The Continuing Rise of Solar Energy
Written by: Adam Torkildson
Recent surveys show that 90 percent of American households are in favor of using clean energy. Fossil fuels are seen to be a finite, dwindling source of power for America. Finding alternatives to imported oil and dirty coal are imperative. Solar energy, especially for the household, has been around for some time. But it is just now coming to grips with enough innovative technology to make it very manageable on almost any conventional budget.
Solar power, or to give it a fancier name — photovoltaic systems — takes sunlight and turns it into electricity. Solar panels are usually placed on the roof — and the newer ones are thin and black and can be layered with roof shingles for a very pleasing aesthetic look.
The cost of a decent solar power system in the past has been prohibitive for many homeowners — somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 thousand. But new technology, combined with state and federal incentives and creative financing practices have brought the price down and put photovoltaic paneling within the reach of most households.
Before you commit to solar power . . .
Look at your electric bill first to make sure it’s worth the time, effort, and expense to install. Smaller households may not save very much with solar power. As a rule of thumb a 3 kilowatt solar power system will produce about 4 thousand kilowatts of electricity per year (the household average is 10 thousand per year), while a 5 kilowatt system produces around 7 thousand kwh per year. An even bigger one, at 10 kilowatts, will give you over 12 thousand kwh per year — maybe enough to sell electricity back to your utility company if they are buying.
Does your roof get much sun?
How much sun can your roof get? Are there any obstructions, such as trees or taller buildings that put your roof in shade for more than a few hours each day? If so, solar panels may not be the best idea for your home. The best place to put solar panels is on a roof that is facing south. You can view a solar resource map for your area at National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This will give you a good idea of how much sunshine your area gets on an annual basis.
Don’t fiddle on the roof!
The smaller the roof area, the less solar power you can get from it. Also consider if you have dormers, chimneys, and other roof bric-a-brac that eats into the flat surface that solar panels need. To be worth the investment, you need about 500 square feet or more of solar paneling area on your roof.
What is your home’s energy rating?
Homes built within the last 20 years are usually pretty energy efficient. Add to that energy efficient appliances and good insulation, and a solar panel system makes a lot of sense for your domicile. Older homes and appliances tend to eat up a lot of electricity, and solar panels just may not make that much of a difference for the price you have to pay to install them.
Financing the deal
Before you begin worrying about the price of installing solar panels, think first of the long term benefits to you. One, a solar panel system will add good value to your house (and in many states it is a tax deduction just like your mortgage). Two, it obviously cuts down on your electric bill and can even make you self-sufficient when it comes to electricity.
You can even lease a solar panel system, instead of buying it outright, for a manageable monthly payment. Most leases run 20 years.
For a complete listing of government rebates and licensing fees in your area, use the government website Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).
Use a professional
If your neighbors, friends, or associates at work have had solar panels installed ask them for a review of the company that did it. Otherwise, use a resource website like BestCompany.com for reviews of installation companies in your area. Most installation companies will be glad to meet with you personally and give you an estimate after looking over your house.