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Guide to Going Solar

Jessica PirroJuly 29, 20191430

There have been hundreds of thousands of solar panel installations that have made their way through the country since 2008. With solar panels being installed on more and more rooftops, quite a few Americans are choosing to power their homes with solar power, and the number is only increasing. The cost of solar panels is decreasing yearly, thanks in part to the Solar Energy Technologies Office’s investments. Homeowners who are considering adding solar-powered systems to their rooftops or finding another way to harness the sun’s energy and turn it into solar electricity. While there aren’t one-size-fits-all solar-powered systems, there are some resources that can help you figure out what is best for you. Before you go solar here are a few questions that you should consider.  

How Does Solar Work? 

Two primary technologies can harness the sun’s energy and turn it into solar electricity. The first one is what’s the popular throughout residential solar panels, which are photovoltaics, or PV. These are the solar panels that you’ll see on rooftops or in fields and on carports. When the sun is shining on the solar panels, the photons from the sunlight are absorbed by the photovoltaic cells in the solar panels, which then creates an electric field across the different layers and causes the electricity to flow, thus creating solar electricity.

The second technology is concentrating solar power, which is also known as CSP. It is used primarily in very large power plants and is not appropriate for residential solar panel installations. The solar panels technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat, which can be then be used to produce solar electricity.

Is My Home Suitable for Solar-Powered Systems?

Solar panels are built to work in all climates, but in some cases, rooftop solar panel installations aren’t got all rooftops, due to age or tree cover. If there are trees near your home to create excessive shade on your roof, rooftop solar panels may not be the most ideal option. The size, shape, and slope of your roof with a slope that’s between 15 and 40 degrees, even though other roofs might be suitable too. There’s also the age-old question of how old your roof is as well as when you need to replace it.

If a solar installer comes out and determines that your roof isn’t suitable for solar-powered systems, or you don’t own your home, there are still ways that you can benefit from solar energy. Community solar power allows multiple people to benefit from a single, shared solar panel installation that can be installed on or off-site. The costs of solar panels are associated with purchasing and installing solar-powered systems that are divided among all of the participants, who can buy into the shared solar-powered systems at a level that best fits their budget.

How Do I Start the Process of Going Solar?

Several mapping services have been developed that will help you determine if your rooftop is suitable for solar energy. In addition to the mapping services, an internet search can help you find local solar companies and get a solar panel installation. You are most likely going to have many options to choose from, it’s important to read reviews of solar companies to make sure that you are selecting the best fit for your house.

Solarize campaigns can also help you start to go solar. These different solar energy programs work by allowing different groups of homeowners to work together to collectively negotiate rates, select a solar panel installer, and creates an additional community interest in solar energy through a limited-time offer to join the campaign. Ultimately, as the number of residents who participate in the programs increase, the cost of solar panels will decrease.

How Much Power Can I Generate With Solar?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a tool that’s called PVWatts for this exact reason. It will estimate the solar energy production and cost of solar panels of grid-connected PV solar-powered systems for any address in the world. It allows homeowners, small building owners, solar installers, and solar companies to easily develop estimates of the performance of potential solar panel installations, and can even compare the cost of solar panels to the utility bills. These tools are great for getting started, but make sure to work with a solar installer for a custom estimate of how much power your solar-powered systems will most likely generate.

Will I Save Money If I Go Solar?

The amount of money that solar panel installations can save you depends upon how electricity you consume, as well as the size of your solar-powered systems, if you choose to buy or lease your solar-powered systems, and how much solar power it is able to generate given the direction your roof faces and how much sunlight hits it. Your solar panels' savings also depend on the solar electricity rates that are set by your utility and how much the utility will compensate you for the excess solar energy you send back to the grid.

In some cities, solar panels already cost-competitive with the electricity sold by your local utility. The cost of solar panels has dropped every year since 2009, trend researchers expect to continue. Not only are the prices of solar panels dropping, so are the costs that are associated with solar panel installations, like the permitting and inspection, which is also known as soft costs.

What Are The Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy?

Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon and other pollutants that are emitted into the environment. By reducing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere translates into less pollution and cleaner air and water.

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