Last month, 300,000 people gathered on the streets of New York to bring awareness to climate change. Climate change, as defined by the EPA, “includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer.” Concern about the effect humans have on our planet is growing, and more and more homeowners are choosing to incorporate environmentally friendly products into their everyday lives. One option for homeowners looking to decrease their dependence on traditional energy sources is to consider an alternate source of energy. Solar power is one of the most feasible and abundant sources of alternative energy available to homeowners, which puts solar panels at the top of an energy-conscious consumer’s list.

In order to ease the transition process and receive the most beneficial results of solar panels, homeowners should be aware of the following:

  1. Solar energy costs have dropped significantly. The cost of installing a new solar panel system may have deterred many homeowners from taking the first step toward using solar energy as an alternative energy source, but costs have dropped to a fourth of what they were six years ago. The US Department of Energy created a program called the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to increase the amount of accessible and affordable solar energy resources in the United States. One of the program’s initiatives is the SunShot Incubator program, which has helped to introduce new and more efficient products that seek to deliver cost savings to consumers.

  2. Solar power efficiency depends on a variety of factors. In order to build the most efficient system, homeowners should:

    • Measure their energy consumption. The amount of sunlight needed to power a home will depend on the family’s energy consumption.

    • Determine how many panels will be needed to power their home. Homeowners typically need 10 to 20 panels to construct an effective system.

    • Establish how much sunlight their house receives. While energy consumption and solar panels are variables that can be adjusted over time, sunlight is a variable that cannot be controlled, which is why it’s important to consider this before creating a solar energy system.

    A qualified professional is able to build a solar energy system that will consider these factors and accommodate the customer’s energy needs.

  3. Site location is important to efficiency, too. For the best results, experts suggest mounting solar panels at a fixed angle facing south. To increase sun exposure, homeowners can mount solar panels on a tracking device that moves according to the sun’s position in the sky, increasing the amount of solar energy captured. It’s also important to examine the landscape for trees that could potentially shade the system down the line.

    While roof-mounted panels are the most common type of solar energy systems, homeowners with roofs that are unable to handle traditional panels can opt for a ground-mounted system. Similar to roof-mounted panels, ground-mounted systems should be installed away from any objects that could obstruct the panels’ view of the sun.

  4. Factor in maintenance costs when calculating your solar electric system expenses. Home solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) systems require periodic and routine maintenance to ensure that the system operates efficiently through its lifecycle. Some routine maintenance can be performed by the homeowner or a qualified professional. Following a preventative maintenance schedule could even uncover problems before they become bigger issues. It’s important to discuss maintenance plans with a qualified professional to determine what’s needed and at what intervals each checkup should occur.

  5. Solar energy levels will vary throughout the year. Despite careful calculation, homeowners should expect to receive varying amounts of energy from their solar energy system over the course of the year. Experts recommend maintaining connection to the power grid in order to supplement times when energy levels are low. Homeowners who decide to stay connected to the electric company’s power grid will also benefit when they have a surplus of solar energy. This is referred to as net metering, which allows residential and commercial customers to receive credit for the energy they supply to the grid. Net metering allows homeowners to reduce their energy cost when using solar power is not an option. However, this practice is under the scrutiny of utility companies, and regulations are being put into place to limit net metering. Homeowners should check local regulations to determine what is allowed in their area.

    For consumers who would prefer using alternative energy sources to their area’s power grid, there are other options available. Energy experts recommend employing multiple sources of alternative energy instead of relying on one. For example, the summer would be an optimal time to use solar energy since homes receive high levels of sunlight, and in the winter, homeowners can switch to wind power when it’s breezier.

Solar panels provide homeowners with an alternative energy source that can easily be applied to their homes. While the process can be complicated, the benefit of using a clean energy source outweighs the initial headaches.

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Sources: EPA; NPR; National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); SFGate; Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); USA Today; US Department of Energy.

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