Warmer pool, lower bills, cooler world

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

Finally it seems that spring has sprung! After our long, cold, snowy winter, it is nice to play outside and plant some flowers. Before we know it, it will be time for one of my favorite summer activities – swimming.

I really enjoy swimming. One of the things I don’t like, however, is getting into cold water. Unlike my kids, if the pool is cool, I take forever to get in, if I get in at all.

Of course, there is a way to avoid this – heat the swimming pool. This can be an expensive proposition, however. Natural gas, propane and electric bills can skyrocket to hundreds of dollars during the swimming season, not to mention the untold environmental impacts of mining and burning those fossil fuels.

Of course, there is a way to avoid this, too – harness the natural, free energy of the sun. Solar pool heating systems do an excellent job of adding 10 to 15 degrees to the temperature of an unheated pool. They don’t cost much more to install than any other type of heater but they cost nothing to run! The heat from the sun is free and will never go up in price.

Solar pool heaters work by circulating the water from the pool through solar collectors. These collectors are made from a special blend of polymers and are designed to capture the heat from the sun and transfer it to the water. Each collector is rated for up to 48,000 BTU’s per day.

Although solar pools heater are not as well-known as the other types of heaters, they have been around for over 30 years and their popularity is growing. They have withstood the test of time and their warranty supports this. The panels come with a full 12 year and limited lifetime warranty – far longer than any other type of heater.

As the swimming season starts, think about the difference solar energy can make – a warmer pool and a cleaner environment. Then, make a choice to make a difference.

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Keep your lights on when the power goes out

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

It certainly has been a tough winter for the power company. Don’t you just hate it when the power goes out? An outage of just a couple hours is no big deal, but the extended outages we’ve had recently sure are frustrating. It seems that it is only getting worse.

In light of this, many people are looking for back-up sources of power. While generators have been the most common option, more people are turning to a quiet, environmentally-friendly alternative: battery back-up.

Batteries, also known as an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), have been used for years to provide constant power to sensitive electronics such as computers. Recently, these systems have been expanded to be able to power more and bigger loads. The systems can be set up to work automatically and turn on in an instant.

Best of all, if the batteries are paired with solar panels, you can harness the power of the sun to keep recharging the batteries!

A battery back-up with solar power system provides clean, renewable, emergency power when there are unexpected power losses due to work on local power lines, weather disturbances or power outages. The batteries used in these systems are not your typical rechargeable batteries. They are heavy duty, maintenance free, deep-cycle batteries designed for this application.

A big advantage of battery back-up systems is that they are very quiet.  In addition, batteries can be “refueled” by solar power rather than diesel fuel, propane or natural gas.

Typically with the battery systems, we isolate the “critical loads,” the things in your house you want to be sure to run when the power goes out.  Since the number of batteries required depends on what you want to run when electricity from the utility is not available, separating the critical loads helps limit the number of batteries and thus the cost of the system.

Think about an affordable back-up energy solution that can replace the need for fuel based systems such as diesel generators. The solar back-up solution is low maintenance, long lasting and produces low cost renewable energy.

Next time the power goes out, don’t be left in the dark!

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Solar panels – A gift that keeps on giving

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

A lump of coal. What a lousy thing to get for Christmas. All kids know that they had better stay off of Santa’s “Naughty” list or that is what they are going to end up with in their stocking.

What kids might not know, however, is how bad that coal really is and what it is doing to the world that they are growing into. Coal leaves behind a long trail of pollution. Mountaintops are removed and acres of forest and wilderness are stripped to get the coal.

There is pollution generated to transport the coal to the power plant. Tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, small particles and hydrocarbons are released in the atmosphere when it is burned. Piles of ash and sludge are left over from the combustion. These end up leaching pollutants in the soil and water.

Coal’s negative impact to our environment and our health will be felt not only now by future generations, too. Unfortunately, about half of the electricity we use in Pennsylvania comes from burning coal.

Renewable energy sources such as solar panels, on the other hand, are everything that coal is not. There is no mining, no pollution or harmful emissions, no toxic residue.  Even better, the energy from the sun and wind is unlimited. 

Moreover, once solar panels are installed, they cost nothing to run. They just keep producing electricity – and savings on your electric bill month after month.

Now that is something I’d like to see in my stocking.

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It’s that time of year again

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

Time to sit back and remind ourselves that we should be thankful for all the things we take for granted. One of these is our electric system. Without a second thought, we know that every time we flip the switch, the lights go on.

Over a billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – live without access to electricity. This means limited light at night, no refrigeration, no communication. When we lose power for just a few hours, it seems that a huge wrench has been thrown into our works.

I was speaking with the manager of the UN’s Green Economy Team. He said that, without a doubt, lack of access to reliable energy is the main cause for poverty around the world.

Solar energy can help alleviate this problem.

There are some great non-profit organizations that are working to get low-cost solar lamps to people in rural villages. Without solar lights, these people have to use kerosene lanterns to see after the sun goes down. Not only is the dark smoke from these lanterns a health hazard, but the fuel is very expensive. The cost of the fuel traps many families in poverty.

The fuel for the solar lamps, on the other hand, is free! This means that the money normally spent on kerosene can go to nutrition, education or other important areas. 

In addition, solar lamps give off no harmful smoke or pollution. Not only does this improve the health of the people using the lamps, it also helps to fight climate change.

It is estimated that the soot emitted by the kerosene lanterns contribute more to climate change than all the carbon dioxide release in Britain in a year. Not many times do you hear about a win-win-win scenario. But again, with solar, we have one.

And that is something for which we can all be thankful.

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From generation to generation

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

I was thinking about my grandfather the other day. When he was alive, we used to talk about what life was like when he was a kid. Electricity had not come to his neighborhood yet. Light came from gas jets, heat came from coal that was shoveled into the basement, and refrigeration came from the iceman or the box out the window in the winter.

It is hard to believe, but that was only 100 years ago. Wow! How much and how fast the world has changed since then!

I wonder what life will be like when my future grandchildren are grown (my own children are only teenagers now, so hopefully that will be well down the road). Will cancer be cured? Will energy be cheap and abundant? Will the air and water be clean? 

Just like generations before us, our actions directly affect the lives of future generations. This is where the concept of “sustainability” comes into play. The definition of sustainable is meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

How can we, in good conscience, risk the health and well-being of our grandchildren in order to satisfy our energy hungry ways when it is easy to reduce our energy consumption and help our environment?

There are many changes that can allow us to be more efficient with our energy usage and greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels. These are changes that, once in place, you won’t even notice. With many small changes, we can improve the ability of future generations to meet their needs. All it takes is the will.

Will I be telling my grandchildren stories about how we used to have plenty of clean water before it was all contaminated by fracking fluid? Or about how Pennsylvania used to have beautiful mountains before all the tops were removed to mine coal?

If we can reduce our overall energy use and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, the world for future generations will be a much better place.

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A turning point in history

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

We have had a lot of good news in the solar industry lately. President Obama just had solar panels installed on the White House. Around the country, it is estimated that a new solar energy system is installed every four minutes. Right here in Pennsylvania, the state grant program is helping homes and businesses cut up to 35% off the cost of a system.

This is all great, but there is more that can be done and needs to be done. Our dependence on fossil fuels is ruining the planet for our children and grandchildren.

While many of the signs of our overuse of fossil fuels seem remote – melting of the polar ice caps, a few degrees of global warming, there are serious consequences right here in Pennsylvania. Bleak, sterile moonscapes are created by mountaintop removal coal mining. Ground water is contaminated by fracking. Nuclear waste and spent fuel rods pile up with nowhere to go.

We need to recognize that we are at a turning point in history. Do we continue down the same path we’ve been on for the past 100 years or is it time to change directions? 

There are some signs that the tide is turning. Is this the beginning of the end for the traditional energy sources and the start of the age of renewable energy? This is what we need to decide.

The entrenched powers of the traditional energy monopolies are not going to go easily into the new age. It is up to us to push. We owe it to ourselves and our future generations. We can slowly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power for our energy needs.

Let’s reduce the amount of energy we use and take advantage of the power of the sun and the wind – energy sources that will be around forever.

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A win-win proposition

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

Major tornados have killed people in the Midwest. The heat and wind caused by devastating droughts in the southwestern parts of the US have fueled wildfires that are out of control.

Hurricane Sandy rumbled through our area last year. In recent years, our local weather pattern seems to be early snowstorms followed by unseasonably mild winters and summers with extended streaks of high temperatures and humidity.

Are these weather phenomena the result of global warming? Do you even believe in global warming?

Although the overwhelming majority of climate scientists (97%) believe that climate change is real and that human activity has been a major factor in causing it, in the public sphere there is still a debate as to whether this is the case. A response to this discussion is: whether you believe climate change is real or not, what is the harm in energy conservation and increased use of renewable energy? 

There are many benefits to saving energy: improved comfort, reduced costs, less dependence on foreign oil, cleaner air and water and less damage to the environment. The same benefits come from using more renewable energy.

The only argument that people make against measures that save energy and increase renewable energy use is that these will hurt the economy.  Evidence shows that this is not the case at all.

On the contrary many good, local jobs are created, and businesses and homeowners save money. The burning of fossil fuels has costs far beyond the price you pay at the pump or on your heating bill. We all end up paying these costs whether we want to or not. If we can lower these indirect costs while we lower the direct costs, too, why not do it?

There are not many times when a win-win situation is such a slam-dunk.  There are plenty of easy, low-cost (or even no-cost) ways to save energy and use more renewable energy.

The only way to lose is to do nothing.

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The efficiency of solar water heating

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com 

When you think of sunny places, Germany, Austria, China and Japan don’t usually come to mind. But these countries with climates similar to ours are way ahead of us at taking advantage of the energy from the sun. They are global leaders in installing solar water heaters. Almost every new house gets one and many older houses are retrofitted. What do they know that we don’t?

In the United States, solar water heating is not as well known as the other type of solar panels that generate electricity. Solar water heaters, however, are very efficient at taking the sun’s energy and converting it to something useful – hot water for showers, dish washing and even space heating. 

On sunny days, a solar water heating system can easily heat water to above 140 degrees. Moreover, solar water heaters always have a back-up heating system in place, for those times when it hasn’t been sunny. In many cases, the back-up is your existing water heater.

Solar water heaters have withstood the test of time – they have been available for over 100 years. More importantly, demand for them is increasing as PECO rates and oil prices rise. The addition of a rebate from the state Sunshine Program and a federal tax credit reduce the cost of a system by an incredible 65%. Many people don’t realize it, but water heating typically accounts for 15-25% of your overall utility bill. With a relatively small upfront investment, you can reduce your utility bill and help the environment.

There are additional, easy steps you can take to reduce the amount of energy used to heat your water. These are as simple as making sure your dishwasher is full before running it and turning down the thermostat on your water heater, or more involved such as installing low-flow shower heads or heat traps. Other measures include insulating your water heater and hot water pipes and fixing leaky faucets. 

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I Bet Mine is Smaller than Yours

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

Take a look at your electric bill. How high was it last month?

Ours was less than zero. That’s right – PECO owed us money.

This is due to a combination of factors. First, we are very conscientious with our energy usage. We’ve taken a number of energy saving steps (which cost little or nothing) including replacing light bulbs and only running our dishwasher and washing machine when they are full.

Many other ideas can be found at the government’s Energy.gov website.

In addition, we have 17 solar panels installed on our roof. This relatively small system is hardly noticed by neighbors or visitors.  But the panels are up there silently converting the sun’s energy to electricity and feeding it into our house – right into our circuit breaker box and automatically running anything that needs electricity.

When there are times during the day that the panels produce more electricity than we are using at that time, the extra flows out through our electric meter back to PECO. In essence, PECO buys the electricity we produce. At the end of the month, our electric bill is what came in from PECO minus what we sent out to them.

Most months our electric bills are not negative – air conditioning in the summer and less sun in the winter are the causes – but they are small.

The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically – the price of a system like ours is less than half of what we paid just three years ago.

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Warmer pool, lower bills, cooler world

submitted by Mark Bortman, Exact Solar, mark@exactsolar.com

Ahh – spring has sprung! Time when people’s thoughts turn to playing outside and planting flowers.

It’s also time to think about one of my favorite summer activities – swimming.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy swimming. One of the things I don’t like, however, is getting into cold water.

I don’t know how my kids do it – it seems that they are part penguin (must be from their mother’s side) and dive right in no matter what the temperature. On the other hand, if the pool is cool, I’m the guy that takes forever to get in, if I get in at all.

Of course, there is a way to avoid this – heat the swimming pool. This can be an expensive proposition, however.

Natural gas, propane and electric bills can skyrocket to hundreds of dollars during the swimming season, not to mention the untold environmental impacts of mining and burning those fossil fuels.

Of course, there is a way to avoid this, too – harness the natural, free energy of the sun. Solar pool heating systems do an excellent job of adding 10 to 15 degrees to the temperature of an unheated pool.

They don’t cost much more than any other type of heater but they cost nothing to run! The heat from the sun is free and will never go up in price.

Solar pool heaters work by circulating the water from the pool through solar collectors. These collectors are made from a special blend of polymers and are designed to capture the heat from the sun and transfer it to the water.  Each collector is rated for up to 48,000 BTU’s per day.

Although solar pools heater are not as well-known as the other types of heaters, they have been around for over 30 years and their popularity is growing. They have withstood the test of time and their warranty supports this.  The panels come with a full 10-year and limited lifetime warranty – far longer than any other type of heater.

As the swimming season starts, think about the difference solar energy can make – a warmer pool and a cleaner environment. Then, make a choice to make a difference.

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