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Need a Fossil Fuel Backup

There is much skepticism around concerning solar and renewable energy, and this skepticism gives rise to a lot of myths and misinformation. One of the many myths states that, if you install a solar heating system, you’ll need a fossil fuel backup. Is this caused by our long-standing reliance on fossil fuels, or is there some truth to this? Time to separate truth from myth.

To Back Up, Or Not To Back Up?

Even though it’s a fact that most people who install a solar electric system have some type of backup system to cover their heating needs in case their PV system cannot supply enough power to fill those needs, there’s nothing that says you absolutely have to have one. The decision whether or not to invest in a fossil fuel-supplied heating backup will depend on several factors, including financing, comfort and cost.

It’s often assumed, erroneously, that, if you live on the grid and have a Fossil Fuels solar electric system installed, that your only option is to use net metering, i.e. feed the electricity produced by your system back into the grid to be drawn out as needed. There are other options available. Let’s take a look at them.

What Other Options Do I have?

An excellent question, to which there is more than one answer. The first step should be to reduce the amount of electricity wasted by so-called phantom or standby loads, such as televisions, computers, DVD players, etc., all of which drain electricity, sometimes substantial amounts of electricity, even when turned off. These types of loads should be either plugged into a power strip or set up as part of a switched circuit, both of which control several appliances or devices with the flick of a switch.

The next thing that you can do, especially if you live in an area with plenty of sun year-round, is use the passive solar heat provided naturally by the sun. Provided your house is very well insulated and you have one or 2 south-facing windows, passive solar can supply most of the energy needed to heat a house. A passive solar system combined with an active solar heating system is generally regarded as the most cost effective alternative to having to use a fossil fuel backup. Heat from an active solar heating system is usually stored in a water tank or a rock bin to supply any heat needed that can’t be supplied by the sun.

The other option is to go totally solar, although the expense of doing so is generally too prohibitive for most people. That combined with the – somewhat rare – possibility the temperature in the home may fall below most people’s comfort level is the reason most homes that have an active solar heating system are also equipped with a conventional type of backup.

No Fossil Fuels Needed

As we just noted, most homes with a solar heating system use a conventional backup, but, as should be obvious from the foregoing, this is not a necessity. The combination of passive solar and active solar heating can supply all the heat most households could need with the backup being more a precaution than a necessity.

 

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