Home Solar Electric Systems – Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about home solar electric systems? It is hard to imagine an easier, more convenient energy source that is renewable, cheap, and available in every part of the world. Yet, solar power is under-utilized and it looks like its full scale use is still many years off in the horizon. Most potential residential customers either do not or cannot consider it because of its installation costs. Let’s take a closer look at this alternative energy source that has the potential to minimize global warming and climate change problems.

What Is A Home Solar Electric System?
A home solar electric system converts the sun’s energy to electricity for use in the home. The system is fairly simple as it is made up of photovoltaic cells, an inverter, some gauges, electrical wiring, and in some cases batteries. Photovoltaic cells – PV cells – are contained in solar panels which are typically installed on the roof of the home. The inverter box is hung on the outside of the house with the rest of the electrical panels from the power company. The inverter box is connected to the home’s electrical system and acts like an electric traffic cop (for more info see below for How does a home solar system work).

How Does A Home Solar System Work?
I will try to keep this very simple. Energy from the sun hits the PV cells contained in solar panels which are typically installed on the roof of a home. When the sun hits the PV cells (which are made out of silicon) electrons in the silicon are released. They start to move and are channeled along in wires. The wires direct this flow of electrons, which is electricity, to the inverter box.
Once the electricity from the solar panels gets to the inverter box it is converted from DC current (which is like a current coming from a battery) to AC current (which is the electricity needed to power appliances and lights etc. in the home. Once the electricity is converted it is either directed into the home or back to the power company. It is directed into the home if someone in the home is using electricity. Or if the solar panels are producing enough electricity to supply the needs of the home and there is extra, then this extra is directed back to the power company.

Do I Have To Use Lower Watt Bulbs With A Home System?
No. You do not have to change a thing inside your home. The home solar electric system produces the same electricity that the power company delivers to your home. In fact, if your system produces more electricity than is needed in your home, you can “sell” back to your power company the excess electricity. Or, you can store the excess electricity in batteries for future use.

How Long Does A Home Solar System Last?
Surprisingly, these systems have very few moving parts and require very little maintenance. Because of this, they are guaranteed by most manufacturers for 20 years for the performance of the system. Inverters are guaranteed for less time, but still for up to 10 years in most cases. The life span of one of these systems is more like 30 years however.

Do I Need A Maintenance Contract To Keep The System Running?
Once it is installed, you pretty much can set it and forget it. There is some minor maintenance required, but these have mostly to do with keeping the panels clean. They rinse with water. You should however discuss with the company who you bought the system from what maintenance is required. Trust but verify here – always listen to the manufacturer for the upkeep and maintenance of any home appliance.

What Size System Will I Need For My Home?
Well, that depends. It depends on your goals, the size of your home, the size of the area where you can install solar panels, the cost of electricity in your area, and the amount of sun you get. All of these things work together to help you decide what size system you will need. When you decide to purchase a system, the company you are buying it from will help you determine what size system you should get.

What Does An Average System Cost?
Again, this is dependent on the size system that you ultimately decide to get. As of July 2008, these systems still are not too cheap to purchase and install. However, depending on what state you live in, what power company you have, you may be eligible for incentives and rebates as well as tax credits. Check out what is available in your area for these renewable energy incentives at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

What Are The Benefits Of Having A Solar System For My Home?

Knowing that you are doing something good for the environment by using clean, green, renewable energy.

Save money on your monthly electric bill

Be more independent from price hikes from your power company

Act like your own power company and be able to sell electricity back to your utility company

You can decide now or later to get a home solar electric system. Sadly,either way you slice it, you will be spending more money – we will all be spending more money. Power costs will continue to go up, or you will pay more for your system. However, over the long run, installing now might be cheaper than waiting. Oh, and you might be asking – do I have a system yet? The answer is no, I’m waiting for my hot water heater to be replaced which will be with a solar hot water system, and I drive a Toyota Prius.