If you own a home or a business, you may be considering using solar energy as a way to heat your building and provide electricity in part or in whole. The two main advantages of going solar are its low long term cost and it is environmentally friendly. Moving forward to make solar energy a long term solution takes a certain amount of knowledge and an equal amount of planning. To help you along we have developed this solar guide to give you the basic information you need to get started and answer some of the most common questions.
It is important to know that just because you want to go solar does not mean you should – or you can. Be sure to take into consideration all of the information here, then add your own research to this foundation.
Here are some of the major questions asked about making the transition to solar power.
What are the best reasons to go solar?
Saving money and creating a smaller carbon footprint rank among the top reasons for going solar. Another is that current studies show homes that have solar panels for either heating or electricity sell for a higher price. These are generally true no matter where you live. However, net metering, the process of selling unused electricity that has been created by solar power back to the utility company, varies from state to state.
What are the basics of how solar panels work?
A solar panel takes sunlight and coverts into electricity. The form of electricity created is known as Direct Current or DC electricity. That form is then sent through a converter and changed into alternating current (AC), that is what most consumers use to run normal, everyday devices and appliances. You will remain connected to the electrical grid that you currently have but the electricity created by the solar panels will be used first, meaning it is free to use. Once your solar panels stop producing electricity, then you will return drawing electricity from the grid.
Your solar panels will not produce electricity if covered with snow or at night, but will produce some electricity during cloudy and partly cloudy days. There are a number of factors that determine how much power your panels will produce, and your solar panel installation company is the best source to inform you of how to best place and use your panels.
What are the initial costs for solar panel installation and setup? How long do solar panels last?
Evaluating the costs of going solar should be done on a long term basis. The panels themselves generally last between 20 and 25 years, so any calculations you make should be made by dividing the total costs by at least 240 months. As a general rule, panel and installation costs will vary from region to region.
Unless you have the money to pay for the entire cost of the panels and installation, you will likely need to make a choice between leasing the panels and taking a loan out to pay for the panels over time. Keep in mind you will be able to deduct rebates and are likely to get some type of tax credit from the federal, state, or local governments. Be sure to deduct these when calculating the total costs.
Where to Find the Right Online Tools/solar software to determine the cost of going solar or potential savings to be achieved.
In order to save you time and prevent you from searching all over the Internet for the right online tools, we recommend two very useful and comprehensive websites: EnergySage and Geostellar. Together they have some of the best and easiest to use online tools anywhere, including:
-A solar panel calculator
-An online solar energy marketplace
-Determining Your Solar Energy Potential
It is common sense that going solar is not the right choice for everyone. The most often reasons for not going solar are:
-Location of the building prevents adequate sunlight
-Roof size too small
These two reasons need mare detail to be fully understood. The best location for a building is to have a roof area that directly faces the south. This maximizes the direct amount of sunlight that hits your building and generates the maximum amount of solar power. If trees or other building interfere with this, you may get little or no solar benefits at all. Roof size faces a similar problem because the amount of energy created depends on both the number and size of solar panels that can be installed.
Determining the Cost and Savings of Going Solar
We encourage you to use the Solar Energy Calculator provided by either of the online solar tools (EnergySage or Geostellar solar panel cost calculators) to get the best estimate of what your costs and projected savings will be. In general, there are several general areas you should research before using the calculators:
-Federal tax credits and incentives.
-State tax credits and incentives
-Advertised rebates by local solar energy company installers.
-The amount you can realistically afford to spend on going solar.
-The number of years you expect to live in your home after the solar installation is complete.
Several of the items in this list are important if you are not planning to live in your house less than 10 or 15 years. For example, if you calculate your savings for a period of 20 years and move out after 10 years, you will not get the savings or tax benefits once you no longer own the home. Also be sure to carefully read the fine print on any advertised promotions by local companies.
Selecting the Best Solar Installer in Your Local Area
Once you have calculated the basic costs and determined that you are able to afford making the transition to go solar, the next step is to find a local installer. The first place to start is one of the online solar marketplace sections on our recommended online tool websites. It can never be stressed enough how important picking the best solar installer is for your long term pace of mind.
1) Solar panels are basically maintenance free. This means that the job needs to be done right the first time. It may seem counterintuitive, but solar panel installation companies should rarely be seen again once the job is done. You may compare it to paying someone to put in a new roof. Do you want them coming back once a month after the job is done?
2) Loans and leases should offer you the lowest rates possible. If you can finance the installation and material costs with a fixed rate loan, that is a better alternative than using a credit card or line of credit that has a variable rate of interest. Given the current state of the economy, interest rates cannot realistically go any lower, while there is plenty of room for interest rates to rise.
3) Find out what options the company offers. Solar batteries, which can store unused electricity, solar power converters, and solar energy monitoring systems are options that can increase the value of your solar panel system. They will likely come at an extra cost but if you can squeeze them into your budget you may find the benefits far outweigh the costs. A quality solar panel company will have a selection of products for you to choose from.
A Community Alternative
If you cannot afford a solar panel system or your building is not optimally located, you can check your options to participate in a community solar project and get some of the benefits of solar power. Known as shared solar, you invest in a local solar panel farm which directs electricity to your home or business. The costs and benefits will vary depending on where you live, but if you are totally committed to going solar it is worth your time to explore all your options at EnergySage or Geostellar.