Sustainable living in Italy: Solar

solar panels

We know we have set this up to be a travel blog, but we wanted to share with you some of the interesting things that we are learning where we are staying in Italy.  Our host is big on sustainable living and Italy seems to be encouraging people to move in that direction.  Tax breaks and large rebates are offered for homes with solar panels and agritourism, which are bed and breakfasts that grow their own food or have their own small farm.

Our host is running 2 separate homes on solar energy.  One is their personal home, the other is a vacation rental.  There are 3 types of solar energy that they use, which I have done my best to describe below:

PV or Photo-Voltaic

These are the solar panels that are used for making electricity (see picture above).  They have what look like circles along the panel, those are the cells that collect the sun’s energy.  A chemical reaction takes place within the cell to convert the sun’s energy into electricity for the home.  This is the type of system where the electric company puts a different meter on your home, so when you make excess energy, it goes back to “the grid” and the electric company pays you.

If you want to run your whole home on this system, aka “off the grid” you have to have batteries that will store the electrical energy for later use.  The down side to this, is the batteries are expensive and only last about 5 years.

What is the cost? In the US about $5-$11 per watt and it takes about 4-10 kilowatts to run a house.  So you are looking at a starting price of $20,000 assuming you don’t get any government or tax incentives.  And to give you an idea of how effective the solar panels are, our hosts are collecting 6-16 kilowatts per day from 14 panels.  And their 3 bedroom, 3 bath home takes about 4 kilowatts per day of electricity to run.


Solar Hot Water

With solar hot water the solar panels are used simply for the purpose of heating the water for the home, which is then stored in your hot water tank.  There are two main hot water systems that our hosts are using:

Evacuated Tube Solar Collector

  •   Evacuated Tube Solar Collector This is for hot water in the home. This is a panel of tubes that collect the sun’s energy and contains the heat in a manner similar to a thermos.  Each tube has a bulb that heats up and the water runs over the bulb and heat is transferred to the water (this process occurs the in silvery-gray part at the top of the tubes).
  •   Glazed or Unglazed Flat-Plate Solar Collector This is a small panel, that looks like a thin black plastic panel.  This is the system our hosts use to heat their pool.  Cool water from the pool is pumped directly into the black plate on the roof, the water is heated from the sun and then gets pumped back into the pool.  The other day Jon was dismantling the system and by 10 AM with about 50 degree outside temps, the water he poured out was steaming.


A/C is not widely used in Italy, but for our US friends and family, there is apparently a new Solar HVAC system from a Florida based company Sedna Aire.  If it is something you are interested in you may want to check them out.

I hope we didn’t bore you all today!  We are fascinated by sustainable living and how other people live around the world.

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