Installing Solar Power for Homes

Installing solar power might seem as something reserved for the future, but in truth there are thousands of homes throughout Canada and across the United States enjoying the clean, cost-saving benefits of solar electricity today. In this article, we'll consider two key options that could help you to benefit from affordable electricity harvested from the Sun's energy.

Choosing Grid Connect Versus Off Grid

Homeowners Installing A Residential Solar Power SystemHomeowners Installing a Residential Solar Power System
(Source: ©

While houses located in southern latitudes are normally exposed to bright sunlight most days of the year and are well suited to photovoltaic (PV) power systems, today's systems are also amazingly efficient in the northern United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries that see less sun in winter months. Your location is likely first-rate depending on how you chose to go about it.

Your Two Grid-Related Choices

If you decide that you would like to install a solar electric power system, there are two ways you can go about it: "grid tied" or "off grid," which means that you can choose to supply part of your household electrical needs, or you can supply all your home's electrical needs. Let's look at the pros and cons of both systems below:

1. Grid Tied Solar Power Systems

The "grid tied" or "grid connect" PV system offers several advantages:

  • You are still connected (tied) to the electric power company grid, so for those times when you are not producing enough solar electricity to power all your household needs, you can purchase additional electricity from the company.

  • If your PV system produces more electricity than you need, you can send the surplus to the grid and sell it to the utility company and receive a credit on your next power bill. You'll love seeing that power meter spin backwards!

  • You can get away with not needing the bank of expensive storage batteries that homes with off grid PV systems require, since you can draw the extra power you need directly from the company's power grid. The grid becomes your backup power source.

  • You don't have to install everything at once. You can choose to install only enough PV panels to provide some of the electricity wanted, then add additional panels later depending on the need and finances available.

2. Off Grid Solar Power Systems

Having an off grid PV system means that your entire home is powered by solar electricity, and you are not connected to the local power company's electrical grid at all. You generate ALL your own electrical power! A residential solar power system that's sized properly for your household can offer you the freedom from increasing energy costs you've dreamed of having. It's a great feeling of independence, but it does come at a significant added cost:

  • Off grid PV systems require a bank of storage batteries to store the generated electricity in the home for use during nighttime hours or on extremely cloudy days.

  • You also need enough PV panels connected to supply ALL the power requirements for your household.

Off grid, solar power can help you to save money long-term while reducing your carbon footprint. Who isn't tired of paying utility bills? Many home owners are now discovering that the answer to high energy costs is to go completely off grid. The good news is that you can make the transition in stages to fit your current budget.

So, consider "partially" off grid solar power.

While it sounds great to not depend on the local utility company, not everyone has the funds to install a complete alternative power system. For the present, consider living partially off grid with a smaller system generating electrical power but also tieing into the local utilities. Self-contained solar power systems that can be expanded as your budget permits make it all possible. It's not as difficult, nor as costly as you might think!

What to Consider When Installing Solar Power

A residential PV system offers a great way to slash your electrical bills and help to protect the environment too. While once considered an expensive, today's home PV systems are affordable, efficient, safe, and easier to install than past systems.

Installing solar power is no longer considered just for the wealthy homeowner. The cost of installing a residential PV power system has dropped nearly 80% in price over the past two decades. It's not only affordable, but it's getting cheaper by the day.

Whether you choose a grid tied or off grid system, you will need PV panels to capture the energy from the sun's rays. The panels contain photovoltaic cells that absorb energy from sunlight and convert it to electrical power for use in the home.

If you're handy with tools around the house, you might consider installing PV panels yourself. But, DIY solar power is not for everyone. You might need to consult an expert who's skilled in photovoltaic installations, especially when it comes to the DC electrical wiring.

Let's look at three things you should consider before installing solar power:

1. Site Location

You will need to choose the best location for your PV panels; they need to be positioned where they will receive the most direct sunlight. Select the roof of your house or some other clear, open space nearby on the ground that offers an unobstructed view of the sun throughout the day. A south facing location is best for getting the most amount of sunlight.

The location depends on what you want and what will work best for your household. Factors such as the style and elevation of your house, and your daily electricity requirements come into play. When a roof location is not suitable or often not preferred, panels can also be placed on the ground, either mounted on a raised pad or elevated on a sturdy pole support structure.

As well, ground located PV panels can be installed in a fixed position or made to follow the orbit of the sun to maximize their performance. Thanks to recent advances made in solar cell efficiency and the use of solar trackers, PV systems are more efficient today than ever before.

2. Installation Permits

You should be aware that most cities and municipalities will require that you obtain a proper building permit before installing solar power in your house. Permits are a one time cost and usually necessary for any home renovation project, not just solar installations.

Your municipality may also have ordinances specifying where you can install solar panels on your house or property. Don't risk having to dismantle an unauthorized installation. Plan a trip to your local municipal office to find out the current requirements.

Also, your Homeowner's Association may have their own requirements if you live in a planned housing development or cooperative.

3. Electrical Inspections

Electrical inspection is required for any home electrical wiring project, especially a photovoltaic power installation, to ensure the work will pass the electrical safety code. Inspections must be completed before connection to the electricity distribution system (the grid).

Note: It's very important that you install home wiring correctly. Otherwise, you could not only damage your home, but you could be placing your family and others at risk. Do-it-yourself solar power installation is NOT for everyone. At least consult with a wiring expert.

Regulations might stipulate that a licensed electrician is required to do the electrical wiring and final hookup to the panel box.

Benefits of Installing Solar Power

The benefits of PV systems are many. By converting some or all your electric power needs to solar, you will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but once the initial cost of installing solar power has been recouped, you will get to save money on your electric bills each month or maybe eliminate your power bills entirely.

Just a few years ago, not many people ever imagined we would be using sunlight to power our homes. Now, residential PV systems are one of the most popular trends in the renewable energy field. Thousands of people around the world are installing solar power.

Solar simply makes good sense.

Read More About Installing Solar Power

Follow the links below for basic information you'll need before deciding to lower your electricity costs by tapping into solar energy.

Solar Site Survey

Solar Panel Installation

Solar Energy System Installation in Photos

Solar Panel Installers

Solar Panel Roofing

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