Is powering your home with solar energy practical?

On June 2, 2017 in Home ImprovementSolar

Is powering your home with solar energy practical?

Tesla solar roof

Solar energy usage in America has grown rapidly in recent years and now accounts for 42.4 gigawatts of electricity per year. In 2016, the U.S. solar energy market experienced its largest one-year increase, with generation growing by 14.8 gigawatts.

There is enough solar power flowing in America now to power 35 DeLoreans meeting the same specifications required for Doc Brown and Marty McFly to travel through time in Back to the Future. Since time-travel is not really possible (at least as far as we know) all that solar energy is powering homes and businesses across the country.

Residential solar panels recently passed a major milestone

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the number of homes in America with solar panel installations recently surpassed one million, with accelerating growth projected to double that number in the next two years. The SEIA says total solar generating capacity (inclusive of all residential and commercial applications) will nearly triple over the next five years.

At present, a commitment to installing solar panels is more a nod to protecting the environment than it is to saving money. It takes a very long time for solar panels to pay for themselves via lower power bills. Solar energy generation produces zero emissions, which is far cleaner than power created from other sources such as coal or even clean-burning natural gas.

The flip side of the equation is that solar cells are almost never sufficient to power an average home 100 percent of the time, even in the sunniest places on Earth. People may forget to account for the fact there is just as much darkness as light, so half of each year, photovoltaic cells can’t capture the sun’s energy. According to research at MIT the combination of clouds and shade can reduce a solar panel’s output by 30 percent in a year. Other factors such as dust and debris collecting on panels, snow, etc. can further diminish power-generating capacity.

Overcoming the “ugly factor”

Aside from the expense, there are many people who would consider investing in solar power for their homes if only the panels were more attractive. Leave it to Tesla to solve that problem by coming up with a great design. Just as they did with electric cars, the innovative company put good design at the center of its approach, and now NPR tells us that Tesla has created photovoltaic cells that look and function like high-end roofing materials (shown in the photo above provided by Tesla).

Right now, a Telsa roof for an average home of almost 2,500 square feet will set you back over $46,000, but there are tax incentives, and of course, lower ongoing energy costs. The company calculates the final outlay would drop to near zero if you live in the home for 30 years and that you would actually start turning a profit beyond that time. It warranties the snazzy-looking shingle solar cells for the lifetime of your home.

Are you ready for a solar installation on your roof? At present Tesla recommends a mix of “active” and “inert” tiles, at $42 and $11 per square foot installed respectively to get the job done. The larger panels on the mass market today cost about 30 percent less.

If trends continue, those averages will come down as solar costs in general have declined steadily with improved manufacturing and installation techniques. According to Scientific American, it’s a pretty safe bet that the longer you delay buying a solar power system for your home, the more you’re likely to save.

Is solar energy in your home’s future? If so, LightStream may be able to help with financing.