For years California has been the leader in finding alternate ways to generate electricity and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Homeowners who are looking to lower electric bills and reduce their carbon footprint are increasingly harnessing the power of the sun to heat and cool their homes. Whether your goal is to save money and make your home more energy efficient, or to do more to protect the environment, there are many options for providing solar power to your home.
Basics of residential solar
Solar power is generated by photovoltaic (PV) cells, which capture the sun’s energy and converts it to electricity. The PV cells, made up of semiconductors, absorb the power by sucking in sunlight. Because the electricity created by PV cells is direct current (DC) and homes use alternating currents (AC), solar systems include an inverter to convert the DC current into AC currents. There are three main types of solar systems for providing electricity to homes: grid-tie, off-grid, and grid tie with battery backup. A grid tie system supplements electricity, but keeps your home connected to the electric company. Any unused solar-generated electricity is returned to the power grid. An off-grid system works well for rural homes as it includes a battery for storing electricity. A grid tie with battery backup produces its own energy, but has a backup system that can supplement the electric company in the event of a power outage. In addition to providing your home with alternative energy, solar power can also be used for heating your home and pool water, as well as for outside lighting and garden décor.
Most homeowners think of solar panels when they think of using solar power for providing electricity to their homes. Solar panels can be attached directly to the roof or onto frames, or they can be mounted on the ground. The best candidates for solar panels are homes with an open roof space that faces south, west, or southwest where there is minimal shade. The cost of solar panels varies depending on roof size and how much energy will be needed to power your home, but on average homeowners may spend $10,000-50,000 to install a grid-tie system. There are federal and state incentives available for converting to solar power, which can save the homeowner as much as 50 percent of the upfront costs. In addition, the return-on-investment is quite high, since the solar systems require little maintenance, lasts on average 25 years, and can increase the value of the home by 7-20 percent.
Solar water heater
Solar water heaters are another great option for homeowners looking to convert their homes to solar energy. They are safe, reliable, efficient, and do not pollute the environment. There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which has circulating controls and pumps to transfer the water from a collector to a storage tank, and passive, which has no moving parts and works on the principle of convection. Solar water heater systems cost between $1,500 and $3,500, but federal tax credits are available. Homeowners can generally see savings of up to 50 percent in hot water heating costs. Additionally, the annual operating cost of a solar water heater is much lower than a standard water heater. The life expectancy is twice as long and they can increase the home’s value.
Solar power for the pool and garden
Solar energy can also be used to heat your pool and extend swimming season up to three months. Options for heating your pool with solar power range from automated solar covers to solar panels that can be attached to the ground or the roof of the home. Costs vary depending on the type of system and installation needs, with the average solar pool heating system running $3,000-4,000. Even if you can’t afford solar panels, it is still possible to benefit from the sun’s energy to add beauty to your landscape. Solar yard lights are available in a variety of styles and are simple, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. Other solar yard décor options include solar-powered water fountains, address plates, and pool lights.
Karen Boruff is a freelance writer living in Sacramento. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.