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Solar Panel Systems - Is PV Really Worth It?
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Solar Panel Systems  -  Is PV really worth it?

I live in what is called The Valley of the Sun. As I'm writing this it is 112 degrees outside, and I'm not looking forward to walking out underneath the scorching sun. I think if all the rooftops were using solar panel systems to harness the power of the sun, we would be self sustainable from an energy standpoint. As of now, the majority of houses are still taking a solar beating and not getting anything back from it. Let's start off with one of the least obvious benefits of solar panels.

Shading the roof while using the sun

Solar panel kits typically are made up of stacks of mono-crystalline wafers organized in a rectangular shape and set in an array. The entire system is anchored to the house, and range from a few inches to several feet from the roof surface. By blocking the solar gain before it reaches the roof material, the inside temperature of the house won't rise as fast. saving on cooling costs. Also, the primary cause of roof degradation is from damage caused by UV rays. Being shaded by the panels during the hottest part of the day prolongs the life of the roofing materials.

System components and cost

So why are the homes in the Valley of the Sun not all oozing electricity? Aside from low solar panel efficiency, the main reason is that even simple solar panel kits require a significant out-of-pocket expense. Aside from the collectors and mounts, there is also a power inverter as well as the additional wiring and disconnect switches. It is advisable (probably required by your utility company) to have an experienced installer set up the system and test it... and make sure it is properly connected to the grid. Oh, and if you are curious about the need for batteries... they are generally not worth the trouble unless you are truly going off the grid. The entire solar setup expense often tops $10k+, and the break-even time (when the system has paid for itself) is still relatively long at 12 to 15 years. The main problem is that the majority of homeowners that would consider installing a system pack up and move every 5 to 7 years on average, so the long-term benefits aren't reached. Also, with the recent economic downturn fewer people actually own the house they live in.

Waiting for components to be affordable may cost more when tax breaks expire.

Utilities understand that the upfront expense is significant, and in addition to subsidizing the upfront cost, they are also allowing systems to be leased to the homeowner. As solar panel efficiency improves and there is more demand, the cost WILL come down. Keep in mind that the reason utilities are footing the bill and governments offer tax breaks is because they are trying to stimulate the market. When 'going solar' is the norm these benefits will expire.

When is Going Solar going to make sense (cents) for me?

The big question homeowners have is at what point does it make sense to bite the bullet and go for it? It will take some number crunching and intelligent guessing to decide when it is right for you. Some questions include:

  • How long will you live in the house?
  • How much are utility expenses expected to rise in the next 12 years?
  • Is your roof orientation suitable for the kind of capacity you hope to generate?
  • Do you intend to install a tracking system, or a fixed system?
  • Are you ready for a long-term commitment?

In conclusion, there are advantages to using solar panel for home energy generation, shading your home. and intelligently helping the environment. The only disadvantages are that they rarely enhance the aesthetics of the house and the payoff will be long-coming. But keep in mind that the value of your home will rise as well. Do some calculations and discover if not now... when is the right time?


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