A couple years ago, River Run Condominiums in Northampton, Massachusetts decided it was time for a change—they wanted to be green. It wasn’t a paint job they needed, but an environmental transformation—an investment that would help defray their monumental heating and cooling costs. After careful consideration and a consultation with an engineering firm, they decided to install an alternative thermal solar panel system that would ultimately reduce their water heating costs and become a better source of energy from the environment.
Curt M. Freedman, the president of CMF Engineering in Longmeadow, Massachusetts and the designer of the system implemented at River Run, explains that it includes 25 four-by-eight solar panels in each existing building.
“The goal was to use the solar energy to preheat domestic hot water,” says Freedman. “On an annual basis the system would supplement more than 50 percent of the water heating and energy needs at the facility. During the warmer weather it would provide almost 100 percent of its water heating needs.”
River Run is just one of many associations nationwide using (or looking into using) alternative sources of energy—including solar and wind—to reduce their energy bills and benefit the environment.
The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) explains that photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV cells are the solar cells that are often used to power calculators and watches, and are made of semi-conducting materials similar to those used in computer chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic effect.