Active solar systems have a variety of advantages and disadvantages. When deciding between an active and a passive system, it’s important to first understand what you are talking about.
Active systems function in a vastly different manner than passive systems. It’s essential to know how these systems work and what they can and cannot do.
Making an uninformed decision about something so costly can cause problems and regrets in the future. Understanding all the terms and definitions can be almost impossible.
There is a lot of jargon-heavy information out there so let’s simplify it. First, it’s critical to be aware of what exactly these systems are.
What Is an Active Solar System?
An active solar system is made up of pipes filled with water or gas, heated by the sun, and used to heat the interior of a building. This off-the-grid solar system converts the sun’s energy into hot water or electricity.
Active systems use fans and pumps to move heat around. These systems use solar panels to heat pipes which then flow throughout the house, warming the building. Active energy systems can run water heaters, and space heaters, they can produce electricity, and process heat.
Active solar systems are what people typically think of when it comes to solar power. These are the panels you see on roofs. They directly produce electricity which powers things in your house. The power captured can also be stored in batteries.
Hot Water Baseboards
Hot water baseboards are a form of active system distribution. This method buries pipes into a thin layer of concrete under the floor. These pipes fill with water heated by the sun, distributing the heat around the room. These baseboards use water which is a minimum of 160℉.
These baseboards are placed along the base of the walls. Baseboard heaters work by sucking in air, warming it, and pushing it back out. This is different from a regular radiator which radiates heat into the area surrounding it.
Solar Air Collectors
Solar air collectors are another active solar system option. They, unlike water systems, cannot freeze which can be helpful in climates where the temperature regularly drops below freezing. However, air is less efficient than water to transport heat.
These collectors use solar radiation to heat a building. They are most often mounted on the sides of buildings. Solar air collectors are extremely energy efficient and are being used more and more by the public because they work so well.
What Is a Passive Solar System?
Passive solar heating systems send the sun’s power directly to the devices in your home. Passive systems take advantage of natural heat flow to evenly distribute heat and electricity.
These systems are typically dependent on the design and construction of the building. While you do have to plan these systems before building, they don’t require external machines or equipment to function. They run using the building itself and the power of the sun.
A passive solar greenhouse is another type of passive solar system. It’s a greenhouse that’s heated solely by radiant energy from the sun. Radiant energy is the solar radiation from the sun which can be turned into heat or electricity.
Direct gain is another type of passive solar system. This is a form of solar gain that happens when sun rays enter a window and heat a thermal mass. A thermal mass can be built into the walls and floors of a building to store heat during the day to use at night.
An example of a passive system is a house with sun-facing windows in which a concrete floor collects and stores heat. Insulation makes these systems more effective as they help a space maintain its temperature for longer. This is also an example of direct solar gain.
How Are Passive and Active Solar Systems Different?
So what is the difference between passive and active solar systems? The biggest thing that sets them apart is how they collect and convert electricity. When deciding which system is best for you, it’s important to consider a few factors. It’s an expensive path to take either way, though these systems pay for themselves after a few years by saving on your electric bill.
You have to be sure before investing that you are making the right decision for your needs.
- Weather. If you don’t have a lot of sun, solar will be difficult to use. Passive systems also need specific conditions and the light cannot be blocked by trees or mountains.
- Building layout. If you’re constructing a brand-new building, it’s the best time to consider passive solar system solutions. However, if you’re retrofitting an existing building, the layout is an essential consideration. Sun-facing windows are vital.
- Building size. Smaller homes often work well with passive solar systems. Larger spaces require active systems as they have a bigger output. Active systems more efficiently heat and power a bigger space.
- Budget. It may be cheaper to install a few solar panels than possibly having to make structural changes for a passive system. Consider carefully how much you are willing to spend before you begin because costs can add up very quickly.
What Is an Advantage of Using Passive or Active Solar Systems?
The main advantage is, of course, that solar power and heating systems make uses a renewable energy source of energy: the sun. If you’re interested in going off-grid or reducing your carbon footprint, solar just makes sense.
Passive Solar Systems
- No external equipment is needed. These systems rely on the house itself and the sun.
- Your monthly energy costs can eventually go down up to 14%. This is a great way to save much more on electricity in the long term.
- Solar heating system costs are quite low once setup is complete. Sometimes there are no running costs if your passive system is designed to run itself. This is why correct setup is so important since it reduces the amount of maintenance you need to do going forward.
- Enjoy promoting renewable energy. By switching to a solar system, you can feel proud and accomplished to be using renewable energy. You’re doing yourself and the planet a favor.
- These systems are highly dependent on the weather, and they don’t function as well in cloudy or rainy weather.
- You have to be hyper-aware of the materials you use to build your house. Certain materials make for better thermal masses than others. Concrete is a popular choice in eco-home because it holds heat so well.
- Requires professional installation. From the beginning of the building process, you have to speak to experts in the field of passive solar systems. This is not a project you will be able to undertake without some serious help.
- Super expensive to add to existing homes. As this system relies on the design of the house, it is necessary to redesign parts of an older home which will require money and time to achieve properly.
Active Solar Systems
- Significant reduction of electricity bill in winter. If you are looking to cut down on your electricity consumption in a meaningful way, active solar systems can have a massive electrical output that can massively affect your bills.
- Low maintenance costs. The panels only need to be cleaned to maintain efficiency. Your converter will most likely need to be replaced every 3-5 years as it is constantly working. Otherwise, as long as you clean your panels, it is fairly easy to care for your system.
- You can generate both heat and electricity. When using an active solar system you can either use direct heat energy or you can convert the sun's power into usable electricity for the house or building.
- High initial costs. Expensive equipment is required to set up an active solar system. Panels, pipes, converters, and batteries are all essential parts of the system and are very expensive.
- Efficiency drops on cloudy days. When the weather is bad, your electricity output will be much lower. Another thing to consider is that these systems don’t work at all at night. If that is important to you, solar might not be for you.
- Solar panels are quite big. A lot of roof space is required to house enough panels to run an entire household. If you want to generate a lot of electricity, you will need more than one or two panels, and it can get cramped quickly on a rooftop.
Whether you want to choose an active or a passive solar system for your home, you’re making a positive difference for the planet.
Not only do you reduce your reliance on burning fossil fuels that are accelerating global warming, but you get to enjoy limitless energy that you don’t have to pay for.
While there are ups and downs of both, provided you have enough space, active solar systems can be a massive boon in getting your house off the municipal grid and forging a way towards being energy independent.
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