To go or not to go solar in 2020

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solar energy panel
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To go or not to go solar – that is the question! Some issues to consider before going solar. Why would you need a solar electric system?

 

Normally, you would need a solar electric system:

  • If buying such a system is more cost-effective than connecting to a utility power line
  • To increase your power security
  • To avoid any future electricity price increase
  • To add value to your real estate property
  • As a more reliable solution – no moving parts and less maintenance
  • As a combination with other types of electricity-generating systems
  • As a passion for an amazing technology
  • To contribute to reducing air pollution and preserve the Earth’s fuel resources that are running out

Don’t go solar before reading this!

Electricity generated by a solar electric system is still more expensive than electricity supplied from a utility grid unless you live in a remote region where connecting to the utility grid would cost you a fortune. Photovoltaic solar systems do make solar electricity more affordable (than it was 20-30 years ago) but prices remain still relatively high. Nevertheless, in the last few years, prices of solar photovoltaic panels have dropped 80% on average and they are continuing to decrease.

Photovoltaic systems are not recommended to be used for heating. For heating, you should use a solar thermal system. Another option is propane or natural gas.

High costs of solar power systems are concentrated in a substantial initial investment. Often the biggest problem is to find initial financing. Once your solar system has been installed, with its payback spread over a long enough period of time, it is nice to feel independent from the utility grid or to see your monthly electricity bills going down. Buying a solar electric system is actually like paying in advance your electricity bills for years ahead, and the point is just to avoid the essential burden of high initial costs. Therefore, finding a suitable source of financing is really important.

Solar electric systems only produce power when the sun is shining. Therefore, something should be done with the electricity produced – it should be either consumed right away, or exported to the grid (in grid-tied systems), or stored in a battery for later use (in off-grid systems).

For people connected to the grid, usually the decision to purchase a photovoltaic/PV or solar panel system is based on cost-saving – reducing their monthly bill by selling power to the utility. For people living in remote areas, who are far from any utility company, the decision to purchase a solar power system is not determined by any cost-saving reasons but is rather a matter of securing a normal life instead.

Important: If your home is already connected to the utility grid, COMPLETELY replacing the utility with a solar electric system might NOT be cost-effective.

However, offsetting a part of your electrical bills through a solar system can be the best way to save money on electricity.

The utility company’s costs for generating electricity are always lower than yours because the utility spreads the cost of generating electricity among all its customers. For this reason, the price you, being connected to the grid, pay for electricity, is lower than the price you pay for generating solar electricity yourself – and you certainly do pay for generating electricity because, although solar energy is free, solar equipment is not free.

Furthermore, residential solar systems are usually not practical for powering large heating devices – heaters, huge electric stoves, air conditioners or electric clothes dryers. For this reason, you have to power by solar panels the most energy-efficient loads and search for reasonable alternatives for energy non-efficient (‘power-hungry’) devices.

Moreover, you have to start by improving the energy efficiency of your home. There are national or regional standards, like the National Electric Code (NEC) in the U.S., adopted to ensure safety in all systems that generate, store, transport, and consume electricity. The dealer of your solar power devices should follow such requirements related to equipment and wiring so that the system be approved by local electric code officials. Therefore, you can expect the price of your property to increase after installing the solar power system.

In many countries, it is required by law that all electrical equipment should be installed by a licensed electrician. On the other hand, however, many local code officials do not have enough knowledge of solar power systems. This means that even if you follow the rules of the adopted standards, you could have problems to prove to a code official that you have installed a code-approved solar electric system.

Therefore, it is recommended to contact local code officials and provide them with necessary explanations before you purchase and install a photovoltaic system. A good plan is to invite them to inspect the installation process before the whole system is completed. This might help your system obtain the needed approval.

Anita Dhupia

Working as an electrical engineer. Writing as a student. Wanting to see someone again..

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