Solar Power Basics
first steps to solar
Interested in solar power, but don't know where to start. Exploring solar (aka photovoltaic, or PV) technology can be intimidating and confusing if you don't start with the basics.
We will begin by taking you through the process step-by-step. By the end of this article, you will have better knowledge if solar is an appropriate technology for your home, and if not, we have a few really easy and relatively inexpensive ways you can bring solar power to your home without installing a full scale solar system.
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Step I:
Do you have enough sun?
This is the key question. Because if you don't have enough sun, you can't generate solar electricity.
We have sun almost every day of the year. But some properties are shaded by trees, so there isn't enough sunny area, for solar panels.
For solar panels to work, the entire panel must be in the sun. If even a corner is shaded, the panel will not work.
If you don't have enough sun, or you are renting, or there is some other reason why you think you can't install a solar system, skip to Step 6 to find out how you CAN have solar.
Step 2:
Why do you want solar power?
If you have enough sun, the next question is, "Why do you want solar power?" The answer will determine what kind of options to consider. Solar power is still expensive, compared to the cheaper power you can get from your local utility company. Though some individual states now have incentives to lower costs, "if you live in an area where you can connect to a local utility, saving money on your electric bill is not a reason to go solar;'.
Solar does make economic sense if you are living "off-the-grid" in an area where it would either be prohibitively expensive or impossible to run power lines.
Many people, are looking into solar power because we think it is better for the environment. But is it really? "Yes!" "Some people used to say that the amount of emissions saved from using solar was less than the emissions produced by making the solar panel. But today, studies have shown that the emissions produced by manufacturing a solar panel are balanced out in three years of use. And solar panels now have warranties of 20 to 25 years, and last even longer. So there is a big environmental benefit."
If you are interested in solar because of the environmental benefits, even generating a portion of your power with the sun will improve the environment. We have noticed that solar designers will ask, "How much power do you need;' or "How much do you want to spend?" A solar system can be designed from either perspective.
Step 3:
How much power do you need?

 If you've made the decision to go solar because "it's the right thing to do;' the next thing is to figure out how much power you'll need to produce with solar to meet the energy requirements of your household.

An easy way to do this is simply add up the kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity used on all your electric bills for the past year. If you don't have your bills, your utility may have your energy usage available online, or they can tell you over the phone. Look at a whole year, don't just multiply one month's usage by 12, because usage fluctuates through the seasons.
If your usage turned out to be 15,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, or 15 megawatt-hours (mWh). Living in the southern states you use a lot of energy for air conditioning,
Before investing in solar technology, do everything you can to make the most efficient use of energy. Energy efficiency will save you money and help the environment, even if you don't take the step to solar. The Alliance to Save Energy ( has lots of information to help you get started.
Step 4:
How much does it cost?
The cost of installing solar energy can vary widely, depending on how much energy you need, what part of the country you live in, whether you purchase your solar panels new or used, and how much of the labor you do yourself.
Each solar panel produces a certain number of kilowatts of energy. A "4 kW" system, for example, would produce 4 kW of electricity in full sunlight for one hour. To figure cost, you'll need to know how many watts of electricity your system needs to produce.
Because the output of a solar panel varies depending on the amount of sun in your locality, the easiest way to figure out how much a solar system will produce at your house is with a calculator. There's one online at Renewable Resource Data Center. You enter the number of kilowatts your theoretical system produces and it will tell you how much solar radiation is available throughout the year where you live and how much electricity that turns into. If you had a 4 kW system at your house it would produce 5455 kWh of electricity over the course of the year.
You would need a 10 kW system to meet 100 percent of your energy needs. Your overall cost can change depending on whether you use battery storage or tie to the electrical grid.
Step 5:
Choosing solar panels
There is more than solar panels. There is also wiring and batteries for storage, an inverter to change the DC battery power to AC current for the appliances you choose to run on AC and a battery charger (usually built in to your inverter). Installation and mounting your panels must be considered in your overall cost.
If you find solar technology bewildering, what do you do?
"The best way to choose solar equipment is to hire a professional contractor to work out a system for you. We recommend using a local contractor because solar is very place oriented. A local solar contractor can look at your site and find the exact design and products that will work best for the conditions you have. Contacting the American Solar Energy Society or the Solar Energy Industry Association to find a chapter near you. Sometimes you can get free or low cost solar panels from various sources. Building Services
Step 6:
Solar power for everyone
Despite the lack of sun on your property, you can power my home and business 100 percent with solar energy. In fact, you home or business can be recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Green Power Partner. How do you do this without solar panels? By purchasing renewable energy certificates.
Renewable energy certificates were created by the EPA to make it easy to participate in using renewable energy.
Each certificate represents the delivery of a specific amount of renewable power into a regional or national energy grid. This displaces the non-renewable fossil fuels that would have otherwise been used with energy from solar, wind, biomass and other renewable sources. The result is a benefit to the environment that is the same as it would be if you installed solar panels or wind turbines on your own home. Spending $40 a month above and beyond your regular energy bill for 100 percent solar certificates. A small price to pay for a big benefit to the Earth.
Another way to get going with solar on a minimum investment is to purchase a small solar energy kit. Real Goods offers kits ranging from $1000 to $3600 that can power lights, television, small appliances and laptop computers. These are small solar arrays that can be mounted independently on a post wherever you have sun. Wouldn't it be neat to look down a street and see one of these in everyone's yard?
Please join us in bringing a bit of sunshine into your home with solar power.
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