What do you think of when you picture solar power? Massive fields of gigantic solar panels? Solar power doesn't necessarily require tons of equipment. In fact, some solar power doesn't require any equipment at all. There's a difference between active solar power -- what you probably picture when you think of solar energy -- and passive solar power, which is based on smart home design rather than advanced technology. Passive solar home design simply uses the sun's rays to heat a home through strategic placement of windows in a home. Large sets of windows let in solar energy, and a heat-absorbing surface like a dark wall retains the heat to warm the home [source: EnergySavers]. Fans and air vents can help spread that air around the house.
Active solar systems obviously provide more heat than passive solar design. Solar panels absorb the sun's radiation and use the heat to warm air or water, cutting down on gas or electricity consumption in the process. The more we rely on solar energy, the fewer greenhouse gases we produce from using nonrenewable energy sources [source: EnergySavers]. The efficiency of solar panels varies based on the size of the system and the local climate. However, given the right conditions, a solar system will make up for the up-front costs of installation over the long term with years of free energy.