Home Solar 101: From Start to Finish All You Need to Know About Solar Power

Home Solar 101: From Start To Finish All You Need To Know About Solar Power

When it comes to natural and reliable sources of energy, there are none more popular than the sun.

Solar power has become the biggest name in renewable and sustainable energy sources, and everyone including large scale businesses, average households, and off the grid campers are making use of it.

Solar is one of the easiest ways to reduce our reliance on electricity, and what makes it even more appealing, is how simple it is to install and start using.

Although it might seem complex on the surface, the process of converting energy from the sun to usable power at home is easy enough, and once you know how it works, you’ll be even more committed to using it.

How does solar power work for your home?

A home installed with solar panels is able to collect and convert energy with photovoltaic cells which absorb energy from the sun.

This energy is then converted into alternating current (AC) energy that can be distributed through the home’s electrical panel to use for everyday appliances and functions which reduces your reliance on electricity.

If you’re trying to live a greener life and make changes in your home that’ll have a real difference on the planet, power home solar is one of the best ways.

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about solar energy and how to install it in your house, so you too can start benefiting from this renewable and sustainable source of power.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar power is a relatively easy process, but even if you don’t understand it, you’ll still be able to benefit from it.

Although there are many different types with specific features and capabilities, most systems operate in the same manner and rely on two main features to do their work: the solar panels and the inverter.

The solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells that actively convert the sunlight that’s shone on them to direct current (DC) electricity.

Depending on the type of cells, their size, volume, and the materials they were made of, they might be more capable than others of doing this. Where the panels are positioned in relation to the sunlight can also impact how much they absorb and how efficiently.

The inverter of the solar system then takes the DC electricity that was created by the solar panels and turns it into alternating current (AC) electricity. In this state, it can be sent to an electricity grid to reduce your reliance on traditional energy or stored in a small or large battery so you can use it from a direct source.

Solar Energy for the Home

Solar Energy for the Home

The most common format for harnessing the sun’s natural energy is with some carefully placed solar panels on the roof, but it’s not the only way to do it.

If your goal is an eco-friendly home that makes the most of its natural surroundings, there are quite a few options that involve solar power you might not be aware of.

Solar lights

Outdoor lighting can be powered up with help from the sun, thanks to miniature photovoltaic cell panels that capture the sunlight during the day and convert it into lights at night.

This includes porch lighting, garden lights, and even heavy-duty spotlights, with solar lighting having more capabilities than ever before.

Solar hot water

Solar hot water systems rely on direct sunlight to heat up the water supply which is then fed through the home’s piping or stored for later use.

Some systems allow for hot water to be stored for days without losing much of its heat, so even when the weather isn’t ideal, you’ll still have access to it.

Solar home heating

There are a few options for heating your home with the use of the sun, including heatline piping and radiators. Heatline piping can be installed underneath the house, where water that has been heated by the sun passes through them.

This heated flooring reduces the need for other systems and relies only on sunlight to work. Solar space heating uses water heated by the sun and then circulated through the home with the help of radiators to prove gentle and consistent heat, rather than using grid electricity to power them.

The Benefits of a Solar Power Energy System at Home

Everyone today knows that solar power is the greener option, but there are plenty of other reasons why you might install a system at home.

These are just a few of the benefits that a solar-powered home will experience compared to one powered by electricity from the grid, with many of them being instantaneous.

  • Knowing that you’re not creating any emissions while generating electricity from your solar panels.
  • A reliable and cheap way to get energy even when you’re not at home, like those who live off the grid or go camping regularly.
  • Generating renewable and sustainable energy from the sun without relying on anything manufactured.
  • Long lasting systems designed for longevity and durability, with most solar panels having a 25-year warranty at the minimum.
  • Having a solar system installed will dramatically improve the value of your home, whether you want to live in it yourself or plan on selling it in the future.
  • Educates the entire household about the importance of energy use and promotes a more sustainable way of living.
  • There are now more rebates and incentives for installing solar energy systems at home and it’s never been more affordable.
  • You can save hundreds of dollars a year from your utility bills as your reliance on grid-based electricity will drop significantly.
  • Solar panels are a low maintenance way to reduce your energy costs with systems requiring very little upkeep over the years.

How Does Solar Power Turn Into Main Power?

How Does Solar Power Turn Into Main Power?

Once you’ve wrapped your head around how the solar panels and inverter create the energy, it’s helpful to understand how the electricity grid plays its role in the process.

Most homes are connected to the electrical grid, which is where all of us get our access to electricity from and have done for many years. Each of these homes is also connected to a utility meter that measures how much energy your house uses and allows it to be supplied.

When you have solar panels installed in your home, they’ll be connected to your home’s utility meter. This meter helps establish how much energy your solar system is creating and keep measurements of it over time.

In addition to this, most US homes have access to net metering which means you can send the power you’ve created directly to the grid so it can be stored.

The benefit of doing this is that when your system is making too much energy for your household to use, it isn’t wasted, but rather sent on to the grid.

You will earn credits for this energy that you contributed, which you can then rely on when your system might not be working at its best, like on an overcast day or during winter when energy production is low.

This solution is one of the best ways to combat people’s worries about what they’ll do during these days when sunlight is low, as it’s a free and easy way to keep hold of the energy you’ve created.

Other homes might use batteries if they’d rather store the energy themselves, with either being a great way to harness this renewable source.

The Parts of a Home Solar System

To allow a home to be powered up by nothing other than sunlight takes a lot of working parts.

Within a home solar system, there are a few integral pieces that come together to capture, convert, and send this energy to your house, but many options for how to set them up to suit your needs.

Solar Panels

The solar panels are undoubtedly the most important part of the whole process and the most noticeable to people on the street.

These panels are typically installed on the roof, but may be ground-mounted as well, and positioned in the best place to attract sunlight which they then convert into electricity.

Solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to do this, which is where the label ‘PV panels’ comes from. There are three main choices for where the panels can be installed, including:

Roof mounted

The most popular way to utilize the sun’s energy, roof mounted solar panels are installed on the roof of a house.

This allows for an obstruction-free view of the sun, efficiency, and aesthetically pleasing results as they’re mainly hidden. However, they can be harder to maintain due to their position and there might be factors that make this setup unusable in some homes.

Free standing

A free standing or pole mounted solar array requires additional space, but is easier to maintain. These are not as aesthetically pleasing however if your roof is unusable, they can be a good alternative.

Ground

Solar panels installed as ground system might be ideal for people without roof space but because of their position, they’re more likely to accumulate dirt and debris. This type of mount also takes up a lot of ground space so must have spare land.

Depending on the positioning, materials, and size, these panels have different output ratings that are measured in watts which refers to how much power it can produce when it’s in optimal weather settings.

This figure generally runs between 10 and 300 watts, with the average household solar power system having at least 100 watts capability.

Inverters

The solar inverter is what takes the AC power created by the panels and converts it into DC power for the home. As most electrical appliances and systems in the average household run on DC power, this is an integral part of a solar setup.

Depending on your needs and the configuration of your solar system, either of these inverters might be more beneficial.

Micro Inverters

A micro inverter is found on the back of every solar panel which helps each one to maximize their output.

If your home’s solar panel setup is in a partially shaded area, it can be beneficial for ensuring the individual panel is working at its best regardless of what the neighboring panels are doing.

String Inverters

This is a standalone box that works best with solar panel arrays installed on roofs that have a uniform pitch.

A string inverter is ideal for solar setups that are unshaded as they work equally with all panels. These inverters are cheaper but don’t come with rapid shutoff capabilities.

Batteries

A storage battery isn’t always required as part of a home solar energy system but it can be beneficial in some cases. A solar battery allows you to maximize your usage of the energy you create during the daytime by storing it for nighttime when peak electricity use occurs.

If you’d rather not send the electricity part to the grid for a credit, or even can’t, this extra energy can be stored in a battery at your home. There are different types and sizes of batteries, so it depends entirely on what your home needs.

Lead acid

Although considered dated and unsightly, the lead acid battery is still widely used for on-site and on-grid storage solutions.

Lead acid is slowly growing out of fashion due to the popularity of lithium-ion and other newer alternatives, but many homes rely on them still for their storage solutions.

Flow

A flow battery is a unique setup that has a water-based solution of zinc-bromide inside, and it gets its name for this liquid moving around inside of it.

They’re not widely used in the residential market but come in a more compact size with greater capacities, and might be a contender in the future.

Lithium-ion

The most famous energy storage systems from Tesla rely on the lithium-ion battery, and for now, it seems to be holding its place as the popular choice. Any on-grid battery storage solution can be met with one of these, including full house setups to small appliances.

Sodium nickel chloride

One of the biggest future competitors against lithium-ion batteries is the sodium nickel chloride types.

These batteries are considered to have a number of safety and environmental benefits compared to other types, but aren’t as widely used and are still more expensive.

Space Requirements for Solar Installation

To determine which panel setup is right for you, you’ll also have to consider the available space at your home where a solar system could be installed.

However, as every type of solar panel is created differently, some are more efficient than others and require less of them to achieve the same efficiency.

Looking at larger-scale setups, a standard 1 MW solar power plant that uses crystalline panels will take up around four acres of space, compared to one that uses thin film panels which will need an extra two acres.

When using thin film panels, you’ll need around 50 percent extra space, but as they cost more to install, this might not be ideal for everyone.

A solar panel installation professional will be able to assess how much usable space is on your roof and whether other alternative needs to be considered. Generally speaking though, a standard solar panel of 1 KW energy efficiency needs around 1 square foot of space, so plan accordingly.

How Many Solar Panels For Success?

When your rooftop space is being evaluated for size, you’ll then have to determine how many solar panels you want to be installed. Depending on your energy needs and how you plan on using excess energy, the number of solar panels might differ.

To determine the exact size of your solar requirements, you should have a look at your past energy use. From here, you’ll need to figure out your hourly energy requirement and then multiply that by how many peak sunlight hours are in your area.

This amount is then divided by the wattage capability of a solar panel, and perform the calculation for a low wattage panel and high wattage to see where you come in.

It’s always best to enlist the help of a professional during this stage, as they’ll help you perform calculations and figure out the roof size, sunlight performance, and whether or not you need battery storage solutions as well.

You may not get as many solar panels as you need due to limited space or might prefer to opt for higher efficiency panels, all of which can impact your final output.

Calculating the Capabilities of Your System

Calculating the Capabilities of Your System

With a solar system in place, you can get a good idea of just how much energy it’s generating for you. In general, for each kW of solar panels you’ve installed, you’ll get about four kWh of electricity. This is true for good conditions, so on days where it’s not as optimal, this will be less.

Each solar panel comes with a rating that can give you an indication of how much electricity it’s capable of producing in good weather. This takes into consideration a non-shaded area with good sun orientation and full daylight hours, which might not always be the case at your home.

The utility meter that connects your home to the power grid can help you establish how much energy your solar powers are generating and how much you’re using.

Depending on the type of meter you use and whether it has smart capabilities, you’ll need to do some research on the specific model to do this correctly.

When Is Solar Not Right For a Home?

When Is Solar Not Right For a Home?

Although solar comes with many benefits, it’s not always right for every home or business.

Before you go ahead with the installation of a solar power system, a certified professional will usually inspect your home. Any of the following findings might indicate that your home isn’t ideal for solar power.

  • Homes that have complicated configurations and minimal space. These might have installations like chimneys, solar hot water systems, skylights, and others already in place, meaning minimal space for solar panels.
  • Roofs that are south facing and already don’t use a lot of daytime power. A home that exports its power back to the grid and gets a feed-in tariff will save money, but if you also have south-facing panels that generate lower amounts, the overall cost of installation probably won’t be worth it.
  • Surroundings of a roof where there is too much shade, either from buildings, structures or trees. Sometimes technology like optimizers and micro-inverters can be installed to offset, but it’s not always the most economically sound choice.
  • Older homes with roofs made of asbestos, where the roof will need to be removed and replaced before solar panels can be installed. Homes where the roof tiles are damaged, weak, rusted, or crumbling, which will also require new roofing to be installed.
  • If you use minimal power during daylight hours when energy production is high and there isn’t an offer of a feed-in tariff for your area. The cost of installation will usually outweigh any future financial benefits you have.

Costs of Installing a Solar System

Costs of Installing a Solar System

The most important part of the solar installation process is the cost and determining whether it’s within your budget. It’s never been a better time to buy solar panels and inverters, with the incentives and reduced costs making them affordable for more people.

However, as quite a large initial investment and one that pays back its dividends over time, it can be hard for some homeowners to afford.

A current estimate of costs for solar panels and an inverter is between $11,000 and $15,000 for the complete setup, depending on the size and configuration.

This is the final cost after solar tax credits have been applied, with an average price of around $2.50 to $3.30 per watt of a solar panel. Additional savings might be possible with other incentives, but you’ll need to research what’s possible in your state.

Homes that have a smaller need for electricity output can save money by choosing solar panels that are lower in watt price.

Larger homes with more energy output will also have to consider the added equipment and labor needed to install them, but with this, there is also the promise of more savings from their utility bills.

Solar Cost-Benefit Analysis for Your Home

Once you’ve established that your home is suitable for solar, you’ll need to consider the financial aspect as well.

Thankfully, there are many options out there for financing these types of energy systems, and a range of rebates and incentives on offer to entice more households to switch to renewable energy sources like solar.

The Solar Investment Tax Credit is available to all US citizens that pay federal taxes, and you can claim a percentage of the installation costs when you perform your tax return.

Each state has its incentives as well, and some better than others, with other enticements including tax credits, tax relief, and rebates all designed to get more people using solar power.

According to a report by the US Department of Energy, the cost of solar projects has fallen by 70 percent from 2010 to 2018, with those figures only expected to drop further.

This represents a huge shift in the market meaning solar energy systems are now more viable than ever for people with a variety of household incomes.

To finance a solar energy system at home, there are a few options. First, you can pay upfront if you have the money, and some solar providers offer low or zero interest repayments to have panels installed.

If you’d rather borrow from a bank, many financial institutions offer low-interest loans for these types of projects, so if you need to borrow the money you may find something more suitable for this specific need.

Where the solar installation pays off is how much value it can add to your home, as well as the reduced energy costs. Recent research conducted by Zillow showed that having solar panels increases a home’s value by up to 4.1 percent, which can equate to almost $10,000 for the average home.

When you couple this with your monthly utility bill savings, it’s a smart investment for anyone considering it.

Maintenance and Care of Solar Panels

Maintenance and Care of Solar Panels

Solar panels require minimal maintenance over the years, and when cared for correctly, shouldn’t cost much to keep in good condition.

However, as they’re located outside, it’s normal for dust and debris to build up over time, as well as the harsher weather conditions to have some effect on them.

A solar panel system differs from a standard appliance though, as even when they’ve been turned off, they can still present a hazard.

If you have a roof-mounted system, it’s ideal to have a certified electrician or solar professional to perform this maintenance, otherwise, it comes with serious risks.

Although there’s a lot to be covered in one of these maintenance inspections, it’s a process that only needs to be performed every three to five years, so it’s not often.

The average price for a certified solar inspector to carry out their work is around a few hundred dollars, but this depends on factors like your location, the size of the solar system, and how old it is.

During a standard solar panel inspection, they may be checked for the following, and have some of these maintenance tasks performed if needed:

  • Panels and vents are clean and free of defects
  • All wiring and cables are in good working order and not corroded or damaged
  • Comprehensive electrical check on all parts
  • Confirming emergency procedures are in place
  • Checking inverter display and unit for defects and faults

If a fault is found, it’s usually as simple as fixing it or replacing the part. Solar panels can be replaced individually in most cases, and it won’t mean a complete overhaul of the whole system.

However, having them checked as needed and the required maintenance performed will save costs in the future and keep your system running well beyond the 25-year guarantee it comes with.

Related Questions

Installing a solar-powered energy system at home is a great way to cut energy costs, live greener, and make your household more aware of their energy use.

If you want to learn more about what solar is capable of, we’ve got the answers to some commonly asked questions to expand your knowledge further.

How Does a Solar Oven Work?

A solar oven uses solar energy to cook the food inside of it, usually with the help of insulation and a solar window that allows the sunlight to be absorbed.

Depending on its features, these systems are capable of reaching temperatures as high as a regular oven with roughly the same cooking time, provided they have the right specs.

Is Solar Important For a Modern Home?

A recent study showed that over 80 percent of potential homeowners stated energy-efficient features like solar panels were important when buying a house, so it’s a smart investment.

Having solar panels installed can add value to your home, whether you plan on selling it now or in the future. 

What is the Difference Between Active and Passive Solar?

Active and passive solar systems are determined by how they use energy from the sun.

Passive systems use direct heat and light from the sun to do its work, whereas an active system is like a home’s solar panel that converts the energy into another form, like electricity or hot water.

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