The Sun Finally Came Out Today

Home Inspector with Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington 215

            If you live in a hot climate, you've probably spent a significant amount of energy fighting the effects of the sun.  In some parts of the country, air conditioning is as essential as water during the summer months, sucking the humidity out of the air and cooling things down enough so that you actually feel like moving around.  Isn't it about time you started taking advantage of the sun's rays instead of feeling like one of their prime targets?

            Solar power is a technology which has come way down in price over the past decade or so.  This type of system uses the sun's energy to generate electricity that can power your home, heat your hot water or even be sold back to the local electrical utility.  How does it work?  In the simplest system, a solar panel is mounted in a high location on your property - usually your roof - and small photovoltaic cells on the panel are stimulated by the sun's light.  This stimulation causes them to generate electron activity, creating a direct current that can be stored in batteries, or converted to alternating current in order to mesh with your home's electrical system.  You can even use a combination system, so that during the day the panels are powering your home and simultaneously charging batteries that you can use during the night when the panels are no longer operational. 

Solar panels are not nearly as fragile as they look, and their simple design sees many of them under warranty for decades.  While the initial investment for a large number of panels can be pricey, the panels pay for themselves very quickly if you go for a full system that can virtually eliminate your home's dependence on the electrical grid.  Many people instead opt to use solar energy as an additional source of power, only installing a small number of panels to provide them with a percentage of their daily electrical needs.  This strategy also works well for those who want to build up their solar generating capacity slowly over time.  Since the price of the technology decreases with each passing year, distributing your costs over a longer period can lead to significant savings by the time you are finished.

Of course, as with any form of power generation that is dependent on the environment, solar power does have its downsides.  For one, the panels require unfettered sightlines to the sun in order to operate at maximum efficiency, and if your home is surrounded by trees or frequently under cloud cover, you might have some difficulty running a full system.  However, the misconception that northern climates cannot take advantage of this type of energy is simply not true, as the dark coloring of most panels melts snow accumulation quickly in the presence of the sun.  The only real downside to using solar power in the winter season is the shorter daytime and the previously mentioned cloud cover.

You don't have to jump into solar power with both feet in order to take advantage of this essentially free resource.  Research your options and consider starting out small to supplement your current power consumption.  You will be surprised at how much of a difference solar power can make in your life.


Coming up next - the low down on using batteries off the grid

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