- Renewable & Alternative Energy
Is Solar Power Worth Installing?
Is Solar Power Worth Installing?
Consider the economics of solar power. Consider the cost of solar power, with all that it entails.
The question has to be answered from two distinct positions. One is whether or not solar power is economical. This is the more complex answer, and will be the focus of a large part of this article. The other part of the answer is much simpler. Whether the use of solar power is worth the effort for the continuation of the Earth itself as a place to live is answered yes. Is it enough to make a difference? That can be debated, but if we are to err in the discussion of global warming, there is no reason why solar power would be environmentally harmful, so it is a safe bet to go with solar power.
Solar Electricity Handbook
How Does It Work?
Some substances hold onto some of their electrons with a very weak attraction. When a photon, a small amount of light, interacts with a loosely held electron the electron becomes energetic by absorbing the photon, leaves its atom or molecule and can be collected for electrical use. Those electrons accumulating together, despite the force that causes like charges to repel each other are an important part of the operation of solar panels. Some substances allow electrons to pass in one direction, but prevent the electrons from getting back. So, having sunlight dislodge electrons is the first step.
After the electrons are freed, they cannot be migrated back to their original positions. Instead, they are collected and in large enough quantities can be useful in electricity production.
The substance giving up electrons will not be in danger of running out of electrons. Instead, the electrons floating by in the air are quickly taken in to replace the missing electrons, and there are always excessive electrons moving about.
The electrons are now capable of providing direct current. But, alternating current is needed. The direct current must be converted to alternating current. More important, the frequency and the phase must be matched to the commercially supplied current if the solar unit will be used to augment the commercial power.
Is Solar Power Economical?
This depends on your location. We have a system that normally would cost over $25,000, but the United States covered thirty percent of the cost, and the State of Louisiana covered another fifty percent. So, I got a $25,000 system for $5,000. It covers about a third of my needs, so it still will take about five years to break even.
But, it has increased the value of our home. This is both good and bad. The extra value becomes equity, but property taxes are based on equity. Also, insuring the home went up slightly. Still, there is an energy saving and an increase in property value to consider.
One thing worth considering is that neither the federal money, nor the state money, simply come. They are handled with the income tax returns. Bridge loans can get you through, and when we added solar power the bridge loan was for one year at no interest. This gives you a chance of getting your money before it is needed to repay the loan, provided you carefully pick your starting month. Starting a system in January or February would really be pushing things.
What about Cloudy Days and Dark Nights?
I have been surprised at how much energy is made on cloudy days. Yes, there is a drop, but it can still be pretty good most of the time. As night approaches the sun gets too weak to produce solar power, and the production drops to zero even before night falls.
Buying or Renting Is a Big Decision
When we added solar power there were companies willing to lease the system for about $35 or $40 per month. They required the tax credits be signed over to them. I have no idea if this plan is offered where such lucrative government programs do not exist, but on the positive side is you do not need to put up the other $5,000.
Renting is not all great. There is no increase in equity in your property, but possibly neither will your property taxes increase. One company said they insure the system. But, the real problem is the lease does not end if you sell. Instead, you must get the buyer to take it over. This serious encumbrance can cause you to lose a sale. Because of this we decided to not rent. Once the encumbrance was revealed, the decision to buy was complete.
Not all of this will likely be revealed by a sales person. Added property taxes, added insurance, and even problems selling your property in the future are questions you really need to ask before signing.
The Angle of the Solar Panels
The angle is very important. Just as the Earth gets more direct sunlight in the summer because more light falls on a given area, so it is with solar panels. The difference is that the solar panels may not perform best in the summer. Solar panels on a roof are placed at the angle of the roof. If your location is, say, thirty-five degrees latitude, a thirty-five degree roof will optimize the sun at the spring equinox and the fall equinox. The sun can be direct for a roof facing south.
Another angle is also important, how close is your roof aligned with a side facing due south. I have seen some houses with no south facing roof, so panels on the east and west sides are used. Some of the time one side of the roof is not doing so well if only east and west facing panels are used.
How much electricity your panels can produce depends on the latitude, the pitch of the roof, and how close to due south the panels can be mounted. Of course north is the critical direction in the southern hemisphere.
Unless your roof is flat, or you are mounting the solar panels on some other flat surface, being at the equator is not optimal.
Unfortunately, solar panels do not, in general, track the sun. The fixed mount is preferred.
The Concept of Selling Back
In this area we get to sell power back to the electricity provider. The law requires the provider buy any excess power made by solar units. There is a limit on how much the power company must buy in a region, but our region is fine. This is an important factor in making solar power viable.
The way selling power back works is that when your solar panel is making more power than you need, you can sell it back. In this way during certain parts of the year you might have some, or most, days with an excess of power having been made. It also works if you are using power at night, but not making anything at the time. What you cannot do is make money selling power back. The power is sold as a credit and can only be used to balance power you buy at some other time, even in another month. You do not get a check from the power company.
This requires a one-time expense to have the power company change out your meter to a net metering unit. This new meter records power used and power sold back. Another meter that comes with the system shows the power your system has generated. Whatever is used directly by you is not metered at all by the power company.
Power during a Power Failure
As an added component, and this qualified for the federal thirty percent but not the money from the State of Louisiana, we got a special outlet with a switch, and a battery capable of converting to alternating current. When the power goes out, the system goes down as a precaution, since someone working on the line could be electrocuted by power you are putting into the lines. But, there is a switch in the house that does divert the power we are making to one outlet that is independent of the house wiring, so there is no danger of charging the power company’s lines. This is located near the refrigerator, and we can plug it into this one outlet. The option is to plug our battery in, and using some sort of multiple outlet device to power small items like lights and also run the refrigerator. The battery is strong enough to run the refrigerator at night, and maybe one or two small items. However, things with batteries, like computers, are not recommended to be connected through the backup battery.
Decorative Solar Panels
Currently, a black solar panel is available in lieu of the dark blue if you prefer. Personally, I think the new black panels are uglier than the blue ones.
So, Is It Economic, Or Not?
That depends on the laws where you live regarding selling back power, what kind of assistance the governing units in your area are willing to give, the orientation of your roof, the steepness of your roof, and the latitude of the location where the units will be placed. I realize some readers are looking for answers, but the best you can really expect is the considerations that must be brought up with a sales person in your area with your particular house considered.
Is Installation a Lengthy Construction Process?
In our case the solar panel provider came out within a few weeks of signing the contract, checked angles, placed the frame, and added the panels. Once the company started the frame it was less than a week and the unit was up. There were a few calibrations and fine tuning later, but the real work was fast.
There was a delay waiting for the power company to change out the meter, but that was completed in less than a month. In between, an inspector came unnoticed and left a sticker indicating the system had passed inspection, clearing the way for the power company to change the meter.
Use a Stable Company
The company we used is still active after over a year since our purchase, and has developed a business stream of temporarily removing and replacing the units for roof repairs. It is great that we would be able to keep the solar panels, and not have to start over, when the roof is eventually replaced. I have no idea what happens with rented systems.
Some items have a solar alternative available. One that is in common use is the solar power water heater. Whether or not you install solar panels, having solar appliances can still be helpful, especially if you are not producing enough solar power for your electrical needs.
Solar Water Heating--Revised & Expanded Edition: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)