Things to Consider Before you go Solar

This guest post was provided by home improvement and energy efficiency writer, Tim Smith.

Since the sun isn’t due to blow up for a couple billion years, we can all safely assume that solar power is here to stay. It’s not a fad and actually provides many benefits that many people don’t know about.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the sun hits the earth with 173,000 terawatts of solar energy. Wondering if that’s enough for all we use? That’s more than 10,000 times the entire needs of the earth.

The U.S. government now seems to have been right all along. They were early adopters of the technology. Remember Vanguard 1? This satellite was launched by NASA in the 1960s, the first artificial satellite powered by solar. It is the oldest man-made satellite and it’s still chugging along, logging more than 6 billion miles.

Solar Panels

So, if no one owns the sun (yet) and the technology is proven, why aren’t more people switching?

Solar Energy Home Distribution

Consider Where You Live

Some places are perfect for solar energy use – deserts with their clear air and abundant sunlight are ideal. Some areas are at a disadvantage, such as Seattle or Mount Krakatoa.

The earth is round and because of that fact, diffuse and direct solar radiation are big factors when it comes to how well solar panels can work.

High deserts usually have plenty of direct beam solar radiation. Diffuse solar radiation, on the other hand, is that which passes through clouds, volcanoes or other conditions of the atmosphere. The two types of solar radiation together are called global solar radiation.

It doesn’t always have to do with how close you are to the Equator. When I lived in Colorado, there was sun nearly every day of the year and diffusion was minimal because the high altitude captures much of sun’s rays.

Solar Shingles

In San Diego, we had plenty of sunny days, except for those Santa Ana Winds for a few weeks every year. In Belize, we lived in a high rain forest and it was not the best place, solar-wise. The rainy season lasted for a good part of the year.

North or south matters for the angle of solar panels that need to be set to capture as much of the rays as possible, but if the atmosphere doesn’t block out the sun’s rays, it is still a good bet.

Think About the Economics

In 2013, the average solar panel array for most homes was $4.72 per watt, with the average panel system being about 5 kilowatts. Add in installation costs and you are looking at anywhere from $3 to $7 per watt, depending on where you live. A turnkey system for a whole-house system is anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000.

How much can you save? In Nevada, a homeowner could save $145 per month with a whole-house system. At the other end, in Kansas you may only save $35 per month.

Solar Panels on Home Roof

Keep in mind that you can actually “solar farm” your system. There are a growing number of actual farmers doing just that and making a pretty penny. Whatever your home doesn’t consume, the excess can be transferred to your power provider, and the law says they have to take it and pay you for it.

You can install a solar panel array on some land you aren’t using, the roof of a warehouse or any other currently unproductive land. You can even rent the space to a third party, receiving an annual hosting fee.

How to Save One-Third the Cost

If you’re beginning to be intrigued, it will pay you to look into federal energy tax credits under The Energy Policy Act of 2005. It was extended by the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008. These credits are used for persons who live in a home they own as a primary residence.

Until the end of 2016, you can get a personal income tax credit amounting to 30 percent of the cost of renewable energy purchases. There is no maximum amount under this law, after 2008, but the size must be at least 0.5 kilowatt.

Legislators are working to again extend this program since it has proven to have spurred a greater interest from homeowners and, as a consequence, provided a boost to the industry.

When working with a solar panel contractor, be certain of what type of system, where the panels are made. Some panels from China are beguilingly cheaper, but don’t work well. Do your homework.

When you have a figure of how much you will save monthly added to any state of federal tax credits, you’ll know how long it’ll take for the system to pay for itself. If you can get a break-even figure of about 10 years or less, you’re in business.

Click here for more info about going solar as well as solar incentives in your area.

Tim SmithTim Smith is a home improvement and energy efficiency writer. Tim enjoys DIY projects and spending time with his family in Austin, TX.


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