Solar Manufacturer Offers Advice & Solar Primer for Smart Solar Shopping

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At a time when the solar industry is seeing a lot of new entries into the field, one solar manufacturer is speaking up to make sure customers make educated decisions about their solar investment.

With the recent boom of green awareness and media focus on alternative energy solutions, more consumers are looking to solar energy as a smart way to invest their money and enjoy immediate dividends. Solar pays for itself through a reduction in energy bills and an increase to your home's value, and right now, federal and local incentives can reduce the total cost of solar by up to 50% or more. Before making such a big investment, UMA Solar, a national solar manufacturer and distributor, is advising homeowners to follow these important steps on their way to enjoying years of free energy from the sun:

Step One: Choose a Reputable Dealer
Solar is attracting a large number of new contractors into the field who aren't experienced or who are trying to make a fast buck and may not be around when homeowners need service or warranty work. Solar is still in its infancy in the U.S. - and this makes it easier for environmentally friendly (but uneducated) consumers to be taken for a not-so-sunny ride with their money. Homeowners should always get several bids and make sure their chosen solar installer is fully licensed, trained and insured. Ask for referrals and check with your local Better Business Bureau for potential complaints against the company. Solar does work, but only if it's properly installed and best suited to its environment. Plenty of free, online sources abound for solar energy education.

Step Two: Know Your Solar Energy Options
Three main types of solar are available for use in the home today. When considering solar, one of the most important considerations is choosing the best technology for the particular application.

(1) Solar Pool Heating
Solar pool heating will double your swim season by adding ten to 15 degrees to your pool's temperature. Many solar panels have a warranty of 10-12 years and a design life of 20+ years. Solar pool heating is by far the most economical solar application available today.

How it works
Pool heating technology requires large amounts of water (thousands of gallons) to be heated to moderate, comfortable temperatures. High volumes of water are circulated through lightweight polypropylene collectors. In most cases, solar pool heating uses your existing pool pump to circulate the water, so no added gas or electric expense is required to use this technology.

Best for

  • People with swimming pools who would like to double their swim season without paying for gas or electricity
  • Commercial swimming facilities (recreational centers, hotels, hospitals, universities, city facilities, campgrounds, apartment complexes or condominium associations) who want to reduce their pool heating costs

(2) Solar Water Heating
Solar water heating is considered one of the most economical appliances for your home. It offers a short payback period of usually five to ten years and provides an immediate savings on your monthly utility bill of up to 30%. Solar water heating systems always have electric or gas backup, so you will never be without hot water. Your solar water heater should last from 15 to 20 years with minimal maintenance.

How it works
Collectors designed for solar water heating are made of glass, copper, aluminum and insulation. Their purpose is to heat relatively small amounts of water (40 to 80 gallons in a home) very quickly, to high temperatures suitable for bathing, laundry and dishwashing. Just as with an electric water heater, most solar water heaters require some form of hot water storage like a tank.

Best for

  • Any homeowner who is replacing their leaking water heater
  • Any homeowner who wants to save up to 30% of their utility bill for 20 years
  • Any building that consumes large amounts of hot water

(3) Solar Electric
Also known as photovoltaic (PV), solar electric technology features large arrays of collectors made up of silicon-coated cells. Solar electric systems require major components to properly conduct, control, convert, distribute, and store the energy produced by the array.

Photovoltaic systems can be designed to provide DC and/or AC power service, can operate interconnected with or independent of the utility grid, and can be connected with other energy sources and energy storage systems. The payback period of a solar electric system can extend to 20 or more years, but with federal and state incentives now available, payback periods may be substantially reduced.

Best for

  • Energy-conscious consumers who plan on staying in their homes for many years
  • Environmentally friendly consumers who seek independence from foreign oil and local utilities

Step Three: Consider a Hybrid Solar Solution
Frequently the best option for utilizing solar is a hybrid, or combination, of systems. It is much more cost-effective to heat water with a Solar Water Heater rather than using Solar Electric to power your existing water heater. Solar Electric systems are best utilized for all other solar applications besides pool or water heating. Using a Solar Water Heater in conjunction with a Solar Electric system would result in a break-even payback period of ten-plus years sooner than an equivalent rated Solar Electric system by itself.

Solar can and does work and is the #1 choice of renewable energy that's clean and competitive today - but only if your system is planned and installed correctly. To learn more about solar energy for your home or business, contact the U.S. Department of Energy's website at http://www.energy.gov/energysources/solar.htm or UMA Solar at http://www.umasolar.com.

About the Author: Beth Bennion is marketing director for UMA Solar, a national manufacturer and distributor of solar energy systems based in Florida for more than 30 years. For more information, call toll free (800) 506-1994 or visit http://www.umasolar.com.

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