Now more than ever, the need to switch from fossil fuel usage to renewables has become imperative. The benefits to the environment are well documented. Beyond that, in some instances, there are tremendous cost savings in the medium to long term. But before making any investment, here are five key points to consider;
What structures surround yours?
First things first. If you decide to install panels to collect sunshine, find out how much solar energy your site receives. Find out if the site is in the sun’s direct path. How long does your site receive sunshine in a day? Are there other tall(er) buildings or trees nearby that could block direct access to the sun and cast a shade over your building? What are the zoning regulations where your site is located, regarding future developments? Answering these questions will give you either a green light or a red light on the road to the installation of on-site (PV) solar panels.
The design of the building
The next question is to optimize the design of the structure to collect as much solar energy as possible. The roof type and slope should be very receptive to the installation of solar panels. Flat roofs and gently sloping mono or double pitches are the most receptive. Where there are plans to incorporate a chimney and air-vents on to the roofs, these should be installed in the same area to minimize the irregularities and openings in the roofs. Where it’s not possible to install the solar panels of the roof, is there enough space on the site to install the panels?
Lastly, the design of the building should make the most of natural conditions to enhance the thermal and visual comfort of users. This will result in using less energy to light and heat/cool the building.
Use energy-saving appliances and systems
Plans should be made to use energy saving devices where possible. For example, refrigerators and other appliances with high energy-ratings should be chosen ahead of non-rated alternatives. Also, other sources of energy wastage like broken windows and leakages leading to the loss of cold or warm air should be tracked and those leakages plugged. More advanced approaches include the use of motion and temperature sensors to regulate the need for lighting and cooling of spaces when not in use.
(Promised) Cost savings are not immediate
Understand that cost savings will most likely only be realized over the medium term. If you were sold the idea of zero energy bills, ask about the initial cost of the installation and the cost of regular maintenance. In some countries, local authorities provide incentives for renewable energy use and subsidize the costs involved. Depending on the energy bills, the savings will likely not pay for the investments in the solar systems immediately. But over time, the savings will add up.
Off-site production options
What if on-site generation may not be possible for your site? Paying for off-site production is a more suitable option. In some jurisdictions in the EU, there are huge investments in renewable energy, particularly solar energy. Individuals pay to be on the solar grid. But even then, optimizing the design of your building to require less energy and using high energy-rated appliances should come first.
In summary, the need for the shift from fossil-based energy sources towards clean sources is a mighty weapon in the fight against climate change. Before hopping aboard the renewable bandwagon though, there is the need to reduce the primary energy needs of our buildings. Then and only then should we think of providing for these energy needs with renewable sources.