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Monday, July 7, 2014

Practical tips if you're thinking solar

Solar Power: 4 Steps to Harnessing the Power of the Sun
By Guest Contributor Barry Snyder

Superman is powered by the sun and, for most people, solar power remains an elusive fantasy – something relegated to comic book superheroes. And, while solar power isn’t taking over the coal and oil plants, there are some specific uses for solar panels that make sense. 

Up until now, most consumers haven’t bothered with the technology because it provides only intermittent power, and it’s expensive to set up. But, if you live in a really sunny area, it might make sense to set up your own mini power plant. Here’s how.

Do Your Research

This seems obvious, but research is critical. If you live in Seattle, for example, solar power might not be the greatest investment of time or money. If you live in New Mexico, it might be able to power your entire home. The U.S. Department of Energy makes this rather easy to figure out. Its solar energy potential map shows you year-round solar potential.

Even when you’ve figured out whether you live in a sunny area, you’re not done with the research. You’ll need to look into costs for both the equipment and the installation. In some areas, feed-in-tariffs will speed up the payback period for you because excess energy can be sold back to the power company or used to offset the need to buy electricity from your utility company.

These systems tie directly into the energy grid, and do not rely on battery banks. As such, they are not ideal for off-grid power generation, but they are good for supplemental energy purposes.

Get quotes from at least three different installers so that you have an idea about how much the market rates are for the setup you want. You’ll also need to figure out whether you want a system that will partially or fully offset your electricity use. A system that is designed as a replacement for utilities will generally cost more, because you’ll need more panels and a more robust system capable of powering your entire home.

Select a Good Area For Positioning

Before you buy anything, figure out where you will put them, and if your property is conducive to panels. Just because you live in a sunny geographical area doesn’t mean your property is conducive to generating solar energy. The best position for fixed panels will be north-facing. That’s because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, and you want the solar panels to be facing the sun as much as possible.

If you have panels that can move with the sun, then the position will be within a specific range as opposed to a set, fixed, position.

Choose a Good System

Certain energy related companies make commercial-grade solar energy equipment. In general, these types of companies will produce a high-quality product compared to consumer-grade companies. 

They also tend to cost more for the initial installation. However, that upfront cost is usually worth it if you plan on keeping your system for life.

Maintain Your System

Like any piece of technology, there are maintenance costs. The panels need to be cleaned from time to time, and possums and birds can damage the components, decreasing the efficacy or efficiency of the system, so that’s something to consider. 

Repair costs can be expensive too, if something does break. Ask installers and manufacturers about costs for replacement parts and tech service, as this will be part of the long-term costs of your system.

Barry Snyder is an energy researcher. When not putting hypotheses to the test, he greatly enjoys writing about the emerging research in the field. Visit the Infinite Energy website for more solar power ideas and information.