To implement solar power to heat and power your home requires a number of relatively expensive items. But those items can be cost effective over the long run. Still, going solar the right way requires the right technology and some planning.
First, you need to estimate how much electricity you require to run your home. If you plan only to supplement your power needs, that's fine. Then just calculate the percentage you want to offset.
A glance at your electric bill can make the task easy. Most utility bills will show a chart of month by month usage throughout the year. You can average the total, or use the peak demand. If you plan to go 'off grid’ – stop using power from the utility company completely – focus on the peak.
Those numbers will allow you to estimate how many and what size PV modules you need. PV is short for photovoltaic, the method almost all solar cells use to convert sunlight into electricity. It's a matter of simple arithmetic to match the area of your south-facing rooftop section to the number and size of modules needed.
Each module will generate a certain amount of power at a given cost. When connected the right way the modules add up, so finding the total output (and cost) is equally easy. For a modest-sized home, the cost of panels is somewhere around $10,000-$16,000 at current prices. But keep in mind when planning the expense that there are tax rebates and other programs that will help you offset the amount invested.
But the modules have to connect to something. The connectors, clamps, wires and other components add to the total. They vary considerably. And don't forget to add installation costs. Most homeowners don't have the skill to build the system themselves.
The sun doesn't shine all day every day. It's dark at night, obviously. Rain and heavy cloud cover will reduce the amount of insolation, as it's called. Other uncontrollable factors reduce the amount of sunlight available. So, almost anyone going 'off grid’ will want a battery storage system. Those not taking the complete plunge can draw power from the local utility company during those times.
If your system generates more than you need at any given time, some utility companies will enter into an agreement to buy any excess you put into their system. That's usually done technically by running your meter backwards when you’re supplying the utility company. It normally runs forward as you draw power from their system.
Naturally, they’ll insist on inspecting your system before finalizing any agreement. In fact, most municipalities will require that you have your system inspected and approved even if you go entirely off grid. They need to ensure that it's implemented in a way that's safe for local lineman. During power outages they have to assume there’s no power running through the lines. Your system has to be installed in a way that guarantees that.
Between panels, batteries, installation costs and other expenses most modest-sized solar panel systems will cost in the neighborhood of $32,000-$50,000. Some less, some more. That cost should be offset against what you would pay for electricity from the power company over the lifetime of the system, usually about 20 years without substantial replacements.
But costs are coming down and efficiency is improving as time goes on, as the price of electricity continues to rise. It may well be worth your while to have a solar powered electrical system for your home.
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