Most people understand the basics of solar power – mostly that you can produce power entirely from the sun’s rays shining upon a silicon wafer. Solar power is ubiquitous in our society and you can find it on everything from calculators to massive photovoltaic (PV) arrays on the roofs of commercial buildings.
Still, most homeowners who want to add solar power to their homes face an extremely cost prohibitive path. You see, what most solar vendors recommend when you are looking at solar power is to grab a copy of your power bill, and find the monthly kilowatt hour (kWh) number you use. Basically, they figure that by finding out how much power you use on a monthly basis, they can determine the size of the solar array you will need to run your home off solar. Usually, they ask you a question like “how much of your home do you want to run on solar power”, and the response is almost always… all of it, which leads us to some serious problems.
The very first thing to consider about PV arrays is that retrofitting them to an existing home will almost always result in extra expense and more power than you actually need. This is because your home has been designed to run off of grid power. The power companies happily planned for you to run multiple hundred watt incandescent lights in each room, and use fat, bloated, energy wasting appliances, for which they would gladly charge you for all the power you needed. But guess what – if you want to take your current power bill and replace it with 100% free solar energy, you can bet that the acquisition and installation of the PV system will be anything but free. In fact, the average American home uses 1000 kWh worth of power per month, and a decent contractor installed array to cover this will cost your something like $30-50K, even after government rebates. It’s just really, really expensive.
This is usually the point where would be solar buyers get turned off. They look at their monthly power bill, and decide that it’s cheaper to simply pay it monthly than throw down a big wad on solar. In most cases, a solar install will pay for something like a decade of power if you were to give it to the power company every month.
Consider these points before going solar, or even thinking about solar
The main point solar buyer miss is a simple one – they need to reduce their home’s power consumption before they consider solar. This has nothing to do with being green or overly environmental, it has to do with money, plain and simple. Trying to tailor a solar power system to the current loads in your home is like trying to custom make a suit of clothes for a morbidly obese person that weighs 400 pounds. Sure, it can be done, but why not cut the fat out with a good diet, then shop for normal clothes?
The same principle applies with your home. Before you go solar, consider:
- Totally rethinking your lighting plan to include all energy efficient lights
- Taking a good hard look at your refrigerator and clothes dryer, two of the most energy hungry appliances in your home, and considering replacing them. Buying a new dryer and fridge will ALWAYS be cheaper than buying more solar panels.
- Rigidly enforcing wall plug in and light discipline. If it isn’t being used, it’s unplugged or shut off.
- Relentlessly finding and eliminating all air leaks from the home
- Adding extra insulation to the home
- Replacing old windows with newer multi paned units
Even a mild power conservation plan can save you big money on your power bill, and also cause you to require fewer solar panels to run the home. The fewer panels you need to run the home, the less they will cost, and the faster they will recoup their investment, meaning the calculation as to whether to pay the power company or invest in solar shifts more so in favor of solar.
Bottom line: don’t consider solar if you aren’t willing to first reduce the power consumption in your home, unless you like burning money.