One of the blossoming trends in green living and saving energy is to produce home electricity using solar energy. The idea is not complicated. The sun is a free source of energy, like wind. Solar panels, usually installed on a rooftop and positioned to receive maximum sun time, collect the energy which is then converted into electricity to power one’s home. But what are the initial costs, and can one live totally off the power grid?
Locations which receive large amounts of sunshine daily have the potential to produce more solar energy than areas where there is a cloudier climate. Solar energy use is more popular in parts of Florida, California and the Southwest than in the Pacific Northwest where the rainy climate reduces the number of sun available hours and days.
Cost is a very important factor. Even five years ago the cost of installing a solar system prohibited all but the wealthy or die-hard environmentalists from comfortably purchasing a system. Now, the production industry has exploded and many companies offer products that can turn out to be almost free for the homeowner.
Besides contributing to a green lifestyle, here are some important considerations for cost that can help make the purchasing decision more attractive:
• The federal government and some states offer large rebates for installing solar
• You can eliminate your monthly electric bill
• If you don’t use all the electricity you generate, you can sell the surplus to utilities
• Excess power can be used to charge electric vehicles for free
• Installing solar panels can increase the value of your home
One detractor is that solar installation companies may install a system inexpensively but require purchasers to sign an equipment lease and turn over the federal rebates they receive. Fully understanding the positives and negatives a company offers is important.
The initial cost of a system required to power the average American home still runs more than $55,000. Costs can be estimated based on power usage, and the specifics of any home. Fortunately, going solar actually costs less than the initial sticker price thanks to financial incentives from the government.
One federal credit is about a 30% federal tax credit, based on system set up costs. Many states have additional credits, such as grants, loans, property tax reductions, rebates, and sales tax exemptions. Requirements change rapidly, so research the latest ones before purchasing.
Even if your solar panels generate enough power for your home needs, you probably can’t go totally off the grid, especially if you will generate excess power. You need to be connected to the utility company services to sell your excess power or to supplement anything your system may not generate.
Even if you live in an area where your solar access won’t totally provide all your power needs, many people can at least halve their bill. One must calculate the cost, savings, tax credits, and years to pay off any out of pocket costs vs. bill reduction, green living satisfaction, and other issues. In some cases, it may take 15-20 years to break even, but it may be worth it. In other cases, the time can be very short or almost immediate. Calculating this reporter's potential cost and savings based on energy use, location, and tax credits reduced the cost by 2/3. Pay back time was estimated to be about 5-7 years.
Solar panels can add to home value. A Department of Energy study found that a system capable of generating 3,100 watts amounted to more than $17,000 of added home value.
As for helping the planet, solar energy use reduces oil consumption on a global basis by 75 million barrels annually and keeps 35 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Across the globe, solar power is becoming a cheaper and cost effective power source.
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