The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that the total U.S. households to have installed solar panels has surpassed 700,000, and the number is rapidly rising. The first quarter of 2015 broke a record: More than 65,000 solar systems were installed in the first 3 months of the year.
If you own your home (sorry, renters!), you have more than 100 square feet of unshaded roof space and your roof is in good condition, your home probably can support solar energy panels. Not sure where to get started? Here are some things you’ll want to know about home solar panels.
How Do Solar Panels for Your Home Work?
One of the first questions you may have is: “How do they work?” Solar panels are made up of a few key parts. Of course, there are the solar panels themselves, which are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells and convert sunlight to energy.
An inverter converts solar power from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC), which runs usable energy into a main fuse box that powers your home. The controller acts as a surge protector, protecting the batteries by regulating the electricity.
Finally, you have the batteries themselves, which are crucial for homes in remote locations and not wired to a grid. Keep in mind that they can get expensive.
Benefits of Solar Panels for Your Home
One of the primary benefits of using solar technology is the opportunity for homeowners to help the environment by using a clean energy source. Additionally, homeowners who choose to purchase solar panels usually increase the value of their homes.
Drawbacks of Solar Panels for Your Home
While solar is an excellent option for rural homes paying high energy costs, it might not always be the least-expensive option for homes located near hydro dams and large coal operations. Also, installing solar panels will likely increase your homeowner’s insurance premium by a few dollars per month.
Short on space? Solar panels aren’;t just limited to roofs. Image: Arkin Tilt Architects
Common Misconceptions About Solar Panels
Solar Panels Are Expensive
The higher output and lower production cost of solar panels, tax incentives and a variety of ownership options have significantly lowered costs. A growth in popularity and time on the market means contractors have become better at installing them, and installation time has gone from days to mere hours, another major cut in costs.
They Require a Lot of Sun
While there’s no disputing that a solar panel in Texas will generate more energy than one in Minnesota, all regions in the U.S. can benefit from solar. The panels actually increase efficiency in cooler temperatures and can withstand snow and winter conditions (though you’ll need to clear them off).
It’s All or Nothing
Many homeowners believe that going solar means they would completely rely on their panels. In fact, residential solar systems are tied to the power grid — and benefit from it. If your utility company uses net-metering, whatever energy your home doesn’t use is immediately sent back into the grid, and you are later credited for that energy when you need to tap into the grid. This may lead to you producing surplus energy in the longer days of the summer months, and purchasing some energy come winter.
Homes in all regions of the U.S. can benefit from solar. Image: Gast Architects
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The price of installing solar panels on your home is highly variable, but first depends on the size of the system you’ll need. For get a quick estimate, multiply the the kilowatts of energy you use per day by 0.25, which indicates the size of system you’ll need. The cost is also dependent on whether you choose to buy, lease or use a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
Purchasing your solar panels is certainly the highest initial investment, but also provides the highest ROI and tax credits. The federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is equal to 30 percent of the system’s cost, so if a system cost $20,000, the homeowner would receive $6,000 credited to his or her federal tax bill. But act quickly; this tax credit expires at the end of 2016.
Leasing solar panels means no high upfront cost; it is spread out over monthly payments. Because the leasing company owns the solar panels, it benefits from the ITC instead of the homeowner. However, the elimination of high initial investment has made solar available to many more homeowners in the past several years.
A Power Purchase Agreement means that, much like your typical electricity bill, the third-party company is the owner of the system and the homeowner pays only for the electricity that is generated. This setup is also seeing increased popularity.
Other Things to Consider
Types of Solar Panels
There are 3 basic types of solar panels, meaning homeowners can choose the model that’s the best fit for their needs. Pricier monocrystalline silicon panels are smaller in size and provide the most effective return rates on electricity. Thin film solar panels are less expensive, but take up more space and produce less electricity. Polycrystalline silicon panels fall in the middle in both cost and efficiency.
Condition of Your Roof
Solar panels and inverters typically have a warranty of 25 years, so if your roof is due for an update, it would be advisable to take care of that before going solar. However, once they’re installed, solar panels should extend the life of your roof by shielding it from harsh elements.
As you would with any contractor, you’ll want to get multiple estimates to compare prices and read reviews of the person. A proper estimate will be based on variables such as the climate you live in, the design of your roof and its sun exposure. When choosing a professional, select one who is licensed and bonded and who offers a strong warranty.
Residential solar technology is rapidly increasing in popularity, and many homeowners are successfully adding systems to their own homes. What do you think of solar technology? Would you add panels to your home?
“Solar Industry Data” Solar Energy Industries Association, July 2015
“Should You Put Solar Panels On Your House?” TIME, June 2015
“Everything You Need To Know About Adding Solar Panels At Home,” Forbes, May 2014
“Everything You Need to Know About Solar,” UnderstandSolar, June 2015
“The Complete Guide to Residential Solar Panels,” Solar Tribune
“How Much Does it Cost to Install Solar on an Average U.S. House?” Solar Power Authority, April 2012
“Why are solar panels so expensive?” Solar Tribune, November 2013
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