Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Choosing Green: Solar Panels

Few projects in the home improvement sector are greener than installing solar panels. After all, our reliance on fossil fuels can be blamed on everything from skyrocketing home heating and cooling costs to the potentially devastating effects of global warming, making it clear that anything a homeowner can do to reduce our dependency on non-renewable resources is a smart move from a green perspective. Add to that the fact that the sun is the most renewable energy resource in the solar system, and there's no doubt that going solar is as green as it gets.

Green Remodeling, Solar Panels, and David Johnston
In order to bring you some sage advice in regards to introducing solar energy into your home, HomeAdvisor is proud to be partnering up with green remodeling expert David Johnston, founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., and author of the Nautilus Award winning book Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time. Here's some advice, drawn from the experience, wisdom, and writings of Johnston, to help you go green if there's a set of solar panels in your future.

The Cost of Solar Panel Installations
Thanks to the rapidly advancing rate of technology, variations in the cost of solar from city to city and region to region, and the wide range of needs presented by different projects, it's nearly impossible to pin down an average cost for solar panels across the board. Your best bet is to collect bids from several local contractors experienced in solar panel installation to get a specific estimate for your home. What we can tell you is that the benefits of solar panels reach far beyond your initial investment. Solar panels are guaranteed to reduce your home energy bills for the next 20 to 30 years, making them an excellent example of a home improvement that is certain to pay for itself over time— and then some.

"Avoiding the Payback Trap": The True Value of Solar Panels
That being said, a wise homeowner looks beyond investments and returns when considering whether to go green. Making your money back is a big incentive, to be sure, but Johnston points out that other aspects of going green are far more valuable. For example, what value would you place on freeing yourself from the mental burden of worrying about next month's electricity bill, reducing your contribution to the production of harmful greenhouse gasses, or passing a better world onto your kids and grandkids? The truth is that these things have value far greater than any energy savings you might enjoy, making the real value of going green far greater than any figure using dollars and cents. Here's a quick breakdown of Johnston's take on the economic, health, and environmental benefits of going solar.

Energy Savings and Solar Panels
Obviously, going solar has some nice financial benefits related to lower energy costs, though how those savings play out is largely determined by the type of photovoltaic system you install on your home.

  • Grid-Connected Solar Panels—Grid connected systems are plugged into the wider utility grid in your area. When your solar panels are producing more electricity than you're using, the excess is diverted to the utility company and your meter runs backwards, reducing your energy bill accordingly. (Check with your local utility to see if they have a "net metering" program.) When you use more electricity than your solar panels can provide, you draw from the larger system and your meter runs forward. Not only does a grid connected system substitute clean solar energy for the energy provided by your utility, but it provides incentive to conserve and reduce energy usage as well, since it's in your best interests to draw as little power as possible beyond what your solar panels provide.

  • Off-Grid Photovoltaic Systems—These systems run independently of your larger utility hookup. An off-grid system costs a little bit more than a grid connected system, mostly due to the installation and upkeep of batteries required for storing energy. Nevertheless, having an independent source of energy can come in extremely handy and will reduce your energy bills by supplementing your municipal utilities with a nearly free post-installation energy source.

Other Benefits of Solar Energy
Reduced energy bills aren't the only benefits you'll enjoy if you choose to install solar panels on your home or property. Here are some other benefits of going solar according to Johnston, including added convenience, peace of mind, and environmental stewardship.

  • Emergency—Off-grid systems can provide a welcome supply of electricity during times when service from the utility company is interrupted thanks to storms or other problems. That can come in pretty handy, whether you're looking for a post-blizzard cup of coffee or need to protect computer equipment and keep your home office up and running.

  • Supplemental Energy—Off-grid systems are also a good solution for outdoor lighting, electric fences, or other low-demand energy needs.

  • Remote Locations—If you live more than one-fourth of a mile away from existing electric lines, off-grid systems are often just as economical as paying to extend utility services to your location.

  • The Environment—Whether you choose a grid connected or off-grid system, installing photovoltaic solar panels will reduce your dependency on fossil fuels and help curb the production of greenhouse gases and other fossil fuel related pollutants. Multiply that by the 20 to 30 years of operation you can expect from a quality set of photovoltaic solar panels, and the substantial environmental benefits of going solar start looking pretty impressive.

Making the Leap: Solar Panel Installation
Johnston is quick to point out that installing a photovoltaic system in your home isn't a piece of cake. It can be tricky, and requires that your contractor understands the ins and outs of local regulations, acquiring the proper permits, working with your utility company, and making the most of any rebates that your municipality or utility provider may offer. Furthermore, since installing solar panels involves your home's electrical system, roofing, and the installation of the panels themselves, it's important that your contractor has intimate knowledge of all three aspects (or works with roofing contractors and electricians, as well) to ensure that your solar panels and the rest of your home operate at peak efficiency when the project is finished.

If you think going solar is the right choice for you, be sure to talk to your contractor about installing a photovoltaic system, find a contractor who specializes in solar energy solutions, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you plan and design the best, and greenest, solar energy collection system you possibly can.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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