Is Solar Power Right for You?
Solar has come a long way in homes and not only is it great for the environment, but it also has many unexpected benefits besides the financial cost saving. As the product has gotten better, so has the financing of buying solar panels. Solar can be leased like a car or bought outright. When negotiating your finance options make sure you understand all aspects of the lease like if it is transferrable upon sale or payoff options. Solar has become a very desirable selling feature for homes so read on and learn more about Solar and decide if it is right for you.
In the world of renewable energy resources, solar energy is, well, hot. The Solar Energy Industries Association
, a solar trade organization, notes in its Q4 2015 report that solar supplied 29.4% of all new electricity generating capacity brought online in the U.S., beating out natural gas additions for the first time ever. Overall, the report continues, the U.S. installed 7,260 megawatts of solar photovoltaic cells in 2015, the largest total ever and 16% above what was installed in 2014. Residential solar accounted for the largest sector.
Beyond the increasing interest in using clean energy, some consumers have been motivated to convert to solar for their electricity needs by federal, state and local tax credits, as well as rebates that can help offset installation costs. And third-party ownership opportunities, in which homeowners essentially lease the solar panels rather than purchase them, are increasingly popular, too. As part of its continuing strategy to offer consumers more clean choices, Constellation is now offering more solar options for residential consumers. The residential program, which rolled out in April 2016, is offered in various states around the country
with more states expected to come. Here’s what you need to consider before converting your home’s electricity source to solar energy instead.
The potential benefits of solar energy. The possible benefits of solar energy in your home are both economic and environmental. With the right system and circumstances, you can lower your electricity costs and shrink your carbon footprint all in one fell swoop. Here are the plusses and minuses to consider:
Potential benefits of solar energy:
- Solar energy is a clean and renewable resource.
- Solar energy creates no pollution at all. Specifically, no carbon dioxide or other heat-trapping gases, and harmful emissions. Solar energy also avoids potential environmental risks associated with mining or drilling fossil fuels.
- Solar energy uses little to no water, which is in contrast to almost all power plants making electricity from steam.
- Solar panels are silent. There are no moving parts.
- Solar systems are fairly easy to install and require very little maintenance. Both are handled by your solar provider, if you opt for a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA).
Potential disadvantages of solar energy:
- Depending on the system, initial costs to install can be expensive; however, lease options can lower that initial cost.
- Solar power can’t be harnessed for later use or during bad weather, such as rain or even heavily cloudy days. That means you’ll still need the ability to use power from your existing utility.
- You may need to live in your home long enough to reap the full financial benefits if you make the initial purchase rather than lease, although that can be passed on to the next owner of your home.
You’ll need to consider a few additional points when deciding if home solar panel installation is the right economic choice. Size matters. So does siting, both in terms of when and how the sun hits your panels, and whether and where the system will go on your roof. (Sometimes, if your yard is large, panels can be placed there, although there is an additional cost to do so.) Local covenants should be explored to ensure you’re not violating any homeowner or condominium or local city or town regulations.
Climate is another consideration. Obviously, your home needs to receive a fair amount of sunlight in the course of a day. Where the sun hits your roof and how long it receives full sun are critical, as are the electricity demands of your home. Energy.gov
suggests that homeowners design a system to provide 40-80% of a home’s needs. Systems that provide less than 40% may not be cost-effective.
How Solar Energy Works
Before deciding if going solar is the best route for your home, it’s important to understand how solar energy works. We all understand passive solar. We open our drapes or curtains in the winter to allow the sun’s warmth to help heat our homes. Even animals seem to understand passive solar energy, as they curl up in the spot on the couch where the sun shines through.
Architects and builders often design and site homes to take advantage of heat from the sun in winter. Large windows that face south, for instance, can provide passive heat from the sun. In the warmer months, people use awnings and perhaps blinds or drapes to keep the sun’s rays at bay and therefore ensure their home is cooler.
Solar energy technology takes advantage of this general idea to harness the sun’s heat and intensity into usable energy. Photovoltaic cells, located on those flat solar panels you’ve likely seen on rooftops, convert sunlight into electricity.
Here’s the basic way solar energy works:
- Sunlight hits the surface of the photovoltaic cell on the solar panel.
- An inverter converts the direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is what is used by household appliances.
- The meter monitors production received from the solar panels and the inverter, and sends the information to the utility through a wireless signal.
- The solar electricity from the inverter flows through this service panel first to your home and then to the grid, if there is excess production.
- The electricity meter reads the power that you use from the grid as well as the excess solar electricity that flows to the grid from your solar system.