Advantages and Disadvantages of Home Solar Energy

In addition to making a positive environmental impact and statement, and potentially lowering your electricity bill with a home solar array, there are other mechanical and financial advantages involved in the decision.

Advantages of a Home Solar Array

- Long equipment life. Most manufacturers rate their photovoltaic cells for an operational life of 25 years or more.

- Silent operation. Unlike residential wind turbines, solar panels do not create any mechanical noise.

- Low maintenance. Once installed, solar systems are relatively maintenance free beyond keeping the panels clean, periodically checking the wiring, and monitoring the batteries if your system uses them to store back-up power.

- Revenue generating. It is possible in grid-tied systems operating in optimal solar areas, that the local power company will owe you money at the end of the month. Utilities are required by law to purchase excess electricity created by home alternative energy systems via net metering or a comparable method.

These positives are, however, counterbalanced by some "negatives" or disadvantages each homeowner must weigh against their personal situation.

Disadvantages of a Home Solar Array

- Subject to Interruption. Photovoltaic cells convert the photons in sunlight to electricity. When the sun sets, the panels become inactive. (Or, on cloudy days, their ability to produce power falls below optimal levels.) Grid-tied solar systems draw electricity from the local power utility's grid during off-peak hours or on overcast days. Off-grid solar homes must rely on deep-charge batteries or make use of a back-up power source during these times.

- Does not supply electricity during outages. Grid-tied home solar systems will not provide power to the home during an electrical outage because the converter is required to cut off to prevent current from being fed back into the grid and harming utility workers making repairs. The system can be rigged with a back-up battery and a switch-over, but of course this adds both cost and complexity to the installation.

- Not applicable for all home systems. Photovoltaic cells do not work well with major home systems that include a heating element, like electric ovens, or electric home furnaces.

Logically, it would seem then that solar energy would not function well with a water heater, but quite the opposite is true if you opt for thermal solar, a water-heating system used widely around the world. Every homeowner should conduct a home energy audit and completely understand both their own usage patterns and the potential power-generating capacity of the proposed home solar array before moving forward with purchase and installation.

- Makes re-roofing more difficult. In the event that a new roof is required on your home, the mounting hardware and solar panels must be removed. (Many homeowners take the precaution of having a new roof laid before installing their home solar power system even though this will increase the total cost of adding solar energy to the home.)

In areas prone to severe storms, especially in the spring, hail can be a significant threat. Homeowners should always review their existing insurance policies and make changes to cover the cost of replacing panels damaged by weather events or other potential household disasters like fire.

The question of the permanence of a home solar system can be seen as both an advantage and disadvantage. Like any other home improvement, a solar array increases the value of the property if the buyer perceives or can be shown a demonstrable worth.

"Green" homes are still relatively new in the world of real estate. Keeping detailed records of a system's performance will help the owner to prove the panels are an added value element in the event of a sale.

However, aside from any other real estate considerations, you cannot reasonably take the expensive equipment with you if you sell the house. The solar energy system becomes part of the property.

Barriers to Correct Positioning of Solar Panels

Some homeowners face barriers to correct positioning of their solar panels either due to the orientation of their roof, the location of adjacent trees that shade the roof line, or the presence of building restrictions.

Many homeowner's associations do not allow for the installation of solar panels even if local building codes permit them. The most efficient solar systems adjust the position of the panels throughout the day and across the seasons to maximize energy production, however the necessary machinery to accomplish tracking can be considered unsightly in a residential setting.

(Note that some areas are simply not geographically suited for the use of home solar power. Consult a map of peak sun hours to get a basic idea of your location's profile. These maps are available online and easily located via your favorite search engine.)

If homeowners think only in terms of photovoltaic panels, they may be limited in what they can accomplish with solar energy. There are, however, available thermal solar applications, mainly for pool and domestic water heating that can also significantly reduce electricity use.

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