Shedding Light on Home Solar Systems
How to Solar Power Your Home
Harnessing the energy of the sun to power your home is no longer just for futurists and millionaires.
Home solar systems are now more attainable than ever for anyone looking to save on electricity costs, enjoy reliable backup power, and increase their home’s property value.
What is Solar Power?
Solar power, or solar energy, refers to the conversion of sunlight into useable electricity in residential, commercial, or industrial applications. Most residential homes take advantage of photovoltaic solar systems, which use solar panels to absorb sunlight and move electrons to create electricity.
Benefits of a Solar Home
Home solar power systems have been available commercially since the 1970s and became more widespread in the early 2000s. Since then, they have continued to grow in popularity and affordability as Americans seek greater energy independence.
Reduce Your Electric Bill
Think about it. Any energy your house gets from the sun is that much less energy it needs to get from your electric company. Over time, your home solar system should pay for itself, but the speed with which it does so depends on two key factors: the rates that local power companies charge and exposure to sunlight.
Local power rates: The average cost of electricity in the United States is 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, depending on where you live, you could pay significantly more or less than that. For example, in 2019, the average cost in California was 17.04 cents per kilowatt-hour, while in Oklahoma, it was only 7.74 cents. If you live in a more expensive area, you can save big by adding solar power.
Sunlight exposure: For a solar home, the more sun, the better. States with strong sunlight throughout the year, like California, Texas, and Arizona, are prime candidates for solar power. Incidentally, some of the sunniest states also have some of the highest electricity costs, so they’re practically begging for home solar systems.
Many owners of home solar systems sign a net metering deal with their power company. That means that any extra electricity produced by the solar system that isn’t used goes back into the electrical grid, and the utility gives them back the credit.
Rest Easy with Backup Power
Having a home solar system means having a fallback in case the power ever goes out during the day. Just let the sun light-up the blackout! What if the power outage happens at night, you ask? Many solar power users have a home standby generator that will kick on to provide backup power when necessary. There are also battery backup solar systems available that will store excess energy from sunlight for use at night or during an outage.
Some folks buy several battery storage systems and completely cut themselves off from utility power, instead of relying solely on sunlight. This off-grid option can be a complicated, risky process, so be sure to do your homework and consult professionals.
Increase Property Value
According to a Zillow study, homes with solar energy had a 4.1% higher average selling price than comparable homes without solar. Homebuyers know that an installed solar system means potentially substantial energy savings down the road, and they will pay a premium for it.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels are made up of smaller units called photovoltaic cells, which are typically comprised of two silicon layers protected by a glass casing. The two silicon layers are specially configured so that light photons from the sun can incite the movement of electrons and create direct current (DC) electricity.
Metal plates channel the direct current into wires that feed into a solar inverter. Since DC current is not useable by most home appliances, the inverter converts it to alternating current (AC). The AC electricity then flows into your electric meter (so you can measure the amount of power produced) and into your home.
If it’s a cloudy or rainy day, your solar panels will collect less sunlight and produce less energy. On days like this, you will likely need either utility power or generator backup to cover your electricity usage.
Battery Backup Solar System
As mentioned, you can also purchase a solar battery backup unit, like the PWRcell Energy Storage System from Generac or the Power Reserve from Kohler, when installing your solar panels. These batteries can charge directly from the sun to power a home for days on end without grid power. Multiple batteries can be combined for even more power and capacity.
For example, suppose you have a solar-powered home. On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, there are clear, sunny skies. You collect significantly more energy than you can use, so the remainder gets stored in your batteries. On Wednesday and Thursday, a severe storm knocks out grid power. Fortunately, you stored up enough electricity in your batteries to get through the outage and dark skies.
The more batteries you have, the more power you’ll be able to store, but the more expensive your system will be. Make sure to speak with a professional who will help you size your setup appropriately.
Is Solar Power Worth It?
Many homeowners get interested in solar power only to shy away when they see the upfront price tag. Solar power is indeed a substantial investment to a home, usually costing more than $15,000 for the product and installation. However, bathroom remodels, finished basements, and outdoor pavilions are also all huge investments. Neither of those other investments, though, include the long-term energy-saving value of a home solar system.
Eventually, your solar-powered home should pay for itself. Of course, figuring out how long it will take for this to happen is a critical part of the planning process. Payback and savings will depend on your power usage, electrical rates, and climate. Keep in mind that you may be able to take advantage of generous government energy credits or rebates that will help offset the initial cost of a solar system.
Also, understand that not every home is set up for solar power. If your roof is too small, structurally weak, or facing away from the sun, you may not be able to install solar at all, or you will have to pay much more for materials and installation. Ideally, you want several solar panels installed on a southern-facing roof for maximum sun exposure.
Another consideration is your roof’s age. If you install solar power one year and have to replace the roof the next year, you will need to remove and replace all the solar panels.
Overall, for homeowners who plan their home solar system appropriately, the savings, peace-of-mind, and property value boost will make the investment well worth it.