As solar power becomes more advanced, more families are choosing to disconnect from the grid so they can make their own power directly from the sun. There are several things to think about before making the switch to solar, though. Make sure you can answer these four questions before you commit to a solar system.
Are Solar Panels Affordable?
A lot of people think that solar panels are too expensive for residential use. The truth is that the price of solar panels has fallen dramatically in recent years. The actual cost of panels for your home, however, will depend on several factors, such as:
- How many panels you need
- How much sunlight your area gets
- Whether you pay up front or use a loan, lease, or power purchase agreement
Except for the pay up front option, you can have solar panels installed on your house with no money down.
A loan allows you to pay off your solar system over a decades-long period at low interest while saving on your electric bill.
In a lease, you pay a fixed payment every month, which includes the electricity your system generates. At the end of the lease you can upgrade, extend, or have the panels removed.
A power purchase agreement lets you pay for the electricity your system generates, usually at lower rates than you pay the utility company now, while the solar company retains ownership of the system.
Does Your Area Get Enough Sunlight to Rely on Solar?
Solar panels have gotten pretty efficient, but they still aren’t ideal for every location. If your home doesn’t get about six hours of direct sunlight per day, then you might have difficulty cutting all ties to the grid. You can still reduce your dependency on the grid, but you will probably still need it.
People who live in cloudy, rainy, or heavily forested areas, like North Dakota, for instance, may not get enough sunlight during winter to completely power their home. If you live in the Southwest or other places with abundant sunlight, though, you could potentially stop using grid power completely.
How Long Will the Solar Panels Last?
You can expect your solar panels to last at least 25 years. As you explore your options, you will find that most companies offer warranties for 25 to 30 years. That means you will get at least three decade of electricity production even if the panels wear out prematurely.
In reality, your panels could last much longer than the warranty. The only problem with using old solar panels is that they will not work as efficiently as newer models. Not only do solar panels become less efficient over time, but improvements in the technology should mean that the panels made two or three decades from now will work better than the ones you can buy today.
Once your panels start to get old, you can decide whether you want to upgrade them or keep using them, depending on your lease or purchase terms.
What Other Equipment Will You Need?
Most solar energy companies include all the equipment you need in your lease or purchase agreement.
The most important item is the DC-to-AC inverter. This box converts the direct current from your solar panels to alternating current that matches grid and home power requirements. Once you have the inverter in place, the power coming from your solar panels is virtually indistinguishable from the power you get from the grid.
If you want to rely completely on solar energy without resorting to the grid, then you will also need a battery to store the electricity your panels generate. Without a battery, your home won’t have power during nighttime, storms, and other low-light conditions. Developers have made significant improvements in battery capacity. Look for a design that can hold at least 7 kWh of energy. That’s about how much it takes to power a home during the night. If you need more capacity, you can link more than one battery.
Solar offers a cleaner, more affordable way to power homes and businesses. Before you make the switch, though, find out the answers to these questions to see if it’s the right option for you.