Going Solar in the Suburbs

Anybody can benefit from harnessing solar power

Posted by Steve Graham | Sep 01, 2009
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Solar panels aren't just for off-grid survivalists. There are many reasons to harness solar energy to replace traditional forms of energy. The environmental reasons are obvious. Petroleum, coal and other fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are causing catastrophic global warming. Even those who argue humans are not causing global warming should understand fossil fuel supplies are finite. Costs will increase, and the struggle to maintain consistent supplies of petrol will continue to threaten national security.There are several personal reasons, even though they may be less evident. Several assumptions about solar power, particularly in suburban areas, are exaggerated or false.

Solar is Affordable

The top arguments against installing solar panels are always financial. For a large, comfortable suburban home, the price tag may seem steep. However, costs are dropping, and incentives and cheaper alternatives are available. Meanwhile, the payback time for a solar electric system shrinks as costs rise for natural gas and electricity, which is mainly generated in coal-fired power plants.

In 1982, solar electric panels cost $27 per watt generated. In 2009, a company developed panels that cost $1 per watt , and the average is below $3. Solar thermal systems are far less expensive. They use a different type of solar panels to directly heat hot water rather than indirectly generate electricity.

The federal government offers a tax credit for up to 30 percent of a solar electric or thermal system, and many other rebates and credits are available through states, cities and utility companies. Several countries and U.S. states require power companies to pay homeowners for feeding solar electricity into the grid if they produce more solar power than they use. Homeowners also can refinance their homes to include the cost of a solar array in their mortgages, which can be instantly profitable in some cases.

Solar Works in Any State

Residential solar panels are not restricted by geography. Even in suburban Seattle or other cloudy areas, solar arrays will generate electricity or hot water throughout the year. Germany is the world's largest solar electric market despite a less-than ideal climate.

Solar Can Provide Partial Power

Many homeowners are quickly overwhelmed by the cost estimates for replacing all their electric use with solar electric generation. However, a smaller system will still save money and help the environment. Most systems in residential areas are connected to the electric grid, offering backup energy when needed, and providing refunds when solar panels generate excess power.

You Won't Be Alone

Another concern is upsetting neighbors. As the green movement spreads, solar power will become ever more popular, and solar panels can significantly increase home values. It won't be long before other black panels appear among the shingles in a neighborhood. Some homeowners' associations bar solar panels, but several states forbid such restrictions. As of August 2009, there were two proposals for similar federal laws.

Take Solar with You

Finally, there are many other solar options. Solar power is an efficient option for recreational vehicles and motor homes. RVs use direct current, so solar power doesn't lose any energy in converting to alternating current. An RV with solar panels also can be parked anywhere because it doesn't need a generator or electric hookup.

Another cheap, efficient option is a small solar thermal system to heat a pool.

Several assumptions about residential solar power in suburban areas need to be dispelled. Solar electric and solar thermal systems are financially attractive and effective anywhere.

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