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A Beginner’s Guide to Harnessing Renewable Energy

solar panel under blue skyPhoto by American Public Power Association

Unlocking the sun’s power is a great project for any environmentally-conscious homeowner or business owner. Learn everything from determining the right size of a solar energy system to installation considerations.

DIY solar systems are a great way to supplement your energy needs and power smaller spaces like sheds or tiny homes. However, a professionally installed system may be the best option for a full-size house.

Determine Your Energy Needs

Solar energy reduces the use of fossil fuels, cuts greenhouse gas emissions and promotes energy independence. It can also reduce utility bills, especially in areas with high rates or during peak usage times.

Most code-compliant systems include a standard utility meter. These large, tamper-proof meters help track electricity production and consumption over time.

Consider a grid-connected battery storage option if you want your system to provide backup power during nighttime or outages. These systems require a separate meter from the solar array and typically have a low-voltage disconnect to prevent over-discharging.

Determine Your Roof’s Surface

Solar panels capture sunlight and transform it into energy electricity for use at your home. You can break even in just a few years, depending on your location and electricity rates.

Your roof’s surface is key to determining how much energy you can produce with your solar panel system. It’s also crucial for estimating how much material you’ll need.

Most residential roofs are sloped, so it’s important to find out the pitch of your roof before getting started. From there, you’ll have all the necessary measurements, plus calculations like roof surface area and waste factor.

gray concrete house with solar panels on roof
Photo by Vivint Solar on Unsplash

Choose Your Panels

The type of solar panels you choose affects how much electricity your system can produce. Different manufacturers and installers, for instance, Solar by Peak to Peak, offer a variety of panel sizes, and some are more expensive than others. However, more expensive equipment sometimes translates to higher savings.

It would help if you also considered the efficiency of your panels. This measures how well they convert sunlight into energy. However, the difference between efficiency ratings is less significant than you may think.

Finally, it would help if you looked for a company offering an itemized installation cost list. This enables you to compare the rates of different companies. You should also ask if the company provides an artistry warranty.

Choose Your Inverter

Inverters convert DC to AC energy used in Greenwood Village, Colorado, for household electrical devices. They also create a clean, stable sine wave that can be injected into the power grid.

When choosing an inverter, consider its efficiency and size. Small inefficiencies can add up to electricity loss over time, so look for high conversion efficiency and a large operating temperature range.

When sizing an inverter, consider peak loads (the maximum wattage you need at one time). You can also add up the total wattage of all appliances and devices in your home to get a good estimate. Also, consider micro-inverters and DC optimizers if your panel system has shading issues.

Choose Your Batteries

Many people are concerned that they won’t use all the solar energy their panels generate, so battery backups have become popular. Battery storage allows you to store excess electricity and draw from the battery during peak power usage or when the sun is not shining.

A battery’s capacity is determined by its power rating, which tells you how much electricity it can provide, and its peak power rating, which lets you keep appliances that require short bursts of power, like air conditioners. Sealed batteries don’t need to be refilled with water and work well at properties that are not occupied full-time, such as an off-grid vacation cabin.

Photo by Daniele La Rosa Messina on Unsplash

Connect to the Grid

Many solar system owners choose to stay connected to the grid, allowing them to take advantage of net metering, which gives homeowners credits for the energy they send back to their utility company. This helps offset the cost of electricity during peak times.

Grid-connected systems are also cheaper, simpler to maintain and satisfy most local electrical codes. The bi-directional electricity meter—typically found within your inverter—will help you track your solar energy production and consumption. However, those looking to break away from dependency on the grid fully may want to consider an off-grid solar system. A solar installation specialist can guide you in this decision.