While a recent survey indicates more Americans (some 90%) are in favor of increasing the use of clean energy in this country, as opposed to continuing to rely solely on fossil fuels, most of us still have questions about what it would take to switch our homes to solar power for heating and domestic hot water.
Before seriously considering investing in the switch to solar, there are some things you need to know.
Know your site. If you plan to use a photovoltaic (PV) system, its effectiveness will depend on the orientation of your home. In other words, PV systems work best on a south-facing roof and must receive sunlight for much of the day without obstruction from trees, other buildings, etc.
Evaluate your energy needs. You can start by looking at last year’s utility bills to see how many kilowatt-hours you used. The national average is about 10,000 per year. Then decide if you want to consider a system that meets all or just a portion of your energy needs. Most residential systems range from 3 kwh to 10 kwh in size.
Check your roof capacity. The size of your PV system will depend on the surface area available on your south-facing roof. A solar installation company can supply a precise calculation. Generally speaking a 4-kwh system requires 400 – 600 square feet of roof area and a 10-kwh system requires 1,000 to 1,500 square feet of roof space.
Make your home more energy efficient. Before investing in a solar system, make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible. You may want to add insulation, upgrade doors and windows, and replace old appliances with Energy Star versions. Not only will these improvements make your PV system more efficient, it may reduce your energy consumption enough to allow you to purchase a smaller, less expensive solar system.
Investigate your upfront costs, financing options and incentives. Of course cost is by far the biggest consideration you will have before investing in a solar system. Installing a PV system to power a home can be very expensive. Example: a 5-kwh system may cost as much as $35,000. However, there now are many new financing options available and federal and state incentive programs that can bring down the cost significantly. For more about incentives in your area visit www.dsireusa.org.
Consider the long-term return on your investment. While the initial cost of a PV system is still higher than for traditional heating and water heating units, as soon as your solar power system is installed and the solar power you generate offsets your electricity needs, you’ll see your utility bills drop drastically and stay low for years to come.