Life is easy. On chilly days we turn up the heating, boil the kettle and settle in front of the TV, feeling nice and cosy. But at the back of our minds we all know that our children and grandchildren may end up paying the price for our comforts. We need to start implementing alternative sources of energy in our homes, and we need to start now.
For the last 100 years or so we have been relying on fossil fuels to power our lifestyles, but this is now recognised as damaging to the environment and anyway, resources are limited. If we want to carry on enjoying our creature comforts then renewable energy is the way to do it.
Renewable energy is continually replenished by nature. Sources such as the sun, wind, water and thermal (underground) heat are harnessed rather than used up. The sun's energy can be converted using solar panels that can be placed on buildings or on posts, facing the sun.
The good news is they can be retro fitted onto the existing roof. If the roof is very old it may be worth hiring a structural engineer to confirm the load bearing capacity of your roof. Next find out how much electricity you use (your current electricity supplier will be able to let you know) and then decide what percentage of this you want your solar energy to replace. This will be a balancing trick. The price of solar panels will depend not only on efficiency but also on their capacity - also find out whether you can get any financial help from the Government or your local authority. This may depend on the system you choose.
Of course, once you know how much electricity you are currently using you can also look at ways of cutting that figure. Improving insulation in the roof and around windows and doors is always worthwhile and simply cutting down on energy use by switching off lights and half filling kettles all do their bit to cut your energy consumption.
In countries such as the UK where sunshine can be limited, it's a good idea to get a system that includes a battery. The battery will store electricity in times of increased sunlight, so that you have a supply on cloudy and short winter days and of course in the evening. A battery is of course vital if you're aiming for 100% solar power. But here's another balancing trick you'll need to consider - solar batteries are lead-acid batteries and their manufacture and use isn't particularly environmentally friendly. However it may be better than using fossil fuel generated electricity from the national grid...
Positioning your solar panel will be crucial for maximising the electricity it generates. Solar panels only work if the sun is shining directly on them. So you will need to work out the best spot on your roof - clearly south or south west facing is a good start. Also if you live in an urban area or in a low level house make sure you don't pick a spot on the roof that is shaded by trees or other buildings.
One of the major advantages of a solar power system is that it's made up of interconnecting components and is modular. So components can be added as your needs grow. Typical components are the solar panel, which converts sunlight into electric energy; the battery which can store electricity for later use; a charge controller which ensures the batteries are recharged by the solar panel and also prevents overcharging; and an inverter converts DC power from the solar panel into AC power which is needed by most household appliances.
Beyond these basic components you could fit a motor so that the solar panel can move and track the sun as it moves across the sky. You could also have a meter - this is essential if you are selling excess energy on to the national grid.
As you are installing an electrical system it's essential to get an electrician who is an expert in the field to do the work. This is not a DIY job! But once installed, you should quickly start reaping the rewards and paying back the cost of the hardware and installation. Best of all, you can free yourself from those monthly energy bills and guilt trips about the planet's future.