Living on solar power doesn't require huge sacrifices. Most changes are small and make little functional difference - but a big difference energy wise. In fact, a large number of these changes should really be implemented in every home and building. This would reduce the electricity bill and reduce the toll on the environment.
Appreciable savings in power can be achieved by switching from incandescent to energy saving bulbs. These are available most places normal light bulbs are. A bonus is the fact that these bulbs last far longer than conventional bulbs. Commonly quoted lifetimes are greater than ten times incandescent bulbs.
The sun is a great source of lighting, so use natural lighting as much as possible. Ideally, this means big windows facing the sun. However, little things like making sure curtains and blinds are fully open reduce the need for electrical lighting, and therefore your energy consumption.
Also, a properly placed skylight can produce a lot of light.
Electric heating is very energy inefficient. Gas heating, if possible, is a much better option.
Insulation is very important. Good insulation will keep a building cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Ideally a building would have / can have heat absorbing materials installed. These absorb heat when it is warm and release it when it is cooler.
Have a look around your building and check for gaps around windows, doors and in floors. Sealing these is usually a once off job, and can really help.
Little things like blocking gaps under doors can make a large difference.
Maintainence is important. What you need to do will vary in frequency and difficulty. However, most tasks are reasonably simple.
Keep things clean. This is especially important for solar panels, as dirty panels have significantly reduced efficiency. Cleaning solar panels really just involves a bucket of water and a sponge, with perhaps a little elbow grease. If your setup involves mirrors or reflective surfaces, clean them. They suffer from the same problems as dirty solar panels.
Check exposed wiring and piping. The elements can be quite harsh. Regularly check for abrasion or discolouring. Some plastics (which may be found in wiring insulation) grow brittle due to UV from the sun. This can cause the insulation to crack or break away, exposing bare wires and potentially damaging your system. Look for signs of leaks on and around pipes.
Check batteries often. Look for build up of oxidisation (crud on terminals) and discolouring. If using wet cells, check and maintain water levels and use distilled water.
Adjust for the sun. The sun traverses the sky at different angles at different times of the year. Solar panels work best when at 90º to the sun, it is important to adjust them. Most setups involving mirrors also require adjustment. Tracking systems usually circumvent this problem - they handle this automatically.
More info coming soon...