Is Solar Energy Practical in the Home?

The woodlands, real estate, buying, selling, home, buyer, seller, courtney buie, solar energy, energy, fuel, electricity, alternativeRecently I was reading a book lent me by a friend called Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, and I was startled by this fact: “There’s over five thousand times more solar energy falling on the planet’s surface than we use in a year.” That’s how much we use total, all of our combined energy use regardless of source. With the right technology, it seems, solar power could theoretically solve all of humanity’s energy problems.

But it’s not that simple, as the book goes on to say. Even though we can measure and calculate those numbers, we don’t yet have the technology or funds to capture all of that solar energy. Solar panels and other instruments are not yet comparably priced to other forms of fuel, at least not in the short term. We aren’t currently at a place where solar energy can effectively replace fossil fuels.

But what about supplementing? After reading about that abundance of solar energy and thinking of the scary road of scarcity we’re headed down, I started thinking about whether or not there are feasible and meaningful ways to incorporate solar energy into the home. I did a bit of research, and I wanted to share what I found.

It’s All About Perspective

The benefits of solar energy, it seems, are far-reaching and long-term. The overall impact on the environment is less, public health suffers less, but depending on the system you install and many other factors it can take a few years to pay off on the investment. In a place like South Texas, solar energy is abundant and available, which means that cost would be alleviated much more quickly.

Installing solar energy panels or any other alternative energy system is an investment in your home’s future. Also, even though the return on investment probably wouldn’t be a high percentage, fitting your home to use some alternative energy will definitely make it stand out in any housing market. It lowers utility bills, at the very least, and makes a solid effort towards conserving energy and supporting more sustainable living, at most. Depending on the area in which you live, this could make a huge difference to buyers.

There Are Many Options

When rethinking your energy source, you actually have the opportunity to evaluate how connected you want to be to “the grid” and pre-existing electricity lines. Some systems let you go “off-grid” and be totally independent with your power. These are most practical in rural areas where sunshine is plentiful and the cost to extent power lines across long stretches of land is high. There are benefits to this, like independence from rolling blackouts and other outages. But in places like The Woodlands where everyone is already connected and the electricity system is reliable, staying “on-grid” is much more common. On-grid systems on reliable networks are also cheaper and tend to offer the best payback.

The goal of such a system is to offset some of your current electricity usage. So you aren’t totally overhauling your power source, just supplementing it. When connected to the grid, unused power returns to your provider to save or distribute so you don’t need to pay for a battery. The cost of such systems depends on how much power you want to cover with it, and how much “shade-free” space you have available. Panels can be installed on the roof, on the ground, or mounted on poles, and experts can consult you on the best option for you home. According to homepower.com, “Currently (early 2012), the cost per installed watt of residential PV systems ranges from $5 to $8, which includes everything—modules, inverter, disconnects, racking, wire, and conduit to taxes, shipping, installation labor, and permitting.” So it depends on how many watts you want. Also, there is a 30% federal tax credit for such installations, and many local governments offer additional incentives.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE; www.dsireusa.org) organizes incentive programs by state and program type, so you can look up any incentives in your area.

Think About It

It’s not an option for everyone. Solar panel installation requires a lot of cost up-front (although many companies let you pay in installments, kinda like a monthly energy bill…). But there are many options when thinking about ways to incorporate solar energy into your home (check out this list I found), and the cost is repaid long-term with lower energy bills and a clean conscience about your energy use. Not to mention making your home stand out in an increasingly competitive market and increasing energy costs.

For more information on solar energy in the home, check out homepower.com, a helpful guide.

Also, if you’re interested in the book that inspired this post, it’s called Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think and it’s written by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. I’m only a few chapters in, but it’s fascinating. Definitely recommend it.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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