Renewable Power & Solar Energy

Renewable energy is the ultimate solution to many of today's biggest environmental problems, such as air pollution, natural resource depletion, and climate change.

Renewable power includes sources like sunshine and wind, but excludes oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Unlike nonrenewable power, which is sold by large corporations that control fuel and distribution networks, renewable power is generated locally and runs for free.

1 Photovoltaics
2 Wind turbines
3 Solar hot water
3 Space heating
3 Pre-plumb

Goal: Replace fossil fuel use with alternatives

The number of alternatives to nonrenewable, fossil–fuel powered electricity, heating, and cooling is increasing all the time. Solar panels that produce electricity (called "photovoltaic" or "PV" panels) are visible on more and more buildings in San Mateo County. Wind turbines are now popular for small and large applications. Solar hot water (also called "solar thermal") panels are a tried–and–true system that generates hot water for any number of uses from swimming pools to household hot water to space heating.



solar energy house

Photovoltaic equipment can fit easily on many existing and new houses. Panels mount to the roof, run to an electrical inverter typically placed in a garage, and then are connected to the electric meter outside.






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Generate clean electricity onsite using solar photovoltaics

What is this?

Solar photovoltaic panels and small wind turbines are well–established technologies for generating electricity on your site that are easily available in San Mateo County. They produce no combustion waste, pollution, or greenhouse gases.

Why do it?

Solar electric systems offer strong returns on investment. It makes good sense to compare the costs of buying energy over many years to the one–time purchase of renewable equipment that provides free energy for its lifetime. These power systems can also serve as a visible hallmark of your project's commit ment to the environment. Also, substantial rebates and tax credits from the State of California and the Federal government are available to customers who purchase renewable energy equipment.

How to do this?

Solar electric systems will produce the most total electricity over the course of the year if they are installed tilted up and facing South, but because electricity is most expensive on hot afternoons when the sun is right overhead, panels laid flat produce more power at those times and can be as cost–effective as angled panels. Solar panels can also be used as sunshades over windows, roof panels for covered walkways and carports, and mounted vertically on building walls. These "building–integrated" applications save you the cost of buying other materials for use as sunshades, covers, or facades.

Who does this?

Building owners, architects, electrical engineers, solar power companies.


This installation of PV panels, equivalent to one-half of an acre, covers the roof of the new San Mateo County Forensics Laboratory. PV Panels Image

 San Mateo County : Solar Home Tour Image RecycleWorks sponsors periodic Solar Home Green Home open houses which allow you to visit private homes, view their solar systems and other examples of green building, and talk to homeowners and solar providers about solar installations. To keep informed of green building events, join the RecycleWorks GreenBuilding e-list.

area one

Generate clean electricity onsite using wind turbines

What is this?

Wind turbines are electrical generators turned by large fan blades facing into the wind.

Why do it?

Like solar power, wind power is a good return on investment. For large installations, installed costs can beat the cost of conventional fossil–fuel generated power, but without the uncertainties of future oil and gas price changes and without contributing to climate change.

How to do this?

Wind turbines are generally mounted on stand–alone towers in areas free of trees, buildings and other obstructions that block wind. Because of noise issues, they are most appropriate for rural areas.

Who does this?

Building owners, electrical engineers, wind power companies.


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Use solar hot–water systems for domestic use and swimming pools

What is this?

Solar hot–water systems consist of collectors (usually roof–mounted flat black panels), a storage tank (similar to a familiar water heater), and a control system (valves, temperature sensors, a small pump). Solar hot–water systems have been in use for water heating for over 30 years and are popular in countries all over the world.

Why do it?

Solar hot–water systems are a reliable way to heat water, and a reliable way to reduce your fuel bills throughout the year. Typical systems pay for their installation cost in four to seven years, yet save you money over 25 years or more.

How to do this?

Standard packaged systems are available from many solar power companies, and are easy to integrate with conventional household plumbing. These systems can easily be added to existing buildings as well. With thoughtful design, panels can be sized and mounted to contribute to the overall building design. In order to maximize power production, panels are typically mounted within 10 degrees of due South and tipped up at an angle that averages the sun's height over the course of the year, around 38 degrees for San Mateo County.

Who does this?

Building owners, architects, mechanical engineers, solar power companies.


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Use solar hot–water systems for space heating

What is this?

If you are using a hydronic system that uses hot water for space heating, you can heat that water with solar thermal panels instead of a gas or electric boiler. This is also called "active" solar space heating, and is a good addition to "passive" solar space heating discussed earlier.

Why do it?

Space heating is a major source of building energy use. Solar thermal systems heat water for free and remove your project from reliance of commercial fuel or energy deliveries. This is an essential part of off–grid projects.

How to do this?

Your first step should be to reduce your project's need for heating through strong passive design. Then you can meet the remaining demand with solar thermal panels, a storage tank, and a small hydronic delivery system.

Who does this?

Building owners, architects, mechanical engineers, power companies.


area one

Pre–plumb for a solar hot–water system

What is this?

Solar hot–water systems heat water with panels on the building roof or elsewhere outside, and bring the water inside for use. Installing plumbing connections at key points can make the later addition of a solar thermal system easy and inexpensive.

Why do it?

A full solar thermal system can be expensive, but adding one later can cause problems of running plumbing through completed roofs and walls. A very minor investment during construction allows the installation of energy–savings solar thermal systems later.

How to do this?

Identify potential solar–thermal panel locations on South–facing roofs or walls, and a route for plumbing connections to your building's water heater. Put plumbing sleeves where this route crosses walls and, especially the roof, where waterproofing is necessary. Leave enough space in the mechanical room for a solar storage tank, valves, and a pump.

Who does this?

Architects, mechanical engineers, plumbers.


More Information

Solar Electricity and Solar Hot Water for your Home, a RecycleWorks publication.
RecycleWorks Solar Information and Guide to Solar Providers
Northern California Solar Energy Association
California Solar Energy Industries Association
California Energy Commission