Planning Your Solar PV System
Harness the power of the sun by going solar. Photo Credit: rightee
Installing a new solar photovoltaic (PV) system is no small investment, so a good amount of planning is a must. Even if it feels like a lot of work, it will stand as a rather small amount of time against 30 years of clean and free electricity. Add to that the current boost homeowners can expect from upgraded federal tax incentives, plus the possibility of lucrative state incentives as well. Quickly it becomes evident that this is a great time to get planning.
Step 1: Determining Electricity Consumption
Two important factors in determining the size of your solar PV system are solar potential and energy consumption. Electricity consumption gets the first nod because most homes can do with at least a bit more conservation. The less electricity your family uses on a daily basis, the smaller system you’ll need and/or the more money your system will save on a monthly basis. A good first step is to improve your home’s energy efficiency. If you are unsure how to go about it, consider a home energy audit, which will help determine weak spots in the home—insulation, doors, and windows, etc.—that should be addressed in preparation for a solar electric system.
Step 2: Solar Potential
The next step is to determine your home’s solar potential. Everything from available hours of sunlight each day to square footage of south-facing roof space will have an impact. Most solar installers will do a free site analysis that will analyze and address these issues. It could make the difference between a rooftop or a ground mount system, the size of your system, and the amount of electricity you can expect to obtain from the sun.
Step 3: How Many Panels?
Knowing your energy consumption and solar potential makes determining the number of solar panels you’ll need, at least approximately, rather simple (your solar contractor will be able to iron out any details). If you know how much of your grid electricity you are hoping to supplement with solar electricity, that is a big help as well. If you are planning to get off the grid then now is the time to figure how big your battery bank will need to be as well
Step 4: Cost of the System
Initial cost is the single biggest question in the solar industry. It has long been the number one impediment to widespread solar rooftops. Thankfully states and the federal government have stepped in to offer rebates and incentives that can potentially cut the real system cost in half. So determining the cost of your solar PV system is not as simple as reading the bottom line of an installer’s estimate. However, solar contractors are more than aware of available incentives and rebates and will gladly help determine the overall cost of the system as well as projected monthly savings. There are also many solar financing options that may factor incentives in, lowering the financing amount and removing the burden of raising several thousand dollars up front.
Step 5: Installation
You now know how much electricity you use, your solar system’s expected performance (which in some states may determine your rebate amount), and you have an estimation of how much it will cost you. You will also by now have interviewed and hired a solar contractor who will now show up in your driveway to really get things started. Because solar installation is such a technical affair, your contractor will be vital in the planning process. While there are several online tools to aid you in planning your PV system, nothing can substitute for personal energy awareness and the solar professional knocking on your door.
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