Is Solar Right for Me?
Deciding to install PV solar panels on your home is no small decision. If you're reading this article you're probably beginning to do some research on solar for your home or business. There is a lot of information out there on the the web about solar which can be quite confusing – here are a few things to think about:
How much rooftop do you have? A standard 1 kilowatt solar panel system measures about 100 square feet. While rooftop panels can be designed big or small, it often does not make sense if you have less than 100 square feet of space. A 1 kilowatt solar panel generally produces 1,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year (take a look t your recent energy bills to see how much you usually use). Some solar installers won't install unless you have at least 400 square feet of roof space.
Which direction does sunlight hit your house? Sun from the south is best, sun from the north is worst. Sun from the west and east will do the job, just less efficiently than south.
What kind of sun reaches your house? Do you have large trees, neighbors homes, etc which block sunlight? Simply put, it doesn't make sense to put in solar panels if you don't get much sun. In order to be economically effective you must receive southward sunlight throughout much of the day.
Can your roof handle PV panels? Solar can be installed on all types of roofs. Most installers will recommend having had your roof shingled within the previous 10 years. You don't want to spend all this money on Solar Panels, just to have to take them down to re-shingle. Panels usually weigh about 3 pounds per square foot, so you based on the age of your home the contractor can help you determine if your home is strong enough to support the equipment.
What kind of tax incentives exist? Most states offer tax incentives for solar installation, which can save your roughly 25-50% of the cost of installation. Check out http://www.dsireusa.org/ for a comprehensive list by state.
What is the cost? I recommend shopping around to get a number of quotes. Usually systems cost about $8-12/watt, or roughly $9,000/kilowatt, but it varies greatly depending on the specific panels used, labor charges, etc.
What size system is right for me? Solar systems come in big, small, and everything in between. The size you choose is up to you, and even the smallest PV system makes a big impact on the environment. To give you an idea, the average 2000 square foot home uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. A 4 kilowatt system (about 400 square feet of panels) will produce about 7,200 kilowatt-hours per year, covering about 75% of the total usage.