Renewable energy statistics show that over 28% of the world is using renewable energy sources for electricity. Solar energy has become a popular and attainable renewable energy source for homeowners. With government incentives, tax cuts, and the rising costs of electricity, residential solar is taking off in the US. Not to mention the environmental impact.
In fact, in 2022 alone, enough solar panels were installed to power 22 million homes. Installing a home solar system reduces your electrical bills, gives you energy independence, and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But how do you get started? What are the different factors to consider? In this article, we will answer these questions and provide a clear path on how to choose the right residential solar energy system for your home.
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How Home Solar Systems Work
Home solar systems work by converting sunlight into electricity that can be used to power your home.
The process is simple enough. Solar panels are mounted on the roof or a structure on the ground. They contain solar cells made from semiconductor materials, typically silicon. When the sunlight hits these cells, the electrons begin moving rapidly, creating an electric current.
This current is in the form of direct current (DC). However, most household appliances and lights run on alternating current (AC). An inverter is used to convert the DC electricity into AC. Inverters also match the voltage and frequency required for safe use in your home.
The AC power is sent to your electrical panel, where it is distributed to power your home. If the solar system generates more electricity than you need, the excess energy can be sent back into the grid.
Net metering is a popular option that home solar system owners are taking advantage of today. It involves a bidirectional meter that measures energy consumed and excess energy created. The excess is credited to your account, thus reducing your electricity bills even further.
Assessing Your Home’s Energy Needs
Calculating your current energy consumption is one of the first steps to determining your energy needs. To do this, review your past utility bills – they will tell you your average monthly energy use. Once you understand your energy consumption patterns, you can determine what size solar system you will need.
Another factor to consider is your future energy requirements. Are you planning on purchasing any new appliances or adding an addition to your house? If so, consider those factors so your solar system can accommodate your needs in the long run.
You’ll also want to think about your energy goals and priorities. Are you primarily focused on one or a combination of the following factors:
Understanding your priorities will help guide decisions regarding system size, battery storage, and other components to meet your specific objectives.
Evaluating Your Home's Solar Potential
You’ll want to consider your location, climate, and available sunlight. Is your home completely covered by trees? Or in the shadow of a tall building? Think about how much direct sunlight your home receives.
Also, take into account the angle and direction of your roof. Roofs facing south generally receive the most sunlight, followed by east and west-facing roofs. Your roof's tilt angle affects the optimal positioning of solar panels.
You can calculate your available roof space by measuring your unobstructed roof areas. Do not measure sections with chimneys or other obstructions. This can give you a general estimate, but a qualified solar panel installer will do a more thorough and exact calculation during a consultation.
Choosing the Right Solar System for Your Home
There are three different types of solar homeowners can use:
Off-Grid Solar Systems
Off-grid solar systems are standalone solar energy setups that operate independently from the grid. They typically involve solar panels, batteries, and a backup generator. This setup allows homeowners to generate and store their own electricity.
Grid-Tied Solar Systems
Grid-tied systems are the most common type of residential solar system setups. They allow
homeowners to generate their own electricity from solar panels while remaining connected to the local utility grid.
This means you can pull it from the grid if your solar system doesn’t generate enough electricity to power your home. A key advantage of being connected to the grid is the option for net metering.
Grid-Tied Battery Backup Solar Systems
Grid-tied battery backup solar systems combine the features of grid-tied systems and off-grid systems. This hybrid option allows you to generate your own electricity from solar panels, store excess energy in batteries, and still be connected to the grid. This setup offers the most flexibility for home solar system owners.
Choosing the Right Solar Panels for Your Home
There are three main types of residential solar panels:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single silicon crystal structure. They have a uniform black appearance and perform well in direct sunlight, making them ideal for homeowners with limited roof space. Many homeowners prefer these due to their appearance, which can blend in with the roof.
Efficiency: High (18%+)
Lifespan: 25+ years
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are composed of multiple silicon crystals, offering a cost-effective option for home solar systems. They have a blue-speckled appearance and slightly lower efficiency compared to monocrystalline panels. However, they are still reliable and efficient in generating electricity, especially in regions with ample sunlight.
Efficiency: Medium (15%–17%)
Lifespan: 25+ years
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels can be composed of various materials, such as amorphous silicon, copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), or cadmium telluride (CdTe). They are flexible, lightweight, and have a uniform appearance.
While they tend to be less efficient than crystalline panels, thin-film panels perform better in low-light conditions. These solar panels are also suitable for unconventional applications such as curved surfaces or portable solar devices.
Efficiency: Low (11%–15%)
Lifespan: 10–20 years
Your solar panel installer can help guide you on which type of panel is ideal for your home. They will take into account efficiency and performance, as well as your home’s solar potential and energy consumption.
Solar panel warranties depend on the manufacturer. On average, product warranties range from 10–25 years and performance warranties range from 25–30 years.
Choosing the Right Inverter for Your Solar System
Inverters connect and convert energy from your solar panels to your home electrical system. Your solar installer will help you choose the right type of inverter compatible with your solar panels and system size. There are a few different types:
String inverters are the most commonly used in home solar systems. They are cost-effective and reliable, though their performance can be affected by shading or panel mismatch.
Microinverters are installed on each individual solar panel in a system, making them more expensive than string inverters. However, they offer several advantages.
With individual panel optimization, shading or panel mismatch has minimal impact on system performance. They also provide monitoring capabilities for each panel.
Power optimizers are similar to microinverters in that they are installed on each solar panel. They optimize the output of each panel by tracking and adjusting the maximum power point (MPP) voltage.
This type of system combines the benefits of panel-level optimization with the cost advantages of a string inverter. Power optimizers are generally more expensive than string inverters but less expensive than microinverters.
Solar Battery Storage Systems
Though battery storage systems are not necessary for home solar systems, they are becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to enhance energy resilience and optimize solar energy usage.
They provide energy independence by storing excess solar energy generated during the day for use during the night or during power outages, reducing reliance on the grid. These systems help homeowners reduce electricity bills and provide backup power during grid disruptions.
There are several types of battery systems, including lead-acid and lithium-ion. Your installer will take into account sizing and capacity requirements as well as your budget and goals.
Choosing the Right Solar System Installer
When researching a solar system installer, there are a few key factors to consider:
Look for a NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) Certification. This indicates the installer meets rigorous standards and possesses expertise in solar system design, installation, and maintenance.
Confirm that they are licensed by the state and potentially by specific solar panel manufacturers.
Of course, it never hurts to check references as well! Read their customer reviews and testimonials online from 3rd party sites.
Request quotes and compare offers. Make sure you compare similar system sizes and types in your quotes. Here are 10 questions to ask.