The Benefits of Solar Power

Getting Started with Solar Energy: The Benefits of Solar Power Systems

It’s long been known that renewable energy is the way of the future. As the supply of fossil fuels dwindles and faces increased scrutiny for pollution, climate change, and health issues, the cost continues to rise. Many local utilities have already begun to use alternative, renewable energy sources including wind, water, and solar power, but you don’t have to wait for your utility company to get on board: solar power is ready and available to home owners today — and there’s practically no end to the list of benefits.

Solar power makes it possible for home owners to use the sun to power everyday life: running your air conditioner, washing clothing, watching TV, cooking dinner. All while reducing your carbon footprint, and without burning fossil fuels or putting a strain on the electrical grid. And while the environmental benefits of solar power are significant, many home owners find that the convenience, unique features, and cost savings of owning a solar power system are even more enticing.

Want to know about the details and benefits of solar powered energy systems for your home? We’ll explain how solar powered homes work, factors that make your home a good candidate, environmental benefits, financial benefits, unique features, and much more. Read on to find out why a home solar power system may be a great investment for your home and lifestyle.

How Solar Powered Homes Work

We all know that solar powered homes use solar panels, typically on the roof, to generate power using the sun. But how exactly does solar power turn into energy for your home? It’s a relatively simple process:

  1. The sun’s photons are collected by solar panels
  2. When photons hit the solar panels, it creates a direct current (DC) electric field
  3. An inverter converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) so that the power can be used by appliances and home systems
  4. The alternating current (AC) is routed through the home’s switchboard to supply electricity
  5. If there is excess electricity, it is exported to the electrical grid, or stored in batteries connected to the system for future use
  6. If there isn’t enough solar powered energy to power the home, electricity is imported from the electrical grid, or the solar system pulls stored power from batteries

The Power of Solar Energy

You may not pay much attention to the sun in your daily life, only considering it when it’s gotten too hot, or you need to protect yourself with sunscreen. But while the sun may not play a big part in your daily life today, it certainly has the power to fuel your lifestyle tomorrow. The sun has the potential to generate significant amounts of energy for your home — and the world.

  • Even cloudy locations typically receive more than two hours of sunlight per day: Cloudy locations receive an average of 2.5 hours per day of sunlight, while sunny locations receive an average of 5.5 hours of sunlight per day.
  • Solar panels can work even on a cloudy day: While sunny days will produce more solar energy, solar panels will continue to draw energy even when the weather is cloudy. Indirect, or diffused sunlight will still help to power your home. Cloudy days usually produce around 10% to 20% of the amount produced on sunny days.
  • Batteries can make solar energy systems a 24/7/365 power source: When combined with an integrated battery, solar energy systems can provide electricity even when it’s dark outside, potentially offering around the clock power for your home and providing for an off grid energy lifestyle.
  • The sun gives off thousands of watts of energy: Per each square meter of the Earth’s surface, the sun gives off about 1,000 watts of energy.
  • Solar power is a reliable energy system: When power plants and electrical grids fail, hundreds or thousands of homes can be left without power. In severe natural disasters, that could mean homes are left powerless for several days, even weeks. But solar power systems aredistributed and modular, meaning they are spread out over a large geographical area and are composed of numerous solar arrays. If some of the system is damaged, the rest of the system can continue to generate power.

Types of Residential Solar Power

Typically, solar powered homes use solar panels on the roof to draw power from the sun, which generates electricity for lights, appliances, and more. But there are other specialized solar power home options as well, including:

  • Solar panels: The most common household solar power option, solar panels on a home’s roof can generate electricity for the entire house. Solar panel power systems can be tied to the grid, sending excess power out and drawing power when needed. Or, solar power systems can store and use power from an installed battery.
  • Solar thermal hot water panels: Similar to solar panels, solar thermal panels offer dedicated heating to your hot water tank.
  • Solar car port: For those with an electric car, a solar car port can generate enough electricity to charge the vehicle.
  • Solar pool heating: Using solar panels, you can heat your swimming pool.

How Solar Power Saves the World

One of the biggest benefits of solar powered systems, both in the short term and in the long term, is the reduction of environmental impact. As a renewable, clean energy, solar power can significantly reduce your household’s production of pollution and harmful greenhouse gases. Find out how a solar power system protects natural resources and the environment with benefits not just for individual owners, but local communities and even the world.

  • Solar power is a renewable resource: We can’t make more oil. Eventually, it will run out. But the sun will never run out — and if it does, we have more problems to worry about than powering our homes! Solar power is a renewable resource that can be used over and over again without depletion. The sun provides us with an inexhaustible energy supply that is more than enough to power the world — if we harness it.
  • Solar power creates no pollution: Burning oil to create energy releases CO2 and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In fact, the production of electricity is responsible for more than one third of U.S. global warming emissions. But unlike burning fuel, the sun shines whether we use it for power or not, and harnessing solar power does not release any pollution into the air.
  • The sun can power the world: When properly harnessed and stored, just one hour of energy from the sun could power the entire global population for a year.
  • Renewable energy improves public health: Coal and natural gas plants produce air and water pollution that is harmful to human health. It has been linked to cancer, heart attacks, neurological damage, and breathing problems. But replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as solar power can reduce premature mortality as well as overall health care costs.
  • Solar power protects natural resources: While fossil fuel production, particularly hydraulic fracking, requires significant water resources and causes water pollution, solar energy requires little to no water to operate. That means solar power does not pollute water resources, and it also doesn’t put a strain on the world’s water supply.
  • Solar power works during drought or heat wave: Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power use large amounts of water for cooling. During heat waves or severe droughts as we’ve experienced in recent years, that means electricity generation is at risk. But solar power systems do not require water to generate electricity.
  • Solar power creates jobs in clean energy: Fossil fuel technologies often rely primarily on mechanical components, but creating solar energy is more labor intensive. Solar installation, manufacturing, and sales can provide jobs for thousands of workers — potentially hundreds of thousands.

How Solar Power Saves You Money

Solar power is a good investment, not just for the future of the environment, but for your financial health. With a good return on investment, long term benefits, and significant options for cost reduction, a solar power system for your home could be one of the smartest financial moves you can make. Even experts consider solar power systems to be a good long term investment, as it not only offers an energy cost savings, but can protect against energy cost fluctuations and add value to your home.

  • Annual energy costs can be in the thousands: The average annual energy expenditure per person is $3,052, including transportation and residential energy. Solar power can reduce or eliminate a significant portion of that expenditure for 20 years or more.
  • Solar power offers long term savings: After the initial investment, it costs practically nothing to harness the power of the sun, but oil continues to get more expensive by the day. Most owners of solar systems will see a savings of at least $1,000 per year — that’s about $20,000 over 20 years!
  • Many households significantly reduce or eliminate their electric bill: Depending on your electricity needs and the size of the solar system you choose to install, you may be able to completely eliminate your electric bill. But even if you still need some traditional electricity, solar power will enable you to significantly reduce your electric costs.
  • Solar panels significantly improve your resale value: Home buyers understand what a home with solar power means to them — especially because the system is already in place and they didn’t have to make the initial investment and installation. Research shows that most home owners will see a $5,911 resale value increase per installed kilowatt. That means if you install a 3.1 kilowatt system, you could improve your home’s resale value by nearly $18,000.
  • The cost of solar energy continues to drop: While the cost of fossil fuel energy car vary depending on the day, even the hour, solar power costs continue to fall. Since 2011, the average price of a solar panel has dropped by nearly 60%. As more solar power systems are installed, the cost of creating solar power technology will continue to become less expensive.
  • Major tax credits are available: Thanks to the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, home owners can take a credit for installing solar power systems until December 2016. This credit allows tax payers to claim a credit of 30% for qualified expenditures for their system, including labor, assembly, installation, and more.
  • States offer solar energy incentives as well: In addition to federal tax credits, many home owners find that there are significant incentives in their state. Many states and municipalities offer rebates of $1,500 or more home owners who have installed a solar power system. Learn more about state incentives for renewable energy in the Databse of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
  • Solar power offers savings from day one: With solar purchase power agreements (known as PPAs), as well as solar leasing, many home owners are able to start enjoying solar power with no initial investment. Typically, agreements or financing options make it possible to pay as you go, paying the solar provider for electricity instead of the utility company. For home owners who purchase solar power systems outright, most are able to pay off the system within ten years and see monthly savings in electricity costs in as little as five years.
  • Solar power can add up to real savings: Visit the Lennox Solar Calculator to see approximately how much you can save by using solar power for your home.
  • Solar power can generate income: If you’re able to produce more solar power than your home can use, you can export power to the grid. This can cause your electrical meter to run backward — and in some cases, utility providers may pay you for electricity. This is what’s known as a “net metering” plan.

Unique Features of Solar Energy

In addition to major environmental and energy cost benefits, solar energy offers several unique features that make it an extremely attractive option for many home owners, especially those concerned with energy security and independence. Unique benefits of solar power include:

  • Low maintenance: Solar energy panels require very little maintenance. After solar panels are installed, there is only basic yearly maintenance and cleaning to keep them in good working order. Solar cells have no moving parts, and they stand up well against damage.
  • Consistent and constant power source: We know that every day the sun will rise and set — and we even know when it will happen. We can even predict weather and seasonal sunlight projections, so it’s easy to forecast when power will be plentiful. And often, the sun shines when we need power the most, with most of our electricity consumed when the sun has risen.
  • Energy security: For homes on the electricity grid, electricity costs are tied to energy prices, which may fluctuate due to market, supply, and even political influences. Traditional electricity homes may also be subject to blackouts and power failures. But the sun answers to no one and it’s available with no limits, offering superior energy security to those who harness its power.
  • Energy independence: The sun shines whether we’re at war or in peace. This offers energy independence. While oil reserves may run out, the sun never will.
  • Silent operation: Unlike noisy generators and power plants, solar panels make no noise as they create energy from the sun.
  • Low space requirements: Solar panels do not require much space, and they can be mounted almost anywhere. Most homeowners decide to mount on rooftops, where space is often wasted and it’s easy to get sunshine.
  • Roof protection: It’s important that your roof is in good condition when your solar panels are installed, but keep in mind that your solar panels may offer a level of protection. Panels will cover the roof from weather, heat, and sunlight, and some homes may find that areas directly below the installed solar panels have better insulation and remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • Off grid living options: In some remote areas, it is extremely expensive (and potentially cost prohibitive) to tap into the electrical power grid. With solar power systems that use a battery backup, home owners can get power off grid, saving money and eliminating the need for local electrical utilities.
  • Solar panels are built to last: Most solar panels should last for about 25 years — and may even outlast your roof!
  • Solar energy system inverters often last 10 years or more: While solar inverters don’t last as long as the panels themselves, they typically have a usable life span of about 10 years or more.

Is Solar Power Right for You?

Solar powered electrical systems are a feature that every home owner should consider. The benefits are incredible, particularly the cost savings and impact on the environment. However, there are certain factors that can make homes ideal (or not) for installing a solar power system. Consider these factors when deciding whether or not you should have a solar power system installed in your home:

  • You own your home: It’s best if you own your home, as renters are not likely to be able to install solar panels.
  • Your roof has a face without too much shade: An East, West, or South facing roof is important to getting enough sunlight for power. It’s best if you have one or more facing options without a lot of shade covering. Homes with a roof that is about 45 degrees of South will be able to generate the most electricity.
  • Your roof is in good condition: Solar panels often last 25 years or more. Roofs can last that long as well, but aged roofs may need to be accessed before the solar panels are ready to be replaced as well. This can make repairing or replacing an old roof more difficult. If you’re planning to install a solar panel system and it’s time to update your roof, consider getting a new roof at the same time.
  • You have an asphalt shingle roof: It can be difficult to install solar panels on roof types including shake and Spanish tile. They will require more effort to install and can add to your cost of installation.
  • You live in a state with protected solar access rights: Some home owner’s associations can make it difficult for home owners to install solar power panel systems, either outright forbidding the use of solar panels, or placing significant restrictions on how they are installed. But many states, including New Hampshire, Minnesota, Utah, New Mexico, and California, have solar power access rights defined, which can protect your ability to install solar power panels as needed.
  • You have significant energy bills: Home owners that have high energy usage will often see the most benefits from investing in a solar power system.

Photo by Flickr user yuval_y