Factors To Consider Before Switching To Solar

j.m. raymond By j.m. raymond, 23rd Nov 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>DIY>Building & Remodeling

Before converting your house to solar, there are several items of note you need to consider.

Solar power

Converting your house to solar energy can be an idea that makes sense if you're looking to save some money on your monthly electric bills or if you are looking to reduce the amount of fossil fuels you consume. There are, however, some preliminaries and prerequisites.

First, let's clear up some of the terminology you will run into and get a quick overview.


An off-the-grid (OTG) system is just that; completely independent from the local, utility supplied electricity. It is self-contained and self-sufficient, utilizing ample battery storage capacity to power all of the electrical needs, sometimes for up to several days if the system is unable to generate due to unfavorable conditions.

A grid-tied (GT) system basically spins a customer's electrical meter backward while it is producing electricity and then begins to draw from the utility company's supplied power when it cannot produce. These systems may or may not make use of a battery bank.

AC, or alternating current, is what is used to power the lights and appliances in our homes. DC, or direct current, is used in our automobiles and is what is produced by the photovoltaic (PV) solar panels used in rooftop and other installations that convert the thermal energy of the sun to electricity. Each of these types of currents can be delivered at varying voltages and amperage. See these definitions for a decent and not overly technical explanation of volts, amps and watts.

An inverter takes the DC current produced by your solar system and converts it to AC for use in your home.

Components for generating your own solar power

The more independence from the utility company that you want, the more components that will be needed for your solar power system, and the more complex your installation becomes and thus, the more money you can expect to spend. Perhaps the biggest factor in determining the full measure of your solar system is the amount of power you need the system to produce on a consistent basis. Again, more power generally indicates a need for more components and a higher expense.

There are many forms and calculators and charts available on the Internet to assist you in determining the daily amount of electricity you consume -- a number necessary to know before formalizing any plans on a solar or alternative energy system. Two of the best are at wholesalesolar.com and solar-soluciones.net.

The interdependence of components of a solar electrical system can be complex and difficult for nonprofessionals to decipher. You cannot determine how many solar panels you need without knowing how much electricity you consume, and how much storage and conversion you are going to have. The angle the panels are installed at affects the amount of electricity produced and different methods of wiring, parallel or serial, affect the amount of amperage or voltage, respectively. You can't determine what voltage your system should operate at until you have a rough idea of how far from the panels your battery bank is going to be. Wire gauge and voltage all play a part in how far you can push the DC current generated by your solar panels, so placement of the battery bank is crucial.

The batteries themselves will discharge faster in higher temperatures, so shading or active cooling may be necessary. Certain deep cycle batteries require venting of heated gasses to the outside air, and these should be kept in a storage structure built specifically for them with provisions for venting and restricted access.

In addition, some locations may require a generator to supply power on occasion and others, such as the American southwest may require components to ensure that the batteries do not receive too much charge in the summer months.

Battery backup

In terms of batteries, the only battery type suited for use in a solar, or other alternative energy systems are deep cycle batteries. Different from an automotive battery that is designed to dispense most of its charge in a quick powerful burst as in start up, a deep cycle battery is designed to produce a near constant current over a much longer period of time. These batteries are engineered to be run almost completely devoid of current and then recharge to full capacity in a relatively short period of time over thousands of cycles.

If there is ever a possibility of needing electricity when your system itself is not producing, i.e., at night for a solar system or a calm day for a wind turbine, you are going to need the storage capability of deep cycle batteries. If your system is tied to the power grid, you will not be able to utilize the electricity produced by your system if there is a grid outage and your system is without battery capability. In other words, your alternative energy home will be as dark as your neighbor's traditionally powered home until the utility company gets the power restored.

Making the switch

In the US, the initial cost of switching to solar power for your home can sometimes be partially offset by federal and state tax breaks and incentives. Current rebates and other programs are available at http://www.dsireusa.org/. There are even a few companies that will do the installation for no up front charge and lease the equipment to you for 15-20 years at a low monthly rate. This could e a good way to switch to solar power without the traditional large outlay of cash normally required for such a project.

As with any major home renovation, it is wise to do plenty of research before embarking on a green conversion. There are multiple options for your solar power installation from converting to a solar water heater to powering your entire home and all of the electrical devices it encompasses with renewable energy sources. Whatever your reason, to save money on your utility bills or to help to save the planet, solar is quickly becoming a viable option.

Further reading

Deep Cycle Batteries
Solar Quest

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Alternative Energy, Green Energy Sources, Solar Electricity, Solar Energy, Solar Panel, Switching To Solar

Meet the author

author avatar j.m. raymond
Satire, humor and fiction are my primary interests, although occasionally, I make forays into the worlds of technology and small business management.
You can also find me on twitter: @rentedfingers , my website at micha...(more)

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author avatar Jerry Walch
23rd Nov 2010 (#)

Well presented. Very informative.

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author avatar Denise O
23rd Nov 2010 (#)

I need to mark this for my hubby. Great job. Very informative.
We have been thinking about going solar.
I think I have written that to you in a earlier article, you had written.

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author avatar j.m. raymond
23rd Nov 2010 (#)

Thanks Jerry and Denise. Greatly appreciated.

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author avatar SiddiQ
24th Nov 2010 (#)

Excellent advice!

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author avatar Angelique Newman
26th Nov 2010 (#)

Great article j.m., very interesting. I would love to go solar power and be more self sufficient. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar j.m. raymond
26th Nov 2010 (#)

SiddiQ, thanks for reading!

Angelique, thank you. I too would love to go solar on our house. Prior to beginning my research, I thought the process was pretty simple - throw up a couple panels and start saving money. Turns out, it's a bit more involved than that, especially if you want to go completely off the grid. I hate it when research points out the flaws in my logic.

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author avatar Retired
31st Jan 2011 (#)

What a really great article. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar Rathnashikamani
1st Jan 2012 (#)

Very good points on harnessing solar energy.

Going for solar power is an option to conserve the fossil fuels.

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author avatar j.m. raymond
3rd Jan 2012 (#)

Thanks for reading Rathnashikamani. Solar is definitely an option to conserve on fossil fuels, but still somewhat cost prohibitive to utilize it fully. Some new technologies may serve to dramatically increase the efficiency and lower the cost, but they are years away from being commercially viable.

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