With all the hype surrounding solar energy lately and all the talk about saving our planet, is this the time for you to take the $15-30,000 plunge and put solar panels on your roof. I believe the time is right since costs have dropped dramatically over the past 5 years and government subsidies are high enough that affordable solar systems for your home have become reality and make a good investment. At the same time, if enough of us go this route, we are reducing our demand for foreign oil and the impact of greenhouse gases on our environment.
Buying a solar panel system to generate power for your home is one of the major investments most of us make in our lifetime and should not be taken lightly. This is the same amount of money most people spend on a car, but that market has matured so it is hard to make a bad decision. Solar power is a little different in that it is so new and technology is changing so fast that it is easy to make a mistake if you don’t spend some time analyzing your purchase.
Is Your Home Suitable for Solar Power?
This is the first question you need to answer since many homes are not good candidates for a solar system. You need an area on the ground or on your roof that will give you an unobstructed view of the sun that faces within 30 degrees of due south. Many homes will be surrounded by trees and cutting them down is not a great option. Most homes have small yards and would lose their play space if they installed solar panels in a ground array. Photovoltaic solar panels do not weigh a lot, so your roof structure should be sufficient, but if you have a flat roof you would need to build a framework to angle the panels towards the sun.
Don’t Buy More Power Than You Need.
This is one of the most common mistakes. You might look at your power bill and see that your home uses 25 kilowatts of electricity per day so you should buy a solar panel system that would generate enough power to meet these needs even during the winter months. Using this standard, the homeowner would buy twice as big a system as they need. For a grid-tied system you never want to generate more power that you use on average during the year because you won’t be reimbursed by your power company at the retail rate, and maybe not at all. When you plan your solar power system, you should plan to produce about 80% of your annual demand and let the power grid provide supplemental power when you need it.
Analyze Your Financial Payback.
Even if you are motivated by green considerations, you should take a close look at the number of years it will take to pay off your initial investment. To figure this, divide your net investment which is the cost of your system minus your tax credits and rebates by your projected annual savings. You should get an answer of 12-15 years payback on a residential solar system. Since most solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years, and their projected life is much more than that, you can look forward to a lot of free electricity in your retirement years.
Should you Hire a Contractor or Do it Yourself.
Most people will hire a contractor since a qualified contractor will have the skills and knowledge to complete the entire project including helping obtain all the tax credits and rebates. In addition the contractor should be under contract with the manufacturer to service the warranty. This service does however come with a high price. A contractor will charge for labor and overhead and in addition charge a markup on all materials. If you are handy, you can easily handle all of the installation and wiring yourself. You will need to hire a qualified electrician to make your connection to the grid since this is required by most building departments and power utilities. If you want to save even more you can make your own solar panels or buy solar panel kits.