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Create Your Own Solar System

Sun worshipers at the beach may soon be joined by sun worshipers at the hardware store. Solar power is gaining respectability, if not popularity. Pool heating is the most requested solar product and can extend the swimming season for three or four months, local dealers say.

There's another reason.

"The sun's free," said Edward Daniels. "A week or two ago, the swimming season would have been over." He will continue his daily workout well past Christmas. Why not? The pool thermometer reads 87 degrees.

Solar pool heating season is here. Roof collectors or mats heat the water, which runs into the pool and circulates back to the collectors via the pool pump. The entire volume of the pool is recirculated about twice a day, said Dan Gugliotta, owner of SPLASH!.

In 1986, the federal government ended tax credits for solar installation, causing a lot of businesses to close, Gugliotta said. That cleaned up the industry and left the more reputable companies, he said.

But, surprisingly, energy costs or shortages aren't fueling a solar boom.

"People are more interested in their pleasure than saving energy or saving a few bucks," he said.

A solar hot water system costs about $2,500, he said, and should save about $30 a month in electricity. It pays for itself in four to seven years, he estimates.

"The population is too mobile to see that," he said. Selling solar pool and water heating can be "like beating your head against the wall."

The solar heating industry has embraced convenience to sell its wares. No longer will the shower pour out ice water onto unsuspecting bathers on cloudy days.

"If we have three or four days of rain in a row, the backup kicks to heat 40 gallons," said Jo-Ann Lavigne, co-owner of All Solar Power Inc. and a solar water heater user. "But the summer water is so hot, you barely need any hot at all."

Solar lighting is a relatively new concept that has yet to find a niche in the market. Few local lighting stores carry it, citing lack of consumer demand. Home improvement stores carry outdoor models comparably priced to electric models, but the manufacturers claim the units will only provide light for four to six hours.

In steps the photovoltaic (PV) cells, the latest in solar lighting technology. The PVs store the sun's energy into batteries that

can be turned on at will.

Louise Zacharias has PV-generated lights outside her Davis Islands duplex.

"It saves me having to pay a big electric bill," she said. "We cook out on the patio, and it's bright all night."

The PVs store the sun's energy into batteries that can be turned on at will.

Wendell Cornette, owner of Cornette & Company Inc., the only local dealer and designer of PVs, says PVs have universal appeal, but at $200 to $300 a panel, they are not yet economically feasible for the homeowner.

"A totally solar-run home would add about $50,000 to the price of a new home," he said.

The Florida Solar Energy Center, a state government-financed agency, tests and regulates solar products. It built an all-solar home in Cape Canaveral that generates about 700 kilowatts of power for a 1,400-square-foot house, said Ingrid Melody, public information director.

Melody predicts that utility companies will install PVs to avoid future energy shortages since homeowners appear reluctant to take on the responsibility of energy management.

WHERE TO CALL

Homeowners interested in buying or installing solar products may request free information from The Florida Solar Energy Center, 300 State Road 401, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920 or call (407) 783-0300. They are responsible for testing and certifying all systems sold in Florida. The Florida Solar Energy Industry Association, a trade group for solar dealers, can be reached at (305) 246-8447.

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