The price of solar panels has dropped by sixty percent since 2001, making them an attractive investment for anyone interested in reducing their dependence on utility power, either out of a sense of environmental concern or the appeal of off-grid independent power generation.
Before you invest in solar panels, however, it’s important to consider whether your home is a good fit for them. This doesn’t just mean calculating whether solar power is a worthwhile financial investment—sometimes the physical nature of your home determines if a solar system will work on your property.
How Much Sunlight Do You Receive?
Solar panels contain photovoltaic cells that transform sunlight into energy. This energy is then sent to an inverter, which converts the energy into electricity.
The single most essential element in this process is how much sunlight the location of your solar panels will receive. In the northern hemisphere, panels are best installed on a south-facing roof, with the panels angled at 40 degrees. If installing panels on a flat roof or the ground, they need to be tilted at an angle to gain the maximum sun exposure.
To absorb as much energy as possible, the panels need to receive direct sunlight when solar radiation is at its peak, usually between 10.00am and 2.00pm. Trees, nearby buildings, and your own building’s chimneys or dormers can interfere with this exposure.
In addition, your physical location affects how much energy solar panels absorb. A solar panel in Nevada, for instance, will collect more energy than one in Illinois, simply because more southerly zones are closer to the equator and receive more sunlight.
How large is your roof, or the area of ground you plan to dedicate to solar panels? Physical space can sometimes determine whether or not a solar system is a good fit for you. Panels take up a fairly large amount of space, so may not be a good choice for small lots or roofs with small surface areas.
Assuming your property is suitable for solar panels, there’s still the question of performance. Will your solar system meet your energy needs? This is especially important if you’re planning on moving to off-grid power production.
To answer this question, you need to understand your own patterns of electricity consumption. Examine your utility bills, preferably for the last few years. Are there areas where you could cut consumption? Trends that suggest a growing need for more power? Months when power usage is high (pay special attention to winter months, when solar power capabilities drop).
Once you have an idea of how much energy you need, you’ll need to calculate how much power the solar system will produce. Your system supplier should be able to perform a solar site analysis for you, which will provide a rough estimate of the system’s estimated power capabilities. If the system’s potential is significantly lower than your needs, solar power may not be right for you.
The initial output and ongoing maintenance of solar systems is often more than you’d pay for utility-provided electricity, but this cost may be offset by your need for independent or environmentally-conscious power. Remember to factor any subsidies and rebates into your considerations.
Remember as well that solar systems are not maintenance-free, and parts will need servicing and replacing as the system ages. Some companies now lease solar systems as an alternative to outright purchase. The lease includes repairs and maintenance, which can be cheaper overall, but you lack direct ownership of the system, which often runs counter to the motivation for installing solar in the first place.
Under the right conditions, solar power reduces your reliance on the utility grid and provides an independent means of generating power. Just be sure solar power is a good fit for your property, your lifestyle, and your pocketbook before making a commitment