Home solar power systems have been around long enough that the technology has earned kudos for reliability. Some homeowners have actually zeroed out their energy costs and, in some states, are selling energy back to the power companies.
Prices on systems have dropped in the last five years as manufacturers found more economic means for producing silicon cells. And more and more qualified solar installation contractors are joining the workplace. But is the system for you?
Green home improvement with solar
Incentives can be huge if you live in a region of the country suited for solar. The California's Pacific Gas and Electric Company claims that by installing a 4kw Photovoltaic (PV) system, you'll cut your carbon emissions by as much released during 12,000 miles of automobile driving.
PV installations in the United States are still fourth in the world behind Spain, Germany and Japan. According to The California Solar Initiative, the Golden State leads the county with 33,000 residential systems out of the nation's 48,000 completed home set-ups.
Site alignment key to success
Solar panels must be expertly oriented to collect the amount of energy to power your home. Key orientation is on roofs or other support structures (poles, ground arrays) that face south. According to National Geographic researchers, the panels may face up to 45 degrees to the west or east without dramatically impeding collection.
Taking first steps in residential solar
Before you investigate equipment and installation costs, you'll need to conduct a home energy audit. Solar contractors can help you determine your energy use habits, your requirements and capability for solar. Depending on your region, costs are currently around $9 -$10/watt.
Of course, if you complete other energy efficiency projects - replacement windows, insulation, weather-stripping, and low-energy appliances - you'll drive down the total number of panels you'll need, further reducing the system costs.
Many states have incentive programs for installing solar panels for home use. You may find income tax credits offered by your state where you live or sales tax exemptions for buying and installing a system. There are property tax incentives in 32 states. New York State will exclude 100 percent of home improvements using solar from property taxes and California excludes 100 percent of property taxes on solar energy systems through 2016.