Wednesday Feb 08, 2023

Everything you need to know about switching to solar power – Fast Company


Like so many other things, electricity from the power grid is getting more expensive, jumping 4.3% last year. But sun-based power keeps getting cheaper. Residential solar costs are now around 8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) versus a national average of 10.6 cents per kWh for grid power. And some states’ grid power is far more expensive. Solar power also offers another kind of savings: It’s far less harmful to the planet. For many consumers, doing the right thing can also be the economical thing.

But there are a lot of considerations in deciding whether solar power works for you: the location of your home, how much energy you use, and the cost of grid energy you want to replace are all factors to consider. And keep in mind, there are also economic incentives that can slash the installation cost, and might even allow you to sell any extra power you produce.

Your home logistics

Some regions have far more solar potential. Phoenix, Arizona, gets 85.8% of all possible sunshine; Columbus, Ohio, on the other hand, gets 45.9%. But even cloudy skies produce power. “People in Alaska have solar. Solar is in all 50 states,” says Nate Coleman, chief products officer at national solar provider SunPower. To get a sense of your generating potential, check the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts calculator.

In the U.S., a south-facing roof will absorb the most power. But Kevin Nickels, VP of sales and marketing at Nickels Energy Solutions in New York State, says that advancements in solar-panel efficiency now make east- and west-facing roofs viable, as well.

That’s assuming the roof can hold the panels. New York State, for example, requires an inspection to determine if the roof can support them. Additional bracing may be required, so, if possible, time your solar installation to coincide with a roof replacement, since those panels will be up there a long time. Solar panels are typically warrantied for 25 years but can last much longer. Companies including Tesla Energy and GAF Energy provide panels that double as roof tiles or shingles.

Your power costs

The more electricity you use, the more money you can save with solar power. “I’ve looked at neighboring houses that were carbon copies of each other,” says Nickels. “And one homeowner is using 5,000 more kilowatt hours than the other, he also had two fridges, a hot tub, and all these other things.” If you have or are considering an electric car, that power use can jump by about 1,500 to 2,000 kilowatts (kW).

But solar economics aren’t just about how much electricity you use; they’re also about electricity rates. In the U.S. in 2021, the average grid power price ranged from 7.51 cents per kWh in Louisiana to 27.55 cents per kWh in Hawaii, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Total your monthly electric bills for a year to calculate how much money you could save.

Also, you could save more if your state supports net energy metering (NEM), a billing mechanism that allows you to sell extra power you generate back to your electric utility, at the lucrative retail rate. To account for this, solar installers like Nickels talk about the total power a house generates over the year. “It’s not that solar is necessarily offsetting your winter electric bill,” he says. “It’s the overproduced energy for July, August, September, and October [that] eliminates your winter bill.” He typically builds extra capacity into systems to take advantage of NEM.

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