also at Binghamton, describe their new invention in the January 2017 issue of Advanced Materials Technology.

Such devices are based on an observation made more than a century ago — that microbes produce a trickle of electricity as they digest food. Scientists refer to the bio-batteries based on this principle as microbial fuel cells.

A fuel cell generates electricity like a regular battery. But a regular battery stops producing electricity when its internal…