As the heat of the North Carolina summer is in full force, people are doing whatever they can to keep cool. The air-conditioning in homes and businesses is working overtime as the state sees 90 plus degree temperatures nearly daily. More and more often, the energy used to cool these buildings is from renewable sources like solar energy, but solar panels may be keeping us cool in ways you wouldn’t expect.
While the panels are soaking in the energy from the sun and using that to power our homes, they are also keeping the buildings cool by simply providing a layer of shade and insulation. This had been assumed for years, but researchers at the University of California, San Diego wanted to know more. They set out to find exactly what the difference in temperature would be between a building receiving direct sun to its roof and one receiving the same sun but with a typical solar array on top of the building.
What they found surprised even the most optimistic though. Simply by having a solar array on the top of a building, a building reduces the interior temperature of the ceiling by 5 degrees Fahrenheit. This effect was accentuated even more if there was space between the roof and the panels so that heat from the panels would be breezed away rather than passed directly through the roof. When this effect was measured for monetary benefit, the study found that over the life of a solar array, it would be the equivalent of getting a 5 percent rebate on the entire system.
Another interesting finding was that in the winter, they expected to find the shading effect would hurt the electricity bills since they wouldn’t get the benefit of the sun warming up the buildings. Instead what they found was an insulative effect from the panels canceled out this shading making no real effect either positive or negative. So, during the summer there was a clear benefit by blocking the sun and insulating the cool air to remain inside, while in the winter despite blocking the sun, that same insulative effect made it a wash.
The more the use of solar technology multiplies in society, the more studies are done to investigate its effects on different areas. It seems like every time a new study is done another hidden benefit of solar emerges. For those who own solar, they will be happy to hear that their investment just got 5 percent wiser than they initially thought. And for those who are considering making the decision to install solar, they now have another reason to do so.