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Residential solar power systems - how to generate electricity at home with solar energy

Updated on July 15, 2011


It is possible to install residential solar power systems which produce electricity for use at home.

These can be used surprisingly far north or south of the equator, as solar cells and solar panels have become much more efficient.

They even produce some electricity on days when it’s cloudy, although obviously less than when the sunshine is direct.

Recent improvements in the design of solar  technology has made it a much more interesting and affordable option for those who want to reduce their electricity bills and carbon footprint.

Economies of scale have helped this, as far more cells are being produced, and the technology has improved as well.

Since 2002, the production of solar cells for solar powered electricity has been increasing by an average of 50% every year. In addition, installation has become not only far more efficient, but much cheaper.

Residential solar panels installed on a roof in Greece
Residential solar panels installed on a roof in Greece

A fantastic solar-powered robot kit, for children to build and play with.


How residential solar powered electricity-generating systems work

In order to generate electricity at home, you need solar cells which are made of semi-conducting materials.

Sunlight shines on the solar cells, and by what is called the “photoelectric effect” free electrons are generated by the sunshine.Put together these form an electric current and generate electricity.

Solar cells are put together in order to form a solar panel, which is made of lots of solar cells, often between 50 and 60.

The panels can either then be mounted on a south-facing roof in the northern hemisphere (or a north-facing roof in the southern hemisphere) or can be mounted on a rack which swivels in order to catch the best of the sun as it moves around the horizon.

Solar panels are often now installed in new buildings, but can be fitted onto older buildings easily provided that local planning laws permit it.

In many countries, there are subsidies for fitting solar powered electricity generating facilities.

Different solar panels generate different amounts of electricity per square inch, square foot or square metre, and it’s important to look at the maximum generating capacity of a cell which is measured either in watts or kilowatts.

Waldpolenzsolar, a massive commercial solar powered electricity plant in Germany
Waldpolenzsolar, a massive commercial solar powered electricity plant in Germany
Solar Energy Projects for the Evil Genius
Solar Energy Projects for the Evil Genius

A fantastic guide to setting up all kinds of solar-powered devices in your home and garden, with step-by-step instructions and handy diagrams.


Working out whether it's cost-effective to generate solar electricity in your home

In order to work out whether it’s worth installing solar panels to generate electricity at home, the first step is to look at existing energy bills and see how much your electricity costs are over the year.

You should also consider how your energy habits vary in your home over the year.

Solar powered electricity systems are often expensive to install, but the running costs are very low as sunshine is free.

Most countries also have subsidies or tax rebates for installing such systems, which reduce the payback time.

You should check with both local and national government, as both often offer subsidies, perhaps one off the price and another off your tax bill, and this makes a real difference to working out the cost savings.

You will see a massive saving on your energy bills.

In order to work out how much electricity can be generated in your specific area taking into account where the panels could be located on your house, you will probably need to get a quote of the estimated energy which could be generated from a particular system on your house per year.

Obviously these estimates can’t be exact, as it depends on the sunshine.

Solar energy providers in the UK tend to give a range of plus or minus 20%.

This will give you an idea of whether it’s economically worthwhile to do it.

Selling power to your National Grid

In many countries it’s also possible to connect your solar electric powered system to the National Grid.

In this case, power you don’t use at any one time is fed into the National Grid and the electricity company buys it from you.

When you aren’t producing enough electricity for your own needs, you withdraw electricity from the National Grid.

This might well be a good system if, for example, you’re out at work during the day. If it’s sunny in the middle of the day and you aren’t at home using electricity, the electricity can be fed back into the National Grid and this reduces your bills significantly when you do want to use electricity at night, and a lot less is being generated by your solar system.


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    • profile image

      *Voice_Of_Reason* 6 years ago

      Unfortunately, the UK government has just killed off the solar power industry in the UK, with some very short-sighted and ill-conceived changed to the "feed-in tariffs" - the subsidy that made the installation costs viable. For a more detailed treatment, see my hub, and the subsequent comments, at:

    • Perti Fy profile image

      Perti Fy 6 years ago

      I am making a couple of articles about solar too. I wanted to make people aware about such renewable energy to save our planet from global warming.

    • supercibor profile image

      Hector Herrera 6 years ago from Dominican Republic

      I really enjoyed this

    • justin stewart profile image

      justin stewart 6 years ago

      Very informative. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image 7 years ago

      Great and informative hub. Using solar panels to provide electricity is really great. I hope one day I can try to be totally off grid.

    • profile image

      Joshua - Solar Power Energy 7 years ago

      Great hub. I learned something from your post. I should have buy from the products posted. Thanks a lot!

    • jimcain207 profile image

      jimcain207 8 years ago from HUMPHREY, ARKANSAS

      Great hub. Lots of good info. Having my own system up & going, it is eciting to see a real reduction in the light bill. Although I am still expanding, one day I plan to be off the grid completely. Thanks for sharing.

    • jimcain207 profile image

      jimcain207 8 years ago from HUMPHREY, ARKANSAS

      Great hub on solar panels. I have a similar hub. I am still expanding on my system, but I am seeing a good savings on my light bill. This is the exciting part. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Solar Power Electricity 8 years ago

      Yeah its becoming really interesting now - for those that live in areas with lots of sun. Solar Power is becoming a viable alternative and could soon be the way of the future!

    • upal19 profile image

      Ashraf Mir 8 years ago from Dhaka

      A nice page. in my country energy defficiency is a big problem. I don't know why we are ignoring solar power. I think the whole world should use solar energy. thanks for this nice write up.

    • profile image

      Solar Power 8 years ago

      Thanks for this post

    • Info Provider profile image

      Info Provider 8 years ago from St. Louis Mo.

      Build Your Solar Panels Learn Step By Step

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      You need to look for a local supplier.

    • profile image

      Jumai from Nigeria 8 years ago

      How do I get this solar cells to make up a solar panel. I am really interested in generating solar power in my house

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Hope you can make it work for you - let me know what and when you decide?

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      Very good information. I am thinking along these lines and I am going to show this to my wife and see if we are ready to do some planning. Thanks this will be a big help.

    • profile image

      inquizativeloozer 8 years ago

      if u got a answer email me

    • profile image

      inquizativeloozer 8 years ago

      if a solar oven or cooker could boil water, could the steam b used 2 produce elctricity?

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 8 years ago

      good hub on solar energy with excellent suggestions

    • aniketgore profile image

      aniketgore 8 years ago from India

      nice hub.

    • profile image

      abby 8 years ago

      Great infromation, thank you for share, here I have a good place that is Tradestead there are different kinds of useful consumer electronics with very cheap price, just have a look , may be it can give you some help!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Thanks to you both - it's an expanding series of articles, I'm afraid, as well!

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California

      This is really an excellent series of articles

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 8 years ago from Texas

      Great information! Thank you!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Glad you all found it interesting! The sums need to be done on an individual basis, but most will be positive, I think. My parents' calculations were very positive, but they can't get planning permission to put panels anywhere near a 14th century house.

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 8 years ago

      I have seriously been considering doing this. It's very expensive too. Great hub dear. good luck now with the challenge

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 8 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      Another good hub on solar energy with excellent suggestions. I definitely need to go and do some sums. I really like the idea of getting paid for supplying electricity as well, what one might call a refreshing change.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I have a neighbor who put a whole lot of solar panels on his house for electricity and claims that it provides all his electricity!