The Advantages of Adding a Residential Solar Array to Your Home

Two primary motivations drive homeowners to install a residential solar energy system: environmental concern and economic benefit. Of the two, the environmental advantages are the most clear and the easiest to enumerate. The economic gain, however, is a highly individualized factor requiring a per household analysis to determine real, working numbers. 

In environmental terms, residential solar arrays create private points of renewable energy generation. Depending on how they are configured, these systems can reduce the load on the public grid while feeding clean excess power back into the utility. Producing electricity with solar panels reduces emissions created by other means, like coal, because fewer of those resources are needed by the overall energy consuming community. Finally, the presence of the individual solar system, by example, furthers the cause of residential renewal energy efforts.

To maximize potential economic return, most solar experts recommend that homeowners first conduct a personal energy audit to fully understand the home's current level of efficiency. This same process will clearly reveal how much power is drawn by the residents' unique energy habits and how much can potentially be saved by altering wasteful behaviors.

Obviously, the easiest way to calculate monthly usage is to collect a year's worth of statements from the energy utility. Most homeowners simply add up the usage and arrive at an annual figure. They should, however, go a step beyond that and look at peak periods throughout the year. Seasonal energy use varies widely and reveals potentially less expensive home improvements that may deliver a high return in energy savings. This could be anything from plugging air leaks to stop winter heat loss to improving the thickness of the attic insulation for more effective summer cooling.

Ideally, all the most common household energy saving measures will have been implemented:

- switching to compact fluorescent bulbs
- updating aged, inefficient appliances
- stopping power drain to "vampire" always-on or stand-by power hogs like computers and home entertainment systems.

When homeowners get serious about monitoring their electrical use and cutting negligent waste, they can see savings as high as 20 per centwithout spending any money at all.

Lowering home energy use prior to installing a residential solar array also creates a situation in which the array will have greater value. The higher the percentage of electricity used in the home that is generated by the solar panels, the higher the homeowner's return on the investment made in purchasing those panels.

There are clear advantages to opting for a solar array as a home alternative energy system. The equipment has a long operational life, usually 25 years or more. Solar arrays are silent and relatively maintenance free beyond keeping the panels clean, having the wiring inspected periodically, and (if they are present) monitoring the condition of the back-up batteries.

A solar array is not, however, an all-in-one solution to every aspect of home energy use. Even in a home that is completely "off grid" or disconnected from the power utility, a back-up source of power will be required. Residential solar arrays that provide the highest return on the initial investment are those that become part of a holistic approach to home energy use, one in which all the parts work together to lower both energy consumption and energy expenses.

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