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Solar Power Finder: Your guide to going solar
Do good by the environment and get rewarded for your efforts.
Updated . What changed?
Making the shift to renewable energy could be more doable than you might think. The price of solar power installation dropped by more than 70% from 2010 to 2019, according to the nonprofit Solar Energy Industries Association.
No matter the reason behind your switch, you can save more now than ever — and get rewarded.
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How does solar power work?
Photovoltaic (PV) panels, commonly called solar panels, work by taking in sunlight through two layers of silicon before converting it to electricity. The electricity is produced as direct current, which moves through an inverter that turns it into alternating current for household use.
Solar power comes in several forms, including PV, concentrating solar power (CSP) and solar heating and cooling (SHC). PV and SHC are most commonly used for homes, while CSP is for bigger systems like power plants.
What types of solar panels are there?
There are three primary types of panels, each with their own uses and nuances:
- Monocrystalline. Most commonly used for residential solar power, these offer the greatest efficiency at the highest cost.
- Polycrystalline. Sometimes referred to as multicrystalline panels, they’re the most popular for people who are converting to solar power on a budget. As a cheaper alternative to monocrystalline panels, they’re also lower efficiency.
- Thin film. The most common use for these panels is utilitarian —or large-scale industrial — and they aren’t suitable for residential use. They’re light and easy to install, but offer very low efficiency.
How long do solar panels last?
Solar panels can last for a span of 25 to 30 years before offering drastically lower efficiency. Warranties for your panels come in two forms: a performance guarantee and an equipment guarantee.
A performance warranty will typically guarantee your panels will perform up to 90% at 10 years, and 80% up to 25 years. An equipment warranty will guarantee your panels will produce power for 10 to 12 years without malfunction.
How many solar panels does it take to power a house?
The number of panels you will need comes down to your roof size and your location. A typical home will require between 28 to 34 solar panels to cover 100% of your energy needs.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) states the average US home between 2,000 and 2,499 sq. ft. in size generates 11,606 kWh annually, or 967 kWh monthly. So, for a 2,000-square-foot home, a 967 kWh output would need between 24 and 38 budget solar panels to meet all of its electricity demands.
What is solar net metering?
Net metering is a billing system that credits solar-powered homeowners for excess energy that they generate and send back to the grid. So, the homeowner is only billed for the “net” energy used each month — or, the difference between the energy their solar power system produces, and the energy the house consumes over a monthly billing period.
Reports say net metering helps relieve stress on the electric grid, but consumers say that payback can be difficult to predict based on fluctuating energy rates.
Pros and cons
A solar-powered home comes with both perks and drawbacks to keep in mind before investing.
- Potential property value increase. Solar systems often increase your home’s value, meaning your upgrade could increase your home’s equity.
- Reduction in energy cost. Solar power could mean a lower monthly electric bill. Some companies allow you to sell back any excess power you produce.
- Tax credit available. The federal solar tax credit — also known as the investment tax credit (ITC) — allows you to deduct 26% of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes.
- 100% renewable resource. You can power your house for as long as the sun shines, with no waste by-product.
- Can supply power to remote areas. Solar power can provide electricity to dwellings in off-grid locations.
- Long-term commitment. If you’re planning on moving in the near future, a solar system may not be a good immediate investment. Potential homebuyers may not be interested in taking over your commitment.
- Not every roof can support it. Roofing materials, roof pitch and the state of repair all affect whether your roof can support a system. Roof modifications could bite into any potential savings.
- Expensive upfront investment. Buying a system outright can run you around $17,000 for a 6kW to 12kW system, ranging from $10,600 to $26,500 depending on the house size. Financing options and alternative purchase options can lessen your upfront costs.
- Weather-dependent. A solar power system is only efficient with sunlight. Many cloudy days could put a damper on the amount of energy your system can generate.
It’s now cheaper than ever to convert your home to solar power. However, there are numerous factors to consider, including the initial cost vs. the payback period, whether you can make a long-term commitment and what type of equipment you’ll use. Factor in all considerations before deciding if solar power is right for your home.
Frequently asked questions
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