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
Installing 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
The 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
Ideally, 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. Energy.gov 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 Energy.gov, 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 Forbes.com 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.