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Getting Started With Solar

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Getting Started With Solar

Some history
The idea of harnessing the sun's energy for our personal needs is not new. Ancient Greeks and Romans discovered the benefit of using architecture to enhance lighting & heating of their buildings. Romans further advanced these techniques by covering south facing building openings with glass or mica to hold in the heat of the winter sun. Similiar building techniques are still used today, and are referred to as passive solar design. 

Advances in solar mounting equipment, photovoltic panels, and absorbtion panels, (also known as collector plates) has created a wide array of uses and design possibilities. Since there are many systems available, I will give you a decent overview of possiblities that will help you get started on choosing a system that is right for you. 

Besides being good for the environment and reducing energy costs, solar is an investment that will increase the value of your home. 

Solar for Your Home. Getting Started.

Defining your needs
The first step is to decide what system is best for you. Do you want to heat your home, your pool, or simply reduce your water heating bill by installing a solar water heating system? Or maybe you will want a combination of these choices. 

PV (Photovoltic Panels)
Before installing a solar system, there are many conderations that must be addressed in order to make a decision that is right for you. Many of these choices can be made yourself, and others may require the advice of a solar professional.

First ask yourself: 

How much of my current energy bill do I want to eliminate? 

You can eliminate all of it, or part of it. Some utility companies such as PG&E use a five tier billing system. Most often, people usually prefer to eliminate the top three tiers of the five tiers of their energy bill. The first two tiers include your baseline, and the second tier. These two levels are the least expensive of the five tiers, and unless you want to be totally green, eliminating them by adding more panels will increase your payback time. The last three tiers are where the rates increase substantially. In fact, it is possible to be able to pay for a solar system, with hardly any out of pocket expense, by eliminating the top three tiers, and using the savings to pay for the solar system. Some utility companies use a three tier system for billing, and your solar contractor should be able to explain the best system for the fastest payback for your investment. 


Determine your average daily electrical usage over the course of one year. This information is readily obtainable by simply calling your local utility company. The information will be used to help determine the size of the your home solar system. Formula: Wattage usage per year ÷ 365 day = Average daily use

These last items will determine the feasibility of a solar system for your home. This is where you may need the help of a solar professional to perform an on-site inspection. He will look at the azimuth of the house, in other words, which direction the roof of the home is facing in relationship to the sun. South facing roofs receive the most sunlight. East and west azimuths are usable as well. The north side of the roof is never used. He will determine how much usable space there is for solar panel installation. 

He will inspect the roof to see that it is in good condition. Older roofs should be replaced before installing solar panels. 

His inspection should include looking for any shadows from objects on the roof, from surrounding trees, buildings, utility poles, and other objects. 

Shadows can severely affect the efficiency of a home solar system. Solar panels are attached together in rows. Even one small shadow landing on one of the panels in the array, will cause a power reduction in the entire array. If you have some problems with shadows that can't be eliminated, you may consider using Micro Enphase inverter/routers underneath each individual panel in place of the standard large inverter box.

Lastly, the solar site inspector will check the power box to determine if there is availability for new connections. He may inspect your water heater, and plumbing, but this is only necessary for if someone is considering a solar water heating system. Safety concerns, and access for installation.are other necessary considerations

Once all these considerations are evaluated, the size of the solar system, and costs can be determined. 

Solar water heating
Solar water heating systems use collector (absorber) panels to harvest the sun’s energy. These collector panels are in many cases installed on the roof of your home or garage. As the sun shines on the absorber panels, water is heated in tubes within the collector panels, and then moves to a water heater or heaters, depending on the design, for storage and later use in the home. 
Their are several ways to design a water heating system, and a more detailed explanation can be found under the Solar Water Heating section of our website.

Solar water heating systems allow homeowners to use the solar source as their main system and their conventional water heater as back-up storage. 

Optimally placed collector panels, with conventional methods as a backup, will yield you many years of use and dramatically lower energy costs all while lowering your carbon footprint and contributing to a greener world.

Did You Know?
The California Energy Commission estimates that the average household spends up to 30% or more of its energy bill for hot water heating, and it accounts for more than one-quarter of the total energy used in a typical single-family home. An electric water heater is the single largest user of electricity of all household appliances.

Whether you have an electric or gas water heater, the operating cost will continue to rise over time. Electricity rates have been increasing an average of 6% per year, over the past 35 years, and the wholesale price for natural gas has more than tripled in the past eight years. 

The California Public Utilities Commission estimates that a typical homeowner can save 60-70% on the cost of water heating by installing a solar water heating system.