Developers of home solar energy systems weren't always concerned about the home itself, but the days are over when installers (especially of leased systems) sought to install the maximum number of panels conspicuously on the widest rooftop and to heck with curb appeal. Today, systems can be tailor-made to the home and property, and homeowners have many options to choose from.
So what are the variables in a home solar energy system, and how can you pick what's best for you?
Choose a Way to Finance Solar Panels
Going solar is a big decision, but you won't always face big up-front costs. The four common ways to finance a home system are to buy it outright, take out a loan, lease the system, or enter into a power purchase agreement.
Whether you buy it outright or with a loan, the system belongs to you and becomes a feature of the property, raising property value. Any tax credits in your area, plus the federal renewable energy tax credit, also belong to you. As the system's owner, the extra power it generates is also yours to sell to the utility if such an arrangement is offered where you live.
To avoid the up-front costs of buying a system, many homeowners choose to go with leasing or a power purchase agreement. Either way, a third party owns the system, which means any credits or incentives belong to them as well as any profit from selling excess energy to the utility.
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Give Input on System Design
The experts you are buying or leasing the system from will calculate how many panels you would need to generate a certain amount of energy. They take into account hours of peak sunshine per day and your home's average energy consumption.
A collection of photovoltaic (PV) panels is called an array. You might picture the array on your rooftop, but you have other options. For example, mounting the panels on a ground framework in a corner of your property could be better for capturing sunlight and won't detract from the beauty of your home's roof. Another option is to make the panels serve double duty as a patio cover or carport roof.
While more expensive than roof mounting, ground mounting offers the advantages of positioning, sizing, and easier maintenance.
You May or May Not Want a Battery
When you pair a home solar energy system with battery backup, you create what's known as a green loop. Store excess energy in the battery by day, and draw on it by night. This is energy independence, at least for as long as the battery stays charged.
But batteries are expensive, and most are only warrantied for 10 years. Unless power from the utility is particularly expensive where you live, a battery probably won't make financial sense. Divide the cost of the battery by the months it will last (say, 12-15 years). Compare to how much you pay for an average month's electricity. You may realize it makes more sense to use the grid as your "virtual battery."
Modern lithium-ion batteries can add $7,000 to $15,000 to your solar system. While the technology is advancing, no battery system today (not even the much lauded Tesla Powerwall) lets you store and reuse the energy for less than $0.40 per kilowatt-hour. That's an appealing price in Hawaii and Alaska, where city power is more expensive than that, but everyone else can buy energy where they live for $0.10 to $0.25.
Choose the Kind of Installation
We discussed the different places you can install your solar array, and another installation choice is where you want the power inverters. Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert the sun's energy into DC power, but households run on AC power. Every solar panel system needs some point of inversion to flip DC into AC.
You might opt for small inverters, called microinverters, one beneath each PV panel. The advantage is that if one inverter fails, you can rely on all the rest. Alternately, panels could be strung together like Christmas lights to feed into one central invertor, often called a string inverter, that is kept in, say, the garage or even outdoors.
You have many options in a home solar energy system. Helping design the perfect system for your situation can even be fun! Connect with a friendly local solar installer today.