During the fuel crunch of the 70s, solar heating as well as alternative energy sources
took center stage and became a priority for homesteaders (a by-product of the flower child
and hippie days of the 60s). Many new forms of glazing were developed as well as paints
and metallic coatings to enhance the collection of solar radiation. With predictions of $2.50
per gallon home heating oil prices by the mid 80s and forecasts of world reserves running
out by the turn of the century, manufacturers formed new research departments and new companies
to compete for the most efficient solar collectors. The Federal government even offered tax
incentives and credits to homeowners building new homes with solar heat. Solar heating was
gaining momentum, but the forecasters failed, and Reaganomics threw conservation to the wind
to boost the economy, and solar energy was forgotten. Many of the developing solar companies
turned their attention to other products or folded completely.
Aside from the cost savings, the use of solar energy has zero effect on the environment.
If the negative effects of burning fuel become a factor, the use of solar energy becomes
a benefit to the environment.
Solar heating systems fall into two categories: passive and active. Passive systems use
the suns rays to heat a surface directly, storing the heat in a mass of concrete,
rock, or water. At night the heated mass radiates the heat into the desired space. An active
system collects the suns energy in a medium such as air or water and pumps it to a
storage facility, then pumps the heated medium to the space as needed. The newest active
systems use special solar cells to convert the suns rays to electricity and use it
as it is generated or store it in batteries to be used as needed.