WHY SOLAR?  (part 2)
(how the panels work, preparing for installation, choosing your system,
size of system, tax credits & rebates, cost, suppliers & distributors)
by Amanda Robinson//
part 1
"U.S. demand for residential solar power installations is surging despite
an economic recession, thanks to government financial incentives,
some easing in credit availability, and increasing public recognition
of its environmental benefits, industry executives said on Tuesday."
- Reuters, June 2009
How Solar Panels Work?

Solar electric panels are made up of Photovoltaic (PV) cells which produce
electricity (DC current) when exposed to sunlight.  These panels or modules
consist of roughly 40 cells each made of a semiconductor material, crystalline silicon,
which absorbs sunlight.  You have probably seen these panels on a
smaller scale on calculators, road signs, security lights or even backpacks.  PV panels
consist of a protective layer, durable in any climate, two specially
treated layers of silicon, a polymer backing layer and a non-corrosive aluminum
frame. The top silicon layer is electrically negative and the back silicon layer
is electrically positive.  Sunlight loosens the electrons from the bottom layer,
and the electrons then move to the top layer. The electrons on the top layer
are collected, and then routed to an external PWM (Pulse Width Modulation)
charge controller, thus providing power to attached batteries or electrical systems.  
Next the inverter converts the direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current
(AC) electricity for use by your home.

Preparing for Installation

1. Green Your Home - Make your home efficient by following LEED Home building
standards from the US Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide.  Choose an
architect or designer familiar with green practices.
2. Clear the Way - you will need at least 100 square feet of un-shaded roof area
facing predominantly southward, so you may need to trim some trees limbs.
3. Choose Your System - Decide if you want a Grid-Tied, Off-Grid or a Hybrid system.
4. Organize – Make room in your garage, basement or where ever the charge
controller and batteries (if you are off grid) will be placed.  You may need to add
shelves or cabinets to store these items, so talk to your technician before the actual
installation date.
5. Installation and Maintenance - Your technician should inform you of their
company’s installation process, maintenance contracts and/or warranties for the
equipment.
Try this idea if you don't have enough roof space
for your panels.
Off-grid systems are perfect for remote
areas but equally feasible in the city.  
Since Off-grid systems are not
connected to the electricity provider,
the energy captured must be stored in
batteries.  A PVM charge controller is
used to regulate the current between
the panels and the batteries.  When the
battery is at maximum capacity, the
PVM controller slowly reduces the
charging current to avoid battery
overcharge. This process maintains a
healthy battery, whilst keeping it at full
capacity and preserving its longevity.
Off-grid systems are perfect for remote
areas but equally feasible in the city.  
Since Off-grid systems are not
connected to the electricity provider,
the energy captured must be stored in
used to regulate the current between
the panels and the batteries.  When
the battery is at maximum capacity,
the PVM controller slowly reduces the
charging current to avoid battery
overcharge. This process maintains a
healthy battery, whilst keeping it at full
capacity and preserving its longevity.
You can also create a Hybrid system by combining the use of solar, wind, and
hydroelectric sources to create energy. Some Hybrid systems use fossil fuels to run a
back-up generator, but using a bio-diesel or solar back-up generator would the most
eco friendly option.

What Size Solar System Do I Need?

The size of the systems depends on the energy needed to run your home and the
degree of energy independence your want to attain. Most distributors offer packages
starting with a plan that merely lower your bills to plans which create an off-grid,
sustainable home.  Map out everything you want (solar, wind, battery bank,
controller, solar water heater, inverter, ect.), and using the estimate from your energy
audit discuss with your distributor who will help create your solar energy plan. Your
distributor will provide current information about tax incentives and rebates to help
further reduce the cost.

Tax Credits & Rebates

A few years ago the federal tax credit was only a $2000 deduction with a cap of
$30,000.  Today a homeowner can deduct 30% of the entire system cost off your
federal tax return at year end. Taking advantage of federal tax credits and state
rebates will make installing solar energy more affordable.  This credit is also extended
to cars, HVAC, water heaters, wind energy systems and more. Also, contact your retail
electricity provider in your state to see if they offer renewable energy rebates. Some
offer customers a 30% rebate and will let you lock in low electricity rates.  Your solar
panels distributor may also offer special rates and discounts.

Visit these links to learn more about energy savings
EnergyStar.gov
Solar Power Rocks
Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy

Cost Breakdown

The cost of an average solar energy kit, roughly 20 panels, will start at $30,000.  You
will receive a year end federal tax credit of 30%, so the price is reduced to $21,000. If
offered in your area, your retail electricity rebate of 30% will further reduce the price
to $14,700.  Currently SRE is offing a $2 per watt reduction through the end of July,
thus discounting the overall price to $6,700.  
Of course, the main reason for installing solar panels on your home is to transform your
home into a sustainable living environment.  In addition, take note that most solar
energy system produces 25 years of service, are virtually maintenance free a
nd with combined rebates and tax credits homeowners can afford a system for less
than cost. Lastly, most dealers will offer warranties, free assessments, payment plans
and usually no down payments required to purchase your energy system. Peruse our
list of suppliers and distributors and set an appointment for a free assessment. There
are so many options and incentives to help you achieve your goal. In the end,
choosing your energy independence will be one of the best decisions you will make.  
Enjoy!

Read
WHY SOLAR PART 1

Suppliers and Distributors

Lumeta™ Solar
Sharp
Solar City
SunPower

Resources

solaractionalliance.org
U.S. Green Building Council GreenHome Guide
Renewable Energy World
How Solar Panels Work

WHY SERIES?
by
Amanda Robinson

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