DIY Photovoltaics

That's the fancy schmancy word for solar power.

This month's issue of Physics Today has (in addition to the blurb on social physics) a neat article on how to set up a small solar power system for your house to run things like the TV or other appliances. Even if you don't have the skill to put one together yourself, the article is an interesting read that shows you what goes into a PV (photovoltaic) system and how they work. It's not a comprehensive guide though, but is still very informative. The author emphasizes the fact that you don't need to make your house fully dependent on solar (going off the grid). Even if the system you build only powers a few appliances, you have the satisfaction of being able to use power generated by the sun and not from some power plant somewhere.

From the article:

By offsetting electricity bills, properly sized grid-tie systems can recover the cost of installation in as little as 8 years in states with rebate programs—though 15 years is a more typical time frame. Small standalone PV systems will likely not recover installation costs at today's energy rates: Many components are necessary or desirable whether the system is large or small, but they cost similar amounts in either case. Still, few PV owners are motivated by purely economic reasons. That couldn't be more true for me. I opted to build a small standalone system to power my modest living room, which includes a TV, DVD/VCR, stereo, and lighting. My goal was to learn the ins and outs of a personal PV system, characterize performance, and experiment with various configurations. The sense of satisfaction I get when watching a movie or reading a book using stored solar energy is reward enough.