Solar energy is most effective when integrated into an efficient design. Radtkey and Van Atta designed their home with an abundance of energy-saving and sustainable features. First, they donated the materials and appliances from the existing house to not-for-profit organizations in the area. Lumber from 12 nonnative eucalyptus trees that were cut down during construction was used for the house trim, garage doors, front door, stair treads, bookshelves, and even a dining room table. And during construction, they protectively worked around the existing sycamore and native coast live oak trees that provide shade from the harsh western sun.
Another promising development in the realm of solar energy is the solar shingle, used to replace asphalt or slate roof shingles. These can cover an entire roof or selected parts. Dow's Powerhouse line turns sunlight into electricity through an inverter box that comes with the package. The black-on-black design of Apollo II solar shingles from Certainteed blends seamlessly with surrounding roofing material.
It's encouraging to see the new solar products that are entering the marketplace in response to homeowner and designer demand. For instance, small 12-volt flexible solar panels that measure 10 inches by 3 inches, such as those made by Silicon Solar, are a thin but durable film of silicon on a plastic backing, which might be applied to archways, pergolas, fences, or even sculptures to power elements of the landscape. Other solar products already on the market include lights, stepping stones, fountains, wind chimes, string and rope lights, crystal balls, and electric fences. Invention will keep up with demand, and I predict that we will see designers' ingenuity and creativity burgeoning as well, with exciting results.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, Oct/Nov 2013