As a homeowner you may be interested in learning more about solar power — the pros and cons. It could save you money and help conserve precious resources at the same time, but what about those up-front costs? Here’s a basic tutorial.
A short solar power primer. While there are two primary types of solar power, most homeowners use the photovoltaic panel type, called PV for short. These are the panels you see on rooftops or on a skyward facing frame set off to one side. They have no moving parts and therefore are completely silent. They are connected to your meter with your existing power company for “net-metering.” This means that when you generate more electricity than you use, the excess goes to the commercial provider and you get credit. Other times, the panels aren’t able to generate enough power, and you draw from the provider. At the end of the month your provider’s bill reflects the net difference between what they provide and what you get from your solar panels. In the end, depending on the size and output of your system, you could provide perhaps 70 percent of your power, a substantial savings.
In rural settings, it may be possible to be 100 percent independent from a commercial provider.
Things you should know. Check your homeowner association rules and local ordinances for any restrictions and permitting rules. Research government rebates and incentives offered at local, state and federal levels. Even the utility companies, both electric and gas, may have incentives. The U.S. Department of Energy has a handy tool on its website at http://energy.gov/savings. Also, investigate possible federal income tax credits available for energy saving improvements to your home. To qualify for these incentives you typically must use approved sellers and installers.
Pros of solar power. There’s a certain feeling of freedom from being “off grid” or at least being less dependent on it. You save money on electricity each month and in times of local power outages you aren’t affected unless weather conditions limit sunlight. As mentioned above, incentives are available to help you offset the capital investment to get started. You’re also doing your part to reduce carbon emissions. Solar power systems add to the overall value of your home because they offer a tangible, ongoing cost benefit from energy savings.
Cons of solar power. The start-up cost is the biggest hurdle to clear with going solar. Before taking into account the government incentives, the cost of an average residential solar power system is between $15,000 and $40,000, depending on size and output. With incentives, you may recoup $9,000 or more. The remaining amount you will gradually recover through monthly energy savings.
Solar power doesn’t work well on cloudy days, high pollution days or at night. During those times you will either be drawing from the commercial provider, or if you are totally self-sustaining, from batteries that store electricity for just such occasions. Those batteries cost about $3,000 each.