Solar Power, The Low Down

So what’s the deal with solar power? Let’s break it down into a few parts here. Number one, how much power can I make with it? Number two, how much do these systems cost? Number three, the bottom line, is it worth it to get into solar?

Number one: Power producing ability. How much power you can make with solar is controlled by a combination of different factors. First, how much space you have to mount panels. After all, if you have no where to put solar panels (or no sun exposed place to put them) what good are they? Second, how much exposure to the sky you have, i.e. tree cover, mountains, other buildings. Third, your latitude, which ultimately determines how much direct sunlight you have and for how long in various seasons. And most importantly, how much money you have to invest into a solar system, which is covered in our next section. If you have space that is sun exposed for much of the day, you’re in good shape. The panels need to see sun for the majority of the day or you won’t be making power to your full capacity. Having direct sunlight is very important, so if you’re blocked by trees, or neighbors, or mountains, or anything else for that matter, you’re ability to produce power is going to be severely diminished. Now for the latitude aspect. This is the less important factor because solar panels need direct sunlight, but the angle of the sun isn’t critical. Your latitude however does play one important role, and that’s your ability to make power in different seasons. At higher latitudes (in the northern hemisphere) summer sees plenty of sunlight hours, but winter sees many less hours of sunlight. At latitudes closer to the equator, summer and winter sunlight times are more equaled. Is that any reason that someone at a higher latitude shouldn’t consider solar? Absolutely not! As for the money? We’ll get into that next.
Number two: Money! Since I’m sure you’re wondering, here’s the thing, there is no set amount for a solar system. Ultimately your power needs, and more importantly, how much of those power needs you want to be compensated by solar power, will determine how much money you will spend on a system. Determine your goals. If you’re looking to power your entire house solely from solar power, you’re going to need a sizeable system, and you’re going to have to have the budget to back it up. If you’re looking to offset your energy bills in the long run, but still be powered by the city, you might be able to spend less initially at the cost of less power production. Here’s the important part. Find your balance! If you install a system with say two panels and an inverter because you want to offset your power bill, that’s a great start. But if your inverter can handle four panels and your only using two, you might as well spend a little extra to add the extra 2 panels. You’ll produce twice the power at only a slight extra cost since you already have the inverter capacity and you most likely already have someone there installing the system. The power the two extra panels will create will easily offset the cost of having someone come back and install additional panels at a later date. On top of that, you’ll be producing to full capacity. There’s no sense in having the capacity and the room for extra panels but not using them. Now, let’s say you had four panels already, or you only had an inverter that could handle two panels, now it may not be worth it to add more to your system. The extra wiring, inverter, and labor you would need to add more panels would throw your cost balance off. So bottom line? Find your balance! Find out the cost of each component in the system so you’ll know where you can add to it and for how much. As well, find out what the capacity of the system is. You want to make sure that your system is running fully optimized and at peak power production.

Number three: The bottom line. Is it worth it? Yes. Solar is a great option to cut your energy bills or to even make you completely independent from the grid. Provided you have the space for the panels, and abundant sunlight. The downside? It’s not cheap. Depending on the size of your system you may not break even for several years. It’s not easy for some people to shell out the initial investment to build a system to power their entire home. If you can’t, but still want to invest in a system to supplement your grid power, talk to your installer. Let him or her know that you want to start out small, but install a system that will be easily expandable in the future. Have wiring and conduit run now that you will be able to use later. Plan space to add more panels now, and make sure there’s room to tie all your future equipment in later. That will help you add panels and capacity without having to redo your entire system. Another common question people ask is what to do if they don’t know if they’re going to be living in their home long enough to make the system cost effective. The answer is do it. Even if you’re not going to be in your home long enough to see your breakeven point, that’s ok. The additional value a solar system adds to your home will offset your breakeven point greatly. You may even be able to profit from a solar system when you sell your house. My advice? Talk to a real estate professional in your area and see how much additional value a solar system brings to your home. And don’t forget, while the upfront reason you install this system might be to save you money, the important reason to choose solar is to help make our planet a greener place.

Solar Recommendation: 4/5 Stars

(Why 4 out of 5? Simply because solar power is still an expensive investment, so it’s not a viable option for a lot of people. Hopefully with technology improving and manufacturing costs decreasing, solar will be more available to people with smaller budgets. This would help solar in more than one way. Solar’s breakeven time goes way down, it’s ROI goes way up, and greenhouse gasses take a nice downturn.)

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