What you didn’t know about solar panels:
How much do you know about solar energy? Let’s break it down to the basics. Two main types of solar technology exist as of today: photovoltaics (PV), which generates electric power by capturing sunlight, and concentrated solar power (CSP), which uses the sun’s heat to generate thermal energy (to power heaters or turbines, for example). If that sounds like technical jargon, just know that solar PV systems are the way to go when it comes to home solar energy since they are most popular in residential settings.
A recent North Carolina State University survey polled the 50 biggest cities in the U.S. and found that homeowners who invested in a 5,000-watt (5kW) solar PV system saved an average of $44–$187 per month during the first year they owned the system. When we say solar panels save you money, we’re not kidding. Customers living in the midwest and on the east coast save about $60–$80 each month, and some customers in the southwestern states save up to $200 every month! It’s clear by the numbers that homeowners across the country are saving heaps of money on their energy bills thanks to solar panels.
So why aren’t more people going solar? And how can solar panels save you money?
Let’s start with the way they look. Solar panels get a bad reputation for looking out-of-place, unsightly, and sometimes too futuristic on the average home. Homeowners want curb appeal and charm—giant, dark panels on the roof can completely destroy that warm, homely appearance.
Solar panels came out ahead of their time. On one hand, it’s a good thing there is a wave of young, Millennial home buyers who desire minimalist characteristics that are modern, sleek, and simple, like clean lines and smart-home technological capabilities. For home buyers like these, solar panels are looking more and more relevant. On the other hand, you’ve got incredible pioneers like Tesla’s Elon Musk, who’s designed the Solar Roof made of up energy-capturing shingles in three cozy styles. Now that looks more like it!
Note that if you have an HOA, you should check the bylaws before you get in too deep. We wouldn’t want you to go through the process of buying and installing only to receive a notice from your HOA that they’re not allowed.
Just like any other technology, solar panels are evolving and improving in form and function. They’re looking thinner and less obtuse—more attractive to the picky homeowner. And while they’re improving in aesthetic, they’re also advancing in technology. Engineers are working on increasing solar cell efficiency, which describes how well a solar panel can convert the sun’s rays into electricity. Now, homeowners can and should opt for solar panels with higher efficiency ratings, because a high-efficiency solar panel can produce more electricity than a lower-efficiency panel of the same size, when existing under the same conditions.
Most solar panels are only 14–18% efficient, but the best solar panels will peak around 22% efficiency. Those numbers may seem low, but for a solar panel, that’s extremely efficient. If you’re doing research on solar panels, efficiency numbers will always be low because of the laws of physics—you can’t harness 100% of the sun’s rays using photovoltaics. That’s why the maximum amount of sunlight that PV solar systems can capture is about 33.7%, making 22% efficiency pretty sweet.
A little education on the advancements being made in the appearance and technology of solar panels and perhaps more homeowners would consider them… Unless they’re too expensive.
The truth is, electricity isn’t getting any cheaper and homeowners all over the country are looking for ways to save money on utilities. We already know that people in some places in the U.S. are saving $40–$200 every month by switching to solar power. So how do we get more homeowners on board?
The problem is that many homeowners automatically assume that buying solar panels will be outrageously expensive and installing them will be a huge hassle. But that’s just not the case anymore. As demand for solar panels has increased, their cost has decreased. In fact, since 1998, the cost of solar panels on the average American home has dropped by nearly 70%. And you don’t have to install them yourself. There are many acclaimed companies across the country who will give you a quote and install them on your roof just like any other paid service.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and buy solar panels, but you can’t afford them outright, don’t stress. Although up-front purchase gives you the instant payback of lower energy bills and no interest fees, financing for solar panels exists! And some companies will even let you take out a loan for your solar panels with no up-front costs.
If the affordability factor isn’t compelling enough, the tax incentives should be. The Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit program is a government program that allows American homeowners with solar panels to claim a qualified Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) of 30%! All you have to do is fill out a form and see if you qualify.
If you’re a first-time home buyer, your real estate agent can probably connect you with information about solar companies that other residents in the area have used, and give you information about solar energy tax incentives available to you for your desired home. Plus, using a simple Google search, all the reputable solar companies in your area will have the form on their site for you to fill out and see if your home qualifies.
Not only can solar panels save you money, make you eligible for tax incentives, and increase the value of your home, solar energy is one of the cleanest forms of energy in the world. And looking at the long-term benefits of switching to solar, it might be a wise financial investment for you and your family.