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Going Solar? Good To Know Before Start

Since 2010, the adoption of solar technology in the United States has surged, with countless solar panels dotting the landscape as more and more Americans embrace the idea of powering their daily activities with the abundant energy from the sun. Furthermore, the cost of embracing solar power continues to decline annually. If you're contemplating the prospect of incorporating a solar energy system into your home or exploring alternative means of tapping into solar energy, it's important to note that there's no universal solution for everyone. To assist you in determining the most suitable solar approach for your specific needs, we've gathered a range of valuable resources. Prior to making the leap into solar energy, be sure to ponder these crucial questions.



Solar Technology

Solar technology for homes is designed to operate effectively in various weather conditions. However, there are situations where the rooftop may not be the best fit for solar systems due to factors like age or tree coverage. If your home is shaded by trees that cast significant shadows on your roof, rooftop panels may not be the optimal choice. Additionally, the dimensions, configuration, and angle of your roof play a crucial role in solar panel performance. Typically, solar panels yield the best results on roofs facing south with a slope ranging from 15 to 40 degrees, although other orientations may still work. It's also wise to take into account the age of your roof and its remaining lifespan before considering solar panel installation.


There are two main technologies available to harness the sun's energy and transform it into electricity. The first is the more widely recognized photovoltaic (PV) technology, often seen on rooftops or in open fields. When sunlight strikes a solar panel, the cells within the panel absorb photons from the sunlight, generating an electric field across the layers and thus producing electricity.

The second technology is known as concentrating solar power (CSP), primarily employed in large-scale power plants and not suitable for residential applications. This approach uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto specialized receivers designed to capture solar energy and convert it into heat. This heat can then be utilized to generate electricity.


How Much Can I Save with Solar

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has introduced a valuable resource known as PVWatts, designed to assess the energy production and cost-effectiveness of grid-connected PV energy systems worldwide. This innovative tool empowers homeowners, small property owners, installers, and manufacturers to effortlessly generate estimates for potential PV installations, enabling a cost-to-utility comparison. While these tools offer an excellent starting point, it's advisable to collaborate with a solar installer for a personalized assessment of your solar energy system's power generation.

NREL's analysis centers around an average system size of 7.15 kilowatts DC, falling within the 3-11 kilowatt range. As per insights from Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) awardee EnergySage, this level of power is typically sufficient to cover the energy requirements of an average household in Austin, Texas, demonstrating the immense potential of solar technology for home energy needs.


The potential savings you can enjoy with solar technology are contingent on several key factors. First and foremost, your electricity consumption plays a significant role. Additionally, the size of your solar energy system, your choice to either purchase or lease the system, and its efficiency, which depends on factors like your roof's orientation and the amount of sunlight it receives, all impact your savings. The rates set by your local utility company and their compensation for any excess solar energy you feed back into the grid are also vital considerations. You can easily check your area's current electricity rates through the National Utility Rate Database.

Excitingly, in many cities across the country, solar power is now a competitive alternative to conventional utility electricity. The costs associated with going solar have been steadily decreasing since 2009, a trend that experts predict will persist. Not only have solar panel prices dropped, but the expenses related to installation, like permitting and inspections (commonly referred to as "soft costs"), are also on the decline. All of this progress is part of the concerted efforts of SETO's funding programs, aimed at enhancing the affordability of solar energy and simplifying the choice for consumers.

Furthermore, it's worth highlighting the economic synergy between solar technology and energy efficiency upgrades. By incorporating Energy Star-rated appliances and other energy-efficient products into your home, you can reduce your reliance on solar energy, thus maximizing your long-term savings.


Before Installation

Several mapping services developed by SETO awardees are at your disposal, making it easy to assess whether your roof is a good candidate for solar installation. They can even provide you with quotes from pre-vetted solar providers in your local area. Beyond these helpful resources, a simple internet search can connect you with local companies specializing in solar panel installation. With an array of options available, it's vital to delve into customer reviews of these solar companies to ensure you choose the perfect match for your home.

Moreover, consider the benefits of solar co-ops and Solarize campaigns as you embark on your solar journey. These initiatives enable groups of homeowners to unite and collectively negotiate favorable rates, select a trusted installer, and generate community interest in solar energy through time-limited promotional offers. As more residents join these programs, the cost of installations decreases, making the transition to solar power even more accessible and cost-effective.


Government Support and Tax Credit

The Department of Energy (DOE) has put together the Homeowner's Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics, offering an informative overview of the federal investment tax credit for residential solar PV systems. While it doesn't replace professional tax or financial advice, it serves as a valuable starting point for those considering solar installations, making it easier to navigate the tax credit landscape and regulatory policies.

For a comprehensive resource on renewable energy incentives and policies in the United States, look no further than DSIRE, operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. By simply inputting your zip code, DSIRE provides an extensive list of financial incentives and regulations specific to your location. Plus, when you're ready to make your solar dreams a reality, your local solar installer can guide you through the process of claiming state and local incentives, including the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).


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