Your neighbor is having some work done. You look over the fence this weekend and realize the whole roof on the back of the house is quickly being covered in solar panels. You've thought about solar before. It seems like a good idea for the environment, but you don't really know where to begin. Besides, isn't it really expensive? How can she afford to be going solar anyway? Fear not, reader. Keep going to find out how your neighbor could afford solar, how you can afford solar, and how you can determine if solar is right for you.
The price is usually the number one concern people have about switching their electrical power to solar. It's true that solar is an investment but solar panel cost needs to be put into perspective. Compare solar panels to buying a new car. A full solar system with installation cost about the same, or a little less than a car, averaging between $15,000 and $25,000, but that's before tax breaks and other rebates. With those additional incentives some systems will cost as little as $5,000. Unlike cars, a solar system needs almost no maintenance and is built to last at least 20 years. Even after that time, it is less expensive to replace panels than to buy a whole new system, unlike replacing a car which gets more expensive every year. A car will also deal with devaluation. After five years a new car will have lost approximately 60% of its value. On the other hand, going solar will add about $10,000, or an average of 4%, to the resale value of your home regardless of the age of a system. Of course the biggest immediate cost savings of going solar is the immediate drop in your electric bill. Although new technology may allow you to go off-grid entirely, a standard solar system keeps you linked to the grid, allowing you to pull extra power from your utility provider when you need it, but also allowing you to send extra electricity you produce back to the utility for a credit toward any electricity you have to buy. The government has plans to rely more heavily on a "smart grid" which will create more flexibility in the electrical system and increased reliance on individual solar system users in case of emergency.
There's more to consider than cost when you look at solar. As they say, it's all down to location, location, location. The first thing to consider is your type of home. Unfortunately, if you rent your home, your options are limited. Some states are now offering community solar projects, and you can ask your landlord about converting to solar, but that's about it. If you are a homeowner you are free to install solar. The next consideration is how your home is situated and landscaping. Remember that solar companies will come out to review your home and give you an estimate, but without that detail here are some things to look for in your home. In the northern hemisphere solar panels generally do best with a true southern exposure. Houses where the front and back are aligned north-south will have the best alignment for solar. Don't despair if this doesn't fit your home. At least one study has found that solar panels facing west produced almost 50% more electricity during peak demand, the evening hours when people are at home, awake and taking care of chores. Besides the orientation of your home, look at your landscaping. Large trees that protect your roof from the sun are great for keeping your home cool, but not so good for allowing maximum sunlight to hit solar panels. A pro can evaluate. The final consideration for location is how much sun you get where you live. As you probably guessed, in the contiguous 48 states, the Southwest United States is tops for bright sunshiny days. The Southeast also receives lots of sunshine. Don't let living outside this area dissuade you from going solar though, many states in the Northeast actually are top solar producers because of the popularity of going solar. Even if your house doesn't have the perfect alignment, you've got a big tree, you live somewhere with less sunshine, it's always worth it to talk to multiple solar companies. Each company can give you a quote which will include how large a system you can potentially support and the amount of electricity your system would optimally provide. Less than optimal direction, shade or geographic region doesn't negate the positive impact of being able to even partially rely on solar.
There's almost no time that's not a good time to look into going solar. Only by speaking to your local solar providers will you be able to determine if you're ready to power up to solar.