Getting Started With Solar Panels

Residents of the Sunshine State or those who live in the hot, beaming desert have likely given thought to solar-powered energy. Of course, year-round sunlight is most conducive, but even the cooler climates can take advantage of nature’s purest source of power. Learning how to use solar panels in your home can be overwhelming, so follow this guide to get started.



Terms You Need to Know


Terms You Need to KnowInstalling solar panels may be the most complicated energy-saving tactic, but it also has the largest payoff. If you’re ready to take on the project, there are a few terms to learn before you get started:


Photovoltaic (PV) cell: The building block of solar panels, this electrical device converts light into electricity.


Solar panel: A compilation of photovoltaic cells, which are situated in a way that harnesses sunlight and transforms it into usable energy.


Inverter: The unit that converts direct current (DC) energy from the solar panel into an alternating current (AC) that’s compatible with the electricity system in your home.



Factors You Should Consider


Factors You Should ConsiderThe top two factors to think about before diving deeper into solar power are 1) the climate in which you live, and 2) whether or not you have open and direct access to sunlight during the peak hours of the day (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.).


Once you’ve determined your location is perfectly suited for solar energy, you’ll want to calculate how many kilowatts you use on average each month (your utility bills should help). You’ll also want to know the surface area of your roof to help determine how many solar panels will fit on top.



Power You Can Replace


Power You Can ReplaceIdeally, you’d power your entire home with solar-sourced energy. However, easing into it with smaller projects can still offer big benefits. From the simplest installation to the most complex, here’s where you can use solar panels around your home:


Outdoor lighting: You’ve seen them at your local hardware store. Solar-powered torches can be easily placed in the ground to light walking paths or driveways. Advances in PV cell technology have made these miniature solar panels much more powerful than the first generation.


Indoor lighting: Solar-powered desk lamps, wall-mounted lights and floor fixtures are easy to install and require a relatively small investment.


Water heating: Solar water heating systems not only cut down on your energy bill, but they don’t contribute to any greenhouse gas emissions. recommends finding a solar-powered system certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation. If you have a pool or hot tub, solar water heating is usually comparable to the cost of conventional systems. According to, heating a pool is the most efficient use of solar panels.


Home heating system: Known as an active solar heating system, this process uses solar energy to heat liquid or air. The hot liquid or air then travels through a collector, further heating up as it moves. These collectors are not your typical solar panel, but the concept is the same – just much more intricate. Solar liquid collectors are best used for central heating.


With several state and federal tax incentives in place, many homeowners have made the hefty investment to power their entire home. A article noted that installing solar panels can cut your carbon footprint by an average of 35,180 pounds of carbon dioxide each year – the equivalent to planting 88 trees. In money terms, you could save $84 on your monthly electric bill. Not to mention, the value of your home significantly increases with the smart decision to use renewable energy.


Interested in a Solar Powered Air Conditioner? Here are the Pros and Cons

Air conditioning comprises a huge portion of American energy costs. According to the federal government, American consumers spend $29 billion dollars per year regulating the temperature of their homes, pumping 117 million metric tons of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide into the air in the process. Solar powered air conditioners may be an alternative to the expensive, fossil fuel-intensive conventional air conditioners. But are they a good option for your home? Let’s explore the pros and cons of solar powered air conditioners.



Pro: You may decrease your utility costs


The greatest thing about solar power is that it utilizes one of the most abundant natural resources we have. When you’re getting energy from the sun, it means you don’t have to pay for energy coming from some other source. You simply don’t need a power company to point some panels toward a giant ball of gas. According to Lennox, one solar powered AC could save you as much as 50 percent on your monthly energy bill.



Con: Some units may not work at night


One of the unfortunate things about solar power is that it utilizes one of the most abundant natural resources we have . . . for approximately half of the day every day. Battery-run units and models with energy storing capabilities can overcome the basic problem of utilizing energy from the sun overnight, but solar power’s nighttime challenges are stubborn. The basic fact is that most people like to have a cool home while they sleep.



Pro: Solar powered air conditioners may not be connected to the grid


If the energy storage function of your solar powered air conditioner works properly, it can do wonders for your energy lifestyle. As Green Builder Media points out, solar powered appliances are not necessarily connected to the grid. Thus, when storms knock down power lines, your solar powered air conditioner may not be affected.



Con: Not every state is solar friendly


Energy companies are threatened by solar power. The idea that people can independently store their own energy is an affront to utility companies’ core business model. As a result, several states, including Florida, have been slow on the uptake of solar. If your state has not passed legislation that makes it cost effective to install solar panels, it may be difficult to consider a solar powered air conditioner.


A Development Group is Planning a City Fueled 100 Percent By Solar Power. Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

Southwest Florida doesn’t have the reputation of its eastern counterpart. Of course, it is hard for any area of the country to compete with the beautiful beaches and vibrant culture of Miami in Dade County, but one development company is hoping to help Southwest Florida become a premiere destination. A real estate development firm called Kitson & Partners wants to build the kind of city that has never been built before. They want it to run on solar power alone, and they want to call it Babcock Ranch.



The city of tomorrow, tomorrow


The city of tomorrow tomorrowThe Babcock Ranch plans are incredibly ambitious. They want to build a city fueled entirely by the sun that is larger than the island of Manhattan. Babcock Ranch will have 18,000 homes, six million square feet of commerce, and ample space for trails, parks, and lakes—and K&P wants to build it over the course of just 25 years. Syd Kitson, chairman of the development group, said he wants to make Babcock Ranch the country’s most hikeable, bikeable, walkable city. Indeed, environmental friendliness is paramount for Babcock Ranch. Kitson said in this promotional video, “We take our stewardship responsibilities very seriously and have taken steps to ensure that the city of Babcock Ranch will exist in complete harmony with its surroundings.” The development of Babcock Ranch will be a fascinating challenge.



How will they do this?


How will they do thisBabcock Ranch will be the first city in America to be built on the sun. Of course, this doesn’t mean astronauts will attempt to set foot on a ball of gas that burns at 9900 degrees fahrenheit. It means that the cornerstone of Babcock Ranch will be the solar industry. Kitson has donated a plot of land that will host the FPL (Florida Power and Light Company) Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center. That 440-acre plant, the cornerstone of the town, will provide 74.5 megawatts of solar capacity to the people of Babcock Ranch.


As a Babcock Ranch fact sheet says, it makes sense to build a community around solar in Southwest Florida. “With its Southwest Florida location,” the sheet reads, “which has the state’s most intense sunlight, the solar plant will generate three to five percent more solar production.” Of course, for Babcock Ranch to work, government officials will have to be friendly to solar development, businesses and homeowners will have to buy in, and the solar plant will have to keep humming. But if Babcock Ranch can stay on track, Southwest Florida of 2040 could be the Southeast Florida of 2017.


Save Energy and Money with Google’s Latest Brainchild

With the promise of “mapping the planet’s solar potential, one roof at a time,” Google has launched a free online service, Project Sunroof, that helps homeowners harness the energy- and money-saving power of solar energy. A home’s capability for generating solar power is calculated through a combination of programs, including Google Maps, which can track shadows from nearby structures and trees; 3D roof modeling software; and apps that track various weather patterns. It then uses information from local solar providers to estimate solar costs and savings over the long term. Here’s a quick video on how it works:


Enlightening Savings


Enlightening SavingsProject Sunroof’s creator, Carl Elkin, came up with the idea while volunteering for Solarize Massachusetts and talking to hundreds of people. He learned that while most people were aware of solar energy’s eco-friendly qualities, many were unaware of the actual long-term savings on energy costs. So he developed Project Sunroof to not only recommend the right solar panel installation per home, but to also calculate savings. The calculation considers whether the solar panels are leased or bought, and which incentives and rebates can be applied. Because the cost and installation of solar panels has decreased sharply in the past few years, the payback time for the investment can be as little as three years according to



Hooking You Up


Hooking You UpThe final step in Project Sunroof’s service is to refer you to solar providers in your area. This may be the true genius behind Project Sunroof, because the solar providers pay Google for these referrals, which keeps Google’s shareholders happy. Currently, Project Sunroof only serves three U.S. cities: San Francisco, Fresno, and Boston, but they hope to expand their reach over time. The time is definitely right, as more and more people are turning to solar power for a reliable and affordable source of clean energy. In 2015’s first quarter, the number of U.S. solar system installations broke all records according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), bringing the total number of households using solar power to around 700,000.


To learn more about solar energy, visit SEIA’s Solar Blog.