Solar power has its advantages. The Earth is constantly being bathed with an endless supply of energy. Harnessing it seems like a no-brainer. Of course solar energy is the answer! It’s free, and gives off zero emissions. How could it not be, right?
Well, the truth is a little more complex than that. Using solar energy has many benefits, but going solar is not a decision to take lightly. If you’re considering solar as an alternative energy source, it’s a good idea to do some research beforehand, so you know exactly what you’re signing up for.
If you’re thinking of going solar, you’re going to need to consider the environment in which you live. First of all, what part of the country do you call home? If you’re in Tucson, you probably get plenty of sunlight during a good portion of the year. However, If you live in Portland (Oregon or Maine), you don’t get much sunshine. This is not to say that a solar system wouldn’t work in cloudy environments, just that it wouldn’t be quite as efficient.
The amount of solar energy that reaches the ground where you live, per square meter, per day, is called its insolation rating. The higher the rating, the easier it will be to convert sunlight into electricity. Some Sunnier areas have insolation ratings approaching 7, while areas that have a lot of overcast days hover between 3 and 5.
While we’re on the subject of setting, you should also consider the solar obstructions posed by surrounding trees or tall buildings, as they can have a big effect on the efficiency of your solar system. Ideally, your solar array should be in direct sunlight during peak operating hours.
Your Energy Needs
How much power are you going to need? This is very important question to answer before shopping for your new solar system. Take an inventory of the wattage ratings of all of the electrical devices in your house. Figure out the absolute maximum wattage you and that people you live with might use if everyone was using all of their favorite electrical items at the same time.
When you’ve figured out your maximum usage, take that number and add a little to it, just in case. Figuring out how much energy you’re going to need will help you assess the size, and therefore…
Solar power systems aren’t cheap. While they have come down considerably in price since NASA first started using them to power satellites, they are still a considerable investment. There is a simple calculation you can perform in order to get a very approximate estimate of the cost of installing a solar system that will fit your needs.
Let’s assume that your household uses 30 kWh per day (the national average). Divide that number (or get out your electric bill and plug in your numbers) by four, and you get 7.5. This mean you’ll need to purchase a 7.5 kW (or 7,500 watt) system. As of this writing, prices for solar systems are between $5-7 per watt. Multiply our 7,500 watts by $7, and we get $52,500.
That’s a lot of electric bills. Of course, you don’t have to supply all of your electricity with solar, you could simply supplement it, and it wouldn’t be quite so pricey, but as you can see, cost is still an important factor hindering the more widespread adoption of solar.[Photo Credit trendir.com]