Building codes are changing at a rapid pace to respond to looming hikes in energy costs and environmental concerns. Solar panel adoption has accelerated in the US, as the cost of the photo voltaic cells used in solar panels (installation, operations and maintenance) has decreased by as much as 15 percent. Solar competition is growing from China and there are solar alternatives being introduced as this fledgling industry takes root.
As with many building materials, most are used first in government and commercial projects, and only 17 percent of today's solar installations are for residential housing. California leads the adoption of solar followed by Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts account.
One of the challenges with solar panels is the cost of installing fixed panels versus ones that rotate to capture the sun's rays for more hours each day. That's why this new product from Europe, the LightCatcher, is this week's Friday Find.
Solar Alternatives that Use Mirrors
The LightCatcher from EcoNation, places domes instead of solar panels on the roof. The dome has sensors, along with a motorized mirror and lenses, to follow the sun's movement through the sky. This allows the domes to maximize the amount of sunlight it can direct into buildings, claiming it can provide lighting for up to 10 hours per day.
One advantage the LightCatcher solution has is a smaller number of light domes compared to solar panels. That makes sense for commercial space where lighting represents a higher percentage of energy, and it's mostly during daylight “business” hours. This is in contrast to solar panels which generate and store (or send to the power grid) energy for use in heating and powering home appliances.
Here's a good video that illustrates the concepts behind mirrors and rotation to capture more sunlight. As new solar alternatives come on the market, you should see these technologies integrated. This video appears to have been removed so I've written to [email protected] to see if there is a replacement video.
Solar Alternatives Include New Business Models
EcoNation, the manufacturer of LightCatcher light domes has a different model. It absorbs the entire investment, monitors your energy savings and shares the profits with you.
According to EcoNation's website, the investment is is made by the Light Investment Company (LiCom), that finances the entire operation. (As of April 2017, this reference is no longer on the EcoNation website although they still claim to offer complete financing) Energy use can be monitored online, or through a smart phone app, with the opportunity to save 20 to 70% on their energy bills immediately, and without the need to invest!