Solar panels are cropping up on roofs around the world – on commercial and residential buildings, at traffic lights and in parks. With the burgeoning price of fossil fuels likely to mean increasing electricity costs, not to mention the environmental impact, people are looking for alternative energy source, and many are looking upwards.
A typical home solar system is made up of solar panels, an inverter, a battery, a charge controller, wiring and a support structure. In order to set up a 1 kilowatt home solar system, you will need 10 to 12 solar panels, which will take about 100 feet of installation space. 1 kilowatt hour is sufficient to burn a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours. 10 to 12 solar panels will generate about 1600 kilowatt hours per year, in a sunny climate with about 5 hours of sunshine every day. That's only enough to keep that light on for 1600 hours. This describes the biggest problem with home solar systems at present – in order to run your whole house off the grid, you're going to need a lot of panels and a lot of space to install them. Recent innovations like solar roof tiles should help the space problem.
That said, 1600 kilowatt hours per year equates to about 170lbs of coal being burned, 300lbs of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, and 105 gallons of water being consumer each month.
Solar energy can be stored in batteries for use at night and when it's cloudy, but the batteries used at the moment are deep cycle, lead acid batteries which are not cheap, and need to be replaced every 5 years or so. Installing solar energy is an expensive exercise, and this is probably the largest drawback at present. Demand is growing though, and with it, technological advances that should see the costs decreasing. At the moment, the cheapest solution is DIY – buy the materials, put them together and install it yourself.
The advantages of solar power are of course enormous. Solar energy is clean energy, renewable and sustainable. Solar power makes no noise, and there is no pollution either. It is not affected by fuel prices, because it uses no fuel. You can expand your system as and when you need to, or can afford to.
Perhaps the first step in installing solar energy in your home should be a solar powered water heater. About 30% of the total energy consumption for homes goes on heating water. Explore the DIY options for installing your own solar panels, as well as the possibility of buying used panels. By reducing your energy needs before you install solar power, and keeping them down, you help to ease the transition.
Advances in solar power technology are being made every day, resulting in less expensive production processes and materials becoming available. Thinner panels, solar roof tiles and better batteries can make solar power a fantastic green energy source that will last as long as the sun shines.