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About Residential Solar Energy


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Good information about solar energy, and how to get the most from residential solar equipment.

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About Residential Solar Energy

  1. 1. ==== ====For complete information on everything solar, and to learn more about solar energy, visit ====Residential solar energy is no longer just for the early adopting environmentalists in Berkeley, CAor for cabins so far out of town that theyre completely off the energy grid. Its time has come, andresidential solar energy is now being adopted by the masses. A majority of the people who gosolar are still mostly motivated by environmental concerns, but now financial goals are playing intotheir decision as well. Namely, homeowners want predictable energy costs, and going solar canprovide just that.On the environmental side, going solar can reduce pollution, slow global warming, reduce yourcarbon footprint, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and can generally make you feel good aboutthe energy youre saving. Just read what Andrew Kin had to say about having solar panels on histownhouse in Los Angeles. Its inspired him to use less energy too. Better yet, your friends mayfollow your lead and switch their homes to solar energy.Federal, state, and local solar rebates are bringing the price of residential solar energy way downsuch that it is getting competitive with the heavily subsidized coal energy that makes up much ofthe grid energy. In some states like New Jersey, the incentive programs are so aggressive that asystem will pay for itself in 3 or 4 years, and will end up saving a homeowner a tremendousamount of money over its 25+ year life, all the while supplying clean energy to their home.In other areas, like San Francisco, it may take closer to 7-10 years for a system to pay for itself ifyou buy it outright from the start. Youd pay a larger lump sum up front, then have an extremelysmall energy bill for the next 25 years and the savings from the energy bill will pay for the systemin 7-10 years. Beyond that the savings are all upside and home owners often end up saving tensof thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands over the life of the system.However, if you dont want to pay for a system up front, there are several ways to get around that.Solar leases and Solar Power Purchase Agreements (SPPA or PPA) are both gaining in popularityand availability. In both cases its similar to leasing a car. You could pay $20,000 up front for a car,or you could pay a much lower monthly lease price, then either buy the car once the lease is up, orturn it back in effectively only having paid for the time you used it. With a solar lease your solarprovider actually owns the system after they install it on your roof, but you pay them a set monthlyfee to lease the system. That least payment combined with your new, much smaller energy bill willgenerally be lower than your current electricity bill. If you go with a solar lease you will have apredictable energy bill and predictable, stable lease payment and youll be getting clean, green,renewable solar energy. Youll also be protected from rising energy costs. Solar lease paymentsdo increase around 2.5% to 3.9% a year, but thats a lot less than the annual 6% or more increasein the price of grid electricity.A solar power purchase agreement is very similar in that your solar provider owns the panels, but
  2. 2. in the case of an PPA you only pay for the energy produced rather than a flat rate for the lease. Alease payment is fixed, but a PPA payment fluctuates with how much power your system produceseach month. But at the end of the year a lease and a PPA cost about the same. In both cases thesolar provider owns the system so they handle and any all cleaning, maintenance, warrantyissues, replacement parts, etc. Generally residential solar energy systems require very littlemaintenance - maybe spraying them with a hose or hiring window washers to clean them once ortwice a year. However inverters (the part of the system that turns the electricity from direct current(DC) to alternating current (AC), which is what our homes can use) do only come with a 10-yearwarranty and generally only last 10-15 years. Whereas solar panels come with a 25+ yearwarranty and generally last even longer. Therefore if you do buy your system, youll likely have tospend $2,000 or so after 10-15 years to replace your inverter. Whereas if you go with a lease or aPPA, the solar provider will cover the cost of that for you.If youre looking at it from a purely financial perspective, getting a home equity loan at a low rateand writing a check for your residential solar energy system will give you the greatest financialsavings/income over the life of the system. But some home owners are willing to have it be slightlyless financially advantageous over the long run (lease or PPA) to not have to deal with anymaintenance of the system.As a quick aside, some homeowners have recently started asking about whether the energy &materials used in making the solar panels off-set the good that the panels do by creating cleanenergy. In other words, how long do the panels need to produce energy for them to offset theamount of energy it took to build them in the first place. The short answer is that it only takes abouta year. On top of that many facilities that make solar panels have enormous solar arrays on theirrooftops so the panels are often made with clean energy from the start.How about DIY? The DIY (Do It Yourself) movement is gaining momentum across many industriessince in many cases you can save quite a bit of money by doing something yourself. Unfortunatelywe do not recommend the DIY approach for residential solar energy unless you happen to be aprofessional roofer or electrician.In most cases federal, state, and local solar rebates are only given if the system is installed by anapproved, certified solar installer. So while you may save on some of the installation costs, thelack of rebates (often about 50% off) negates the savings.Your power company must approve the installation before it can be connected to your power box(circuit breaker) and if their inspector find that your installation does not meet their standards, youmay have to pay for them to be reinstalled properly.If you install the panels your self, youll still need to hire an electrician to connect them to yourcircuit breaker (once the power company approves it), and some electricians will not work on DIYinstallations due to the risks involved.Working on your roof is dangerous. The risk of falling is real and without proper safety gear its arisk not worth taking. Professionals are trained, insured, and have all of the proper safety gear toensure a safe installation.If youve read this far you are probably wondering where to start. Going solar is easier than youthink.We recommend getting solar energy quotes from several installers, then following our guide on
  3. 3. how to compare solar quotes. Also take a look at our list of 10 things to know before you go solar.Aka how to prepare for a residential solar installation. The quick summary is that you want to:Get a years worth of energy bills togetherSpend some time thinking about how you want to pay for the system - Finance, Solar Lease,Power Purchase Agreement, etc.Know what your motivation is for going solarThink about your roof. Is it in good shape, or will it need to be replaced shortly? If so, its probablyworth doing that first so that you dont have to remove the panels in the next few years go work onthe roof.Check to see if your roof has clear sun on it all day. Ideally you want a south facing roof with noshading and a clear view of the sun all day. (the way panels are hooked up, if shade gets on oneof them it greatly reduces the efficiency of the entire system. Although recently developed micro-inverters can help in that situation)Once you have selected an installer and figured out how you want to pay for the system the rest isextremely easy. The installer will handle all of the paperwork around permitting, federal, state, andlocal rebates, then theyll deduct those rebates and incentives from the price of the installation.That way you get the rebate savings instantly rather than having for the federal government tosend you a check.Once the paperwork is taken care of the installer will come out and install the system over thecourse of a day or two. Heres a short write-up on a volunteer solar installation we did back in2009 as part of a volunteer day with Grid Alternatives. 90% of the work is on the outside of yourhouse. The installers will put up a metal frame on the roof, attach the panels to the frame, the wirethem together. They will also install conduits through the house or along side the house to routethe wires down to your utility panel / main circuit breaker. Next to the circuit breaker theyll installan inverter and will connect the wires from the panels to the inverter. The inverter is what "inverts"the power from DC to AC, which is what is used by home appliances. Depending on where youlive either the installer will do the final connection to the utility panel, or you may have to havesomeone from your utility company come out and inspect the installation, then make the finalconnection. Then voila! Youll get to watch your meter spin backwards on sunny days.We havent yet addressed how to size your system. Many (but not all) utility companies offer netmetering for home solar energy systems. That means that instead of looking at your energy use(and production) on a month to month basis, they look at it on a yearly basis. That way your solarenergy system can product more energy than you use in the summer months, then less than youuse in the winter. That way it averages out that youll be producing slightly less energy than youactually use over the course of a year. The reason for that is because utility companies that offernet-metering will give you credit for the energy you produce, but many wont pay you for energythat you produce in excess of what you use. So you could in theory zero out your energy bill forthe year, but very few utility companies will actually write you a check at the end of the year. Andactually, theres usually still a very small monthly or annual "connectivity" fee to stay hooked up tothe grid.So why stay connected to the grid? Because the power rarely goes out, and if you were to installenough batteries to store a few days worth of energy it would almost double the cost of thesystem. When youre on the grid (ie. hooked up to a utility company like you are now) the grid acts
  4. 4. as your battery. When you produce more energy than you use it gets pushed into the grid. Then,at night, when youre using energy but not producing any energy you can get it from the grid.Hopefully thats a comprehensive introduction to residential solar energy. If youre ready to getstarted, wed love to put you in touch with a few top local installers who will give you free solarenergy estimates to get you on your way!David Belden is a solar energy entrepreneur and most recently he is the co-founder of ResidentialSolar 101. He spend his days figuring out how to make solar energy more accessible to homeowners across the country.Article Source: ====For complete information on everything solar, and to learn more about solar energy, visit ====