Sources:If you want to read more on solar technologies we found these books and websites really helpful:
Solar Hot Water
Green Technologies: Sun
"Did you know that it is estimated that the world's entire petroleum resource is roughly equal to the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth every day?" Greg Pahl - "Natural Home Heating"
When looking at "sun energy" - i.e. solar - one needs to look at both "passive solar" and "active solar" for alternatives.
We were surprised to learn that by positioning the windows in the house towards the south and reducing/eliminating windows facing east, west and north, that we could create a "passive solar house" - taking advantage of the positioning of the sun during the different parts of the year for light (which we knew) and heat (which was news to us). In order to take full advantage of the passive solar principals, one needs to consider having the proper windows, overhangs and mass within the house, which acts as a "heat sink" to absorb light energy during the day. An architect or engineer knowledgeable in passive solar design can help incorporate these concepts into your plans.
Some folks derive 65% or more of their heating needs from passive solar, without a large increase in the cost of building the house. Whether we'll be able to obtain those numbers is doubtful (we have more glass on the east and west sides than is optimal for heating) but we do expect to receive substantial benefit from the positioning of the house, the southern facing glazed windows and inclusion of "mass" in the design.
Although we originally thought we'd be able to develop some thermal shutters to further diminish heat loss - we've largely abandoned this concept at this point as there is too much expense without enough reward. We're instead turning our sights to other types of renewable energies that can provide us the necessary additional heat to keep warm in the sub-zero temps of central Alberta.
We've listed some website and other links that we've found especially helpful on the issue of passive solar - we hope you find them helpful as well.
Active solar employs technologies that convert solar energy into usable energy such as to power lights, provide hear or otherwise store heat for future use. For our uses, we will be installing a Photovoltaic tracking system which are PV panels (the ubiquitous "solar panel") on a tray mounted to a pole that "tracks" the movement of the sun throughout the day and the year to get maximum output from the PV panels. Presently we're exploring either being "on the grid" or "off the grid" - beginning to understand the various pros and cons of each. "Off Grid Pros and Cons"
We'll be updating our adventures in PV solar as the system gets designed and then is ultimately implemented. We're talking with different suppliers of photovoltaic cells to determine which supplier we think will best suit our needs.