Everyone seems to be thinking, reading, writing and talking about solar energy these days. That’s good. Mews about solar technology — like sex — pops up regularly in almost every newspaper and magazine in the country. It looks as though both sex and the sun are here to stay. And we can be thankful for both.

But just about everything we pick up starts out

the same way: "We have too many people ____

We have this terrible energy crisis…. We’ve been in an ‘our-energy-will-last-forever’ frame of mind for too long, and so we’re running out of fossil fuels…. We’ve got to find ways to use al­ternative energy sources or we’re all going to die (or at very least, drastically change our style of living)…. The sun’s the answer to all our woes."

That’s the bad-news approach — scare tactics followed by unrealistic promises and pie-in-the – sky predictions. Most of us already know that we have very little fuel left, and we’re frightened enough already. So we don’t need more of that. Our energy situation is scary, there’s no doubt about it, but the idea that all of our energy needs can be served by the sun is mostly science fic­tion. We’ll have to keep exploring other things, too.

The sun does seem to offer many kinds of possibilities. It’s always there; it appears to be a boundless source of energy, and no one expects that it’s going to disappear in the next several million years or so. In other words, it seems to be a perpetually renewable resource.

What’s even more encouraging is that we al­ready know a great deal about how to harvest energy from the sun. But we still need to figure out ways to store it effectively for longer periods of time than we can now. That’s the hang-up. As we all know, sunlight is not available all the time. So there are some basic and obvious problems, such as night, cloudy days, and air pollution that screens out useful rays. How do we carry over these sunless periods? We can’t completely — not yet. So when the sun doesn’t shine, we’ll have to fall back on our old sources of energy, at least until fact and science fiction can be sorted out and some truly workable (and affordable) technology becomes a reality.

Even so, there has been a lot of excitement about experimental solar homes in Colorado, Delaware, Washington, D. C., New Mexico, Cali­fornia, M. I.T., and places abroad. You may have seen the stories. These courageous experiments hold great promise for our collective future.

At this writing a "complete" solar home may be beyond the financial reach of most families in the United States, and there are only a handful of builders around who can tackle such a construc­tion job. But everybody’s learning fast, out of necessity, and more complete know-how is not that far down the road.

"Plan ahead," as the sign says. If you’re going to build a new home, design it to be flexible, so you can take advantage of some of the new solar technology that will be available soon. There are already lots of options open to you, but there are also some inherent disadvantages and limitations that go along with each types of system.

Give some thought to simple "passive" solar systems as well as the more complicated mechanized ones. (A thick concrete wall, for example, if it’s strategically placed, just sits there, collecting and storing solar heat during the day and giving it off to the living space in the house at night.) There’s a wealth of helpful written material and practical hardware available right now, as the appendix shows. Probably the best book on the subject of solar home design is Donald Watson’s best-selling Designing and Building a Solar House, also published by Garden Way. We rec­ommend you get a copy.

Updated: August 23, 2015 — 7:29 am