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Renewable Energy for the Urban Home

Updated on October 28, 2009

The ultimate promise of Renewable Energy techniques is total energy independence from the addiction of oil and other polluting sources of power.  For most people, it can only be a dream. Cities and suburbs offer an established grid to provide efficient centralized power to the home, often making it more expensive than it is worth to cut all ties to the electrical grid. When the use of solar power is considered, most of us see, in our mind's eye, banks of deep cycle batteries and rack after rack of photovoltaic panels following the path of the sun. This requires a lot more space and expense than many urban home-owners are willing or able to give up.  The dream of true energy independence requires careful integration of lots of complex equipment to allow it.

This is a wonderful dream, but many people forget that you don't have to go all the way, or do it all at once. It not a real moral compromise to use the energy available in the electrical grid supplying the cities and towns, but supplementing that with a portion that is renewable . By integrating the home solar system with the existing grid there is no need to add as many panels or use as much complex equipment.  Even better, batteries are not needed. Every little bit of electricity that is produced independently helps. If you are modifying a home that already has municipal electricity and are thinking of changing to solar power, staying connected to the grid is a valid way to proceed.  It will save a lot of money if the grid is part of the plan.

Solar Panel-ground install

Solar Panel - Ground Install
Solar Panel - Ground Install
Power center with battery bank
Power center with battery bank

Advantages of adding Solar Electrical Production to your home

The most important advantage is the resulting lower electric bill. As soon as a solar system is installed, the electricity that you produce is much less costly than the high priced electricity from your local company. As long as the sun is shining, the cost of your home power is dramatically reduced. In many cases, with proper initial planning, additional panels can be added to produce more and more power over time.

Remember, every kilowatt that the sun produces through photovoltaic cell technology is one that does not have to be produced. This one of the best rewards for the earth, the electric company will not have to produce the power you are using, saving non-renewable resources and dropping, even if ever so slightly, the green house gases being emitted from the power plant.

Connecting to the grid using Solar panels requires much less equipment. With an existing grid tie in effect you only need four components:

• Solar panels, this is where the suns rays are absorbed to become electrical power.

• Solar panel mounting system, you need the support and frames to support the solar panels and keep them in place.

• Suitable wiring, the electrical conduit from the panels to the electrical inverter must be to standard and most likely professionally installed.

• Grid connect inverter, Changes the direct current electricity that the panels produce to alternate current so you can use it with your appliances.

In direct connect to the grid, there is no need to store your power for later use. all the electrical power generated by the panels. In most cases it will not be the total consumption of the home, so everything that is created is used immediately. With just these four components, you will have full use of the grid connect solar power system.

Disadvantages of tieing to the Grid

When you add solar panels to your home, you will find that the biggest "con" to having any solar panel system is that at night you produce no power whatsoever. If there are extended periods of inclement weather a solar system produces very little power. On cloudy days, and during the night periods, you will need to rely on electricity supplied from the power company.

Unlike a fully independent home system, a grid-solar panel power system will often be dark when the power company has a blackout or power failure.  Depending on the wiring, the power may be cut off as well. This is often a legislated requirement to protect the griid system from receiving power from the home, which could be dangerous for maintenance teams.  This is not a definite though, depending on how much is actually being manufactured and if the sun is shining, the solar-grid connect home may be better off than surrounding houses.


With the grid solar power system there is very little or no maintenance. The only real maintenance there is Mother Nature generally will do with rain. This is to clean the solar panels. There are no batteries to be filled or maintained. The panels will rarely require replacement when properly located and the electrical inverter should be basically hands off for many years.

What Does it Cost to Have a Grid Connect Solar System Installed?

Solar panel systems are dropping in cost as the technology becomes more prevalent. No matter what, it can be prohibitively expensive to provide the power you need for your home during the sunny parts of the day. Much depends on the aims of the installation. Intelligent beginners start the path to energy independence a small bit at a time. If there is proper planning that allows the system to build and grow over time, this can be an effective way to build a viable system over time.

The cost of having a system installed will depend on whether you are going to completely supply all of your own power right away or start with a partial supply and build up supplying all needs more slowly. By starting out small, it will probably cost at least $12,000 dollars. Completely removing the need for electrical power while the sun shines budget for about $35,000 dollars at least.  Then you have to consider how to make up for power when it is dark or overcast.  Later hubs will consider these needs.

Making Too Much Juice

We all hope the day will come when the system is making more energy than what your home can use. It can happen as the efficiency of the panels improves and energy saving appliances and lighting are implemented. Depending on the laws and regulations of the local municipality, you may be able to sell the excess back to the power company. Unfortunately many power companies won't pay high premiums for this green energy. Another alternative to consider would be to begin to build the bank of batteries to extend the life of the power supply to the home. The decision to keep and use the power generated or sell it is a personal one and often determined by the laws and rebates in force.

A grid connect solar power system is not cheap to have installed at the beginning, but it is well worth the cost. The price of energy in all its forms is getting more expensive all the time. When using this system for just a few years of cheap electric bills or, better yet, no electric bills, the system will pay for itself over time while reducing the personal burden the household places on the environment.


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