How to install solar panels (video)

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
How to install solar panels (video)

Homeowners can save utility costs and reduce their environmental impact by using the power of the sun.

Faced with rising electrical rates, or a desire to go off the grid or even have a source of power in case of an outage, many people are exploring their solar power options.

There are two common types of solar systems. One is designed to heat water for home use. The other is designed to generate electricity

If you're researching solar power, you may also find the second type referred to as photovoltaic or PV power. The photovoltaic effect causes an electrical current to flow through a solar cell when it's exposed to sunlight.

Solar companies make solar panels or modules by combining many solar cells together. Several solar modules combined make a solar array. A solar electric system can meet part or all of a home’s electricity needs, offsetting one fourth to one half of most homeowners’ power usage with solar electricity. Even a single connected panel can provide minimal offset of additional electricity to sell back to utility.

Also, a solar electric system can save tons in greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average two-person home emits approximately 41,500 pounds of greenhouse gases during a year. You can cut that dramatically by using power from the sun rather than fossil fuels.

How does solar power work?

Solar modules (or solar panels) capture and convert sunlight into usable electricity. A solar module is composed of an array of solar cells. Solar cells are built from a semi-conducting material (e.g., silicon) that can absorb and control photons, the basic form of solar energy. The absorption of photons knocks electrons free for use in your home.

How can I add solar power to my home?

Some homebuilders are adding solar panels to their new homes in energy-efficient communities. And many solar installers offer affordable packages for existing homes for purchase, lease or in power purchase agreements.

Obviously, you have to install solar modules where they are exposed to the sun for long periods of time. A south-facing roof is most effective, but a roof over a carport, garage, or porch that receives minimal shading from other buildings or trees may work as well. East and west-facing roofs may also work.

Most often, the solar panels are installed on the roof, but they can also be mounted on standalone racks if there are no suitable roof surfaces available. For instance, the roof of a home may be under too much shade from trees but there’s open area nearby.

If your roof is due for repair such as new shingles, it's best to do it before you install the solar system. Most roofing materials and solar systems have a similar life span of about 25 years. However, removal and reinstallation of a system to replace a roof down the line is straightforward.

In most cases, a solar system is connected to the electrical grid that powers your house. In remote locations a system may be off the grid, connected only to the house. Either way, a system can also have battery storage to provide power when the sun is not shining or the electric grid is not operating.

In a solar system that's connected to the power grid, if the system often creates more power than your house is using, the excess power flows into the grid for use by other people. In most cases, the electric company will pay you or credit your utility bill for the electricity that your home generates.

Installing a grid-connected solar system is a job best left to professionals. The panels have to be properly oriented to the sun, and installed on a sturdy mounting that will stand up to years of sun, rain, snow and wind.

The wiring is very critical to connect the solar panel into the electrical breaker panel on the home. Most utilities require a switch that prevents the solar system from sending power to the grid during a power outage. This switch protects utility workers from being electrocuted while working on the lines.

To make installation easier, several companies offer solar systems built into roofing shingles. The solar cells, known as Building-Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV, are barely noticeable on the roof, and offer protection as well as power in one product.

Watch this video about BIPVs from CertainTeed.

How much does it cost?

A solar system is a long-term investment in your home and in the environment. According to the U.S. Department of Energy,basic solar systems for most homes cost between $5,000 and $30,000 before you apply rebates and incentives, which vary state to state (and sometimes, city to city).

Sometimes these incentives can cut your out of pocket expenses by almost half. The one nationwide incentive is a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the total installed cost of your system.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is the best place to browse the incentives available in your state.

Does it pay to invest in solar?

According to the Appraisal Journal, a solar electric system increases your home's value by $20 for every $1 in annual utility bill savings, which means a system could almost pay for itself with the appraisal value increase in some cases.

Many builders who install solar electric systems in their California housing developments estimate that a 2.4-kilowatt system will offset 40 percent to 50 percent of the electricity needs of an energy- efficient home. That number could be lower or higher depending on the amount of sunlight (regardless of climate) your home receives each year and the energy efficiency of your home.

Many solar vendors now sell 2- to 3- kilowatt package systems for homes and can tell you how much energy will be offset by a system depending on your home’s energy use, roof orientation, and other factors.

The energy can offset your utility bills by a large amount. If the system generates more electricity than you happen to be using, for instance when you’re on vacation during the sunny summer months, then it feeds into the grid instead.

Your utility, in all but a few states, will pay you for this net-excess generation (NEG) electricity it gets by giving you credits on your next electric bill. This process is called net metering.

How can I pay for solar power?

Because solar system represents a significant investment, there are many ways to finance the purchase or lease. If you're building a new home, you can simply roll it into the mortgage like any other accessory.

You can also obtain credit through common sources such as refinancing, home improvement loans, home equity loans or special environmental financing that some banks may offer. The U.S. government offers loans for energy-efficiency home and business improvement through various programs through the Federal National Mortgage Association (Freddie Mac), and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some solar vendors offer leasing arrangements that allow you get the benefits of solar power without large upfront costs. But those arrangements may last 20 years, so it may not be the best choice if you plan to move before the term of the lease is up.

Another fast-growing option is a power purchase agreement (PPA) in which the homeowner purchases the output of the solar system but not the system equipment.

Usually the rate for power is lower than the rate you pay the electrical utility. This type of agreement allows a homeowner to lock in a rate for power for a long term, usually 15 years, without investing in the system itself.

Adding a solar system to your home puts you in charge of your electric bills and helps reduce the environmental impact of your home. Continue with your research to find the system that will best fit your needs.


The benefits of residential solar power

Sunshine is a metaphor for happiness – promoting healthy lifestyles and emotions, and providing a free dose of vitamin D. Increasingly, people are taking advantage of the sun for something else that is free – solar energy. Listed are the major benefits of soaking up the sun:

  • Solar energy can earn you up to 30 percent of your investment back – without a cap – on federal tax credits as part of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. Some states also offer sales tax or property tax exemptions, rebates, grants and more for solar energy systems. Installer training and certification programs are also readily available.
  • Solar panel systems can dramatically reduce energy bills for heating and cooling your home. Combined with a tight building envelope, solar can help to spin your meter backwards, putting energy back onto the grid.
  • Solar energy sources can boost your home’s value, and provide insurance against future energy spikes.
  • There are a variety of solar panel options to fit a variety of homes, budgets, comfort levels and design tastes.
  • Photovoltaics (direct sourcing) can be used to power your home’s entire electrical systems, including lights, appliances and cooling systems. They also tap into excess power generated during the day to provide nighttime usage.


Read more about solar power.

Topics: Going Green, Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Rebates / Tax Credits, Solar Power, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Companies: U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Energy, CertainTeed, Helios Solar Works

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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