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Is Solar Power For You? – 10 Tips To Help You Decide

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Is Solar Power For You? – 10 Tips To Help You Decide

Are you concerned about climate change and its disastrous effects on the environment? If you live in the USA, you will no doubt be aware of the Climate Change government plan to combat climate change and move forward to renewable and safer energy. Safer for everybody so that by 2030, there will be 90,000 fewer cases of child asthma and there will be 3,600 fewer premature deaths. Wherever you live, climate change is, according to the United Nations, happening right now and is affecting people’s lives, their health and economic development.

“We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
– President Obama

One of the most affordable and accessible ways of saving on energy bills is to install solar panels on your home. If you live in the US, you are in good company as over 700,000 homes now have solar panels. Here are 10 tips to help you decide if this is the right option for you. Is it really affordable and is it going to save you money?

1. Look at your roof first

We are talking long term here. Given that most solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years, look carefully at your roof and ensure that it is in good condition. The last thing you want is to replace your roof when you already have solar panels installed! That would be a major expense.

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2. Look at your energy bills

You may well be getting cheap electricity if you live near a hydro-electric dam so that is another thing to consider. If you live in a more remote area, there may be considerable savings on the bills. You also need to consider cutting back on your electricity consumption, whatever option you go for. A good guide is to try and get your number of kilowatt-hours (kw-hrs) down by keeping an eye on your bills. The latest estimate of 11,000 kw-hrs per month for the average American household has been published by the US Energy Information Administration.

3. Every roof is different

If you think your solar energy bills will be much lower, bear in mind that a lot will depend on the weather in your area. You also have to consider which direction the house is facing and also the angle of the roof itself. Obviously, if you have southern exposure that is an advantage. You also have to consider obstacles such as trees and high chimneys which will affect shading.

A good way of evaluating the exposure before consulting a company is to take up to 5 photos of the south facing area during the day. Ideal times are early morning, mid morning, midday, mid afternoon and late afternoon at around 5.p.m. When you compare the photos, you may spot one tree that is causing shading at times. This will give you a good idea of how efficient your solar energy will be and what yields to expect.

4. You have other options

If your roof is not suitable for some of the reasons mentioned above, why not think about having a ground mounting option? Most companies will look at whether there is a possibility to avoid shifting shade by moving the installation a few feet in one or other direction? Certainly, the ground mounting option could give you greater flexibility here.

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5. How much sunshine is there?

This depends on where you live. If you are in Alaska or the Great Lakes, there is not much sun exposure. The western and southern states do much better while the northeastern and upper northwest states get reasonable exposure during spring, summer and fall. If you live in a country with a rather cloudy climate, remember that the latest cutting edge panels can also generate a little electricity, even on gloomy days.

But it is not just sun exposure that makes solar energy so viable. Much will depend on government policies, cash and tax incentives and a host of other factors as you can see from the list of the top countries in the world which are harnessing this wonderful energy source.

6. Get information on incentives

If you live in the USA, you can get up to 30% tax credit for choosing solar energy for your home. However, you will have to apply before the end of 2016. If you live in the UK, you should be aware that the government is going to cut back the feed-in tariff by 87% (from Jan.2016) which means that your investment will earn you £8,000 less over a 20 year period. The feed-in tariff is where you sell back your excess energy into the national grid.

7. Think about insurance

One great thing about solar panels is that they require very little maintenance. If the panels are damaged in a storm, you may be covered by your home insurance. You would need to check with your insurer and probably have to increase the insurance sum and premium accordingly.

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8. Consider your purchase options

If you are not interested in actually buying the panels or getting tax relief for that, you can reach an agreement whereby you lease the equipment from the company. This is in many ways similar to a car leasing agreement. You do not need to worry about installation costs and you agree to pay on a monthly basis.

Another possibility is a power purchase agreement (PPA) where again you do not actually own the panels and you are only charged for the amount of solar power you use. Most companies will just give you one overall bill so there are no transaction costs. No installation costs make this a popular choice.

9. Consider the implications for selling your property

If you are thinking of moving house within the next few years, solar energy may not be a wise option. The big investment you make will not immediately affect the value of your property.

If you do opt for solar, your property may become more attractive for buyers who like the idea of a home generating clean energy which is economical.

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On the other hand, the aesthetic aspect of your home may be negatively affected by ugly panels and you may be forced to reduce the price.

10. Look for a reputable company

You will be looking for well established companies who use top quality materials like those listed on the Find Solar Power site. You will have a whole list of questions when you request a quote. These will include the full installation costs, purchase options, length of warranty (20-25 years), feed-in tariffs, tax reductions, cost of inverters which can switch from your own system to using the grid when your demand exceeds the energy you have generated.

Finally, if you are nearing pension age, solar power energy could be an excellent choice because energy bills will become an increasingly costlier item.

If you do decide to opt for solar, just think that you are reducing your carbon footprint by 35,180 pounds a year. If you had to repair all that environmental damage, you would have to plant 88 trees every year for the rest of your life!

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Featured photo credit: Solar panels/David Marsh via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

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