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A Guide to Solar Energy

Solar power is energy harnessed from the sun that is converted into electrical energy. It is, by far, the cleanest and most sustainable energy source available, and has a variety of uses including generating electricity for homes and businesses, providing light, and heating water.

If you own a home and have a roof that is in good shape, then you're a good candidate for solar energy. There are so many benefits to switching over to solar power, including immediate and significant savings on your electricity bill as well being able to help the environment conserve energy. Here's a quick look at the ins-and-outs of solar panels, including the technology, cost, installation process, and more.

Solar energy panels carry out a process called photovoltaic (or solar electric), which converts light from the sun into electricity. Powered by cells made of conductive material, solar cells perform the solar photovoltaic process, thus creating energy and electricity for homes.

Residential solar panels are offered in three basic types: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film. As far as life span, your best options are monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Thin film, however, gets the best cost per watt. And when it comes to energy per square feet, monocrystalline wins by a long shot.

Before making the switch to solar panels, you need to determine the amount of solar energy that is around your home. Solar works best if your roof is not overly shade and faces west, east, or south. The angle of your roof will also affect your system's efficiency. Professional solar energy installers can help you determine if solar is a good option in your specific location.

Installing Solar Panels

The basics of installing solar panels are greatly influenced by the system you have installed- whether it's a grid-tied system or an off-grid system. With a grid-tied system, you won't need energy-storing batteries because you will use solar power during the day, and then at night, you switch back to the grid (regular electricity). Many times, any excess solar power that you have will flow back into your grid, thus causing your electricity bill to be greatly reduced. A grid-tied system has three main components: solar modules, an inverter and meters.

An off-grid system requires the use of storing batteries. You will run off solar power during the day, and at night, you will use power stored in your batteries. This type of system requires four components: solar modules, solar panel batteries, solar charge controller and an inverter. The modules (solar panels) themselves will be installed on your roof. The inverter, meters and inverter are installed on the outside of your home connected to a main fuse box.

Solar Energy Tax Credits and Rebates

The tax credits that you can qualify for installing solar panels on your home will vary according to the state you live in. As of today through December 31, 2016, you can receive a 30 percent federal credit for converting over to solar power through the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit program. To qualify for this credit, at least half of the energy used in your home to heat your water must come from solar energy.

It's important to keep in mind that in addition to solar energy tax credits, you can also take advantage of solar energy programs. Solar programs enable you to earn back money on the power that you produce via your solar panels. Some incentives are reoccurring, while others are one-time credits.

Solar Pros and Cons

One of the main advantages of installing solar panels is that you will enjoy solar energy prices, and the panels are completely sustainable. If you meet certain requirements and have them installed by credit deadlines, you may be able to qualify for several rebates. Most importantly, you'll be doing Mother Nature a favor by making your own energy instead of using fossil fuel. In addition, installing solar panels on homes in remote locations tends to be far more cost effective than having high voltage wires ran to the home.

Although tax credits and solar rebates are available, installing solar panels can still be quite expensive. Buying your own system can range from $15,000 to upwards of $30,000 - before rebates and tax incentives are taken into consideration. Another downside is that both weather and pollution can affect how efficient solar panels operate.

When purchasing solar panels, you need to determine how many kilowatt-hours your home needs. To do this, look at your past electricity bills. You'll also need to consider how many hours each day that the sun will be shining on the solar panels (the more, the better). This is why it's ideal to put them on the south facing side of your roof. Lastly, know that off-grid systems are usually less expensive than grid-tied systems because there is no need for an inverter.

Lease vs. Buy

If you make the decision to have solar panels installed on your home, then you'll need to choose between leasing or buying them. When you lease your panels through solar companies, you will enjoy lower upfront cost. Leasing the panels also come with the benefit of lower maintenance.

Buying solar panels come with the advantage of being able to earn money back via federal and state tax credits. In addition, solar energy programs provide incentives where you can earn money for any extra power that you produce.

If you don't have the funds to straight-out purchase a solar panel system for your home, you may be able to qualify for various financing options. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program helps homeowners finance their systems and pay back the borrowed funds via their property tax bills. You can also take out a home equity loan to finance your solar panel system. Feed-in-tariffs and the Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) can also provide financial aid for solar panel systems.

A Solar-Powered Home: Is It Right For You?

If you're looking for a way to lower your energy bills, then a solar panel system is an excellent way to achieve this goal. Yes, it may take a hefty initial investment, but in the long run, the monetary and environmental benefits to be gained are well worth the money spent.