Is a Home Solar Energy System Right for You?

What you really you need to know before makimg a purchase
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Solar Made Simple 

Have you ever considered adding a home solar energy system but pumped the brakes due to information overload? If so, you are not alone! Solar energy can lower your electricity bills as well as reduce your home's carbon footprint. Yet, many of us are intimidated by the process because we are not experts on solar energy. Spoiler alert… you don’t have to be! Find out if a solar solution is right for you. Follow our simple step by step guide and learn everything you need to know. From qualifying your needs to finding a qualified installer, we’ve got you covered!

Assessing Your Goals & Expectations

Meeting goals and expectations largely depends on what motivates you to purchase solar in the first place. You may be a lifelong green enthusiast who wants to help maintain our global ecosystem. If so, we applaud you for that. If not, there is no shame in simply wanting to lower your electricity bills. Consider this a win, win for both sides. From a green perspective, our planet's deteriorating global environment is a real cause for concern. Solar energy provides a renewable, sustainable energy alternative that shrinks our carbon footprint. If doing your part to help stabilize our ecosystem's uncertain future is your primary agenda, choosing solar is a great first step. From a strictly economic standpoint, the rising cost of energy continues to put a burden on all Americans. Solar energy reduces our reliance on the grid. This leads to energy independence, long term savings and increased property value. Regardless of your motivation, going solar can help you achieve and possibly even exceed your goals and expectations.

5 Important Steps Before You Buy

couple-inspecting-roof-of-home

Step 1) Evaluating Your Roof's Suitability

So, the journey begins! The first step of any venture begins with surveying the road ahead. In this case, that means taking a close look at your homes roof to see if it is in suitable for solar. If your roof is in need of repair or replacement, you'll want to address this prior to installing solar panels. Another consideration is the pitch of your roof. Ideally, a 15 and 40 degree slope will collect the most sun rays. The size and configuration of your roof will ultimately determine determine where and how many solar panels can be placed. And lastly, note excessive shade will greatly reduce your solar systems ability to produce power. Take some time to evaluate the best usage of your roofs surface. 
couple-reviewing-bills

Step 2) Calculate Your Energy Requirements

Assessing your home's energy requirements is a crucial first step in the buying process. This information will allow you to confidently review quotes from potential installers. Fortunately, this information is easily accessible by reviewing your electric bill. Your statement should clearly show your monthly energy usage in kilowatt hours (kWh). Monthly average will vary so take your previous year's total and divide by 365 to determine daily average kilowatt usage. For the purposes of our example, we’ll be using 1,000 for the monthly kWh total and 12,000 kWh as our yearly average. With that in mind, dividing 12,000 by 365 gives us a daily average total of 32.88 kWh.
sun-rising-over-home-with-solar-panels

Step 3) Determine Your Peak Sun Hours

Knowing your peak sun hours is necessary to calculate your solar system's energy output.  One solar hour generates 1,000 watts (equivalent to one kilowatt) of energy per square meter of surface area. Use the chart below to find peak sun hours in your area. We'll be using this information in the next step.  Please note, these figures are based on a 12 month average and will fluctuate throughout the year. Total hours will also vary based on your exact location and the amount of shade in your area. You'll notice states will typically have an estimated range. We recommend working off a number in the mid to lower range for a conservative estimate. Let say your state's range is 3-4 peak solar hours per day, go with 3.5.  While these numbers are only estimates. they should give you a reasonable baseline to work from.  

State by State Peak Solar Energy List

Alaska - 2-3
Alabama - 3.5-4
Arizona - 7-8
Arkansas - 3.5-4
California - 5-7.5
Colorado - 5-6.5
Connecticut 3
Delaware 4
Florida 4-4.5
Georgia 4-4.5
Hawaii 4-5
Idaho 4-5
Illinois 3-4
Indiana 2.5-4
Iowa 4
Kansas 4-5.5
Kentucky 3-4
Louisiana 4-4.5
Maine 3-3.5
Maryland 3-4
Massachusetts 3
Michigan 2.5-3.5
Minnesota 4
Mississippi 4-4.5
Missouri 4-4.5
Montana 4-5
Nebraska 4.5-5
Nevada 6-7.5
New Hampshire 3-3.5
New Jersey 3.5-4
New Mexico 6-7
New York 3-3.5
North Carolina 4-4.5
North Dakota 4-4.5
Ohio 2.5-3.5
Oklahoma 4.5-5.5
Oregon 3-5
Pennsylvania 3
Rhode Island 3.5
South Carolina 4-4.5
South Dakota 4.5-5
Tennessee 4
Texas 4.5-6
Utah 6-7
Vermont 3-3.5
Virginia 3.5-4
Washington 2.5-5
West Virginia 3
Wisconsin 3.5
Wyoming 5.5-6
Source - Renorgy
solar-panel-being-installed

Step 4) Estimate Amount of Solar Panels Needed

To determine the necessary amount of solar panels you’ll need, you must first decide on their wattage. Typical panels range between 250 and 450. For the sake of our calculations, let's assume the panels you have selected are 400 watts. There are 1,000 watts in a kilowatt so you’ll need to divide 400 into 1,000 to come up with the kW conversion. In our example this translates to 0.4 kW. Next divide your daily consumption (our example - 32.88 kWh) by peak sun hours (our example 3.5) = 9.39. Lastly, divide your required energy production by the solar panels power output. In this case that would be 9.39 kWh divided by 0.4 kW, resulting in a total of 23.49 rounded up to 24 solar panels.

Quick Summary of Solar Panel Calculations:

  A) Divide your daily energy consumption (shown in step 2) by peak sun hours (listed in step 3) = Required Energy Production 
  B) Divide solar panel watts by 1,000 This will give you the Solar Panels Total kWh Output   
  C) Divide Required Energy Production by Solar Panels kWh Output. This number will give you an estimate solar panel needed.  
solar-battery-back-up-in-yard

Step 5) Assess Backup Battery Needs

First and foremost, you need to answer the question: do I need backup battery storage? The answer really depends on your expectations for your system. The majority of homes in the US currently do not utilize a solar battery backup. That said, there are many reasons you may want to consider this option. Solar batteries store excess energy generated during the day for use overnight or during overcast periods where sun is limited. Battery backup can save you money and help you achieve a goal of energy independence. Still, the decision comes down to your own unique situation. Consider all of your options carefully before making a decision. We’ll discuss the related benefits and drawbacks.

Solar Battery Pros:

  • Energy independence: - Battery backup allows you to store excess solar energy generated during the day and use it during the night or periods of low sunlight. This results in greater energy independence and reduces reliance on the grid.
  • Power during grid outages: Keep the power on when the grid goes down due to bad weather. This gives you peace of mind that you will maintain convenience, comfort and safety during any outages that occur.

  • Cost savings: Utilizing stored solar energy during peak electricity rate hours can save you a lot of money in the long run. 

  • Flexibility: Having a battery backup gives you more control over how and when you use your solar energy. Choose to use it during high-demand times or when the grid electricity prices are high. This can maximize your cost savings.

  • Environmental benefits: Storing excess solar energy reduces your reliance on fossil fuel-based power. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to a more sustainable future.

Solar Battery Cons:

  • Initial cost: Battery storage can be expensive, increasing the total cost of installing a solar energy system. Battery prices vary depending on their capacity and technology used. It may take a longer period of time to recoup your investment through energy savings.

  • Maintenance: Batteries require regular maintenance to maintain peak performance levels. Be sure to monitor manufacturers' checklists and replace as needed.
  • Environmental impact: The production and disposal of batteries can have environmental impacts. This is particularly true in reference to Production and disposal methods. 

  • Space requirements: Installing a battery backup system may require a significant amount of space. How much of an area they require depends on the size and number of batteries needed. 

  • Safety Concerns: Improperly installed backup storage can create dangerous situations. A solar battery can catch fire if damaged. Make sure you have plenty of room for proper ventilation and always rely on the skills of a trained professional for safe installation.

What Happens if Nothing Changes?

What's at Stake?
electric-plant-emissions-released-in-air
  • Fossil fuel emissions from electricity production will continue. Electric plants are the largest US source of climate changing carbon dioxide.  In addition, electrical distribution equipment are insulated with sulfur hexafluoride. As equipment ages, this dangerous greenhouse gas is known to leak into the atmosphere.
  • The price of electricity will keep rising. According to the Energy Information Administration, the cost of electricity went up 5% in each of the last two years. And that trend is likely to continue.
  • Potential power outages from storms or accidents leave us vulnerable  to dangerous conditions.  Loss of heat, lights and ability to preserve food or keep essential medicines cool are major concerns.

Purchasing a Home Solar Energy System

Why now is the best time to act
  • Large Tax Break for Solar Installation - Current federal tax credits allow home owners to claim a 30% tax credit on their income tax. But, In order to take full advantage of this tremendous savings, your solar installation must take place before January 1, 2033.. After this date, the federal tax credit will be reduced by 26%
  • Lower Installation Costs - The last decade has seen the market for solar energy mature; bringing prices down significantly. Industry growth has streamlined the permit process and created a much more competitive business environment. Due to this growth, consumers now have more options than ever when selecting a solar energy installer. Homeowner's can now shop and compare to find their best solar energy solution.
  • Attractive  Finance Options - another great incentive is being able to space your payments out over a period of time. Many plans now allow for less cash upfront. The best part is that most monthly payments are less than your monthly electrify bill. 
  • Long Term Energy Savings - Financing options allow for allows for an easier transition to solar by allowing your monthly energy savings  to cover your installation cost. Solar panels have a typical life span of 25 years. Once your finance obligation is finished, the remaining life of your system will provide many years of free electricity. 
  • Increase Your Homes Value- A recent Berkeley National Laboratory study determined that home solar energy systems are viewed as upgrades, bringing a premium price on the market. This conclusion is also shared by real-estate agencies and finance companies.  Solar panels have a typical life span of 25 years. agencies and finance companies
  • Keep Power on When Grid Goes Down - Keep your family safe and warm when public utilities are down. It's great peace of mind to know that your home's lights will remain on and temperature will stay regulated when power outages occur. 
  • Reduce Your Carbon Footprint - Going solar helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shrinks your carbon footprint. Feel good about doing your part to slow global warming! 

How to Choose a Solar Energy Installer

the final leg of your journey begins...
Experience matters! Look for a company with a proven track record. Check reviews and ask for references. Also, make sure the company you choose is industry certified. Refer to organizations such as NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) and SEI (Solar Energy International) for confirmation of a company's credentials. The solar installer will measure, cut and assemble support structures and make final installations of solar panels. They do so in accordance with your locality's building codes and standards. Before construction starts, permit requests will have to be submitted to the local building authority and electric utility company. Depending on who you select to complete your project, the permit process may be handled by the installer. The company you hire does not have to be a large national outfit to be worthy of your trust and consideration. But, they should have an established history of reliable, quality service.  

*Now that you have a better understanding of what you need to know, it's time to take control of your future energy needs. You've got this!
 

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