solar energy

Residential Solar Energy Installation - 13 FAQs And The Answers

When planning for a residential solar energy installation, many questions tend to arise. Here we answer the most common ones.

residential solar energy installation

Before you install residential solar energy, you should understand all of the elements that together form a complete solar energy generation system. We recommend you read up on solar power. There are many wonderful books detailing solar power and home solar power systems. The web is another great place to research solar power.

The of the most popular books on the topic are The Solar Electricity Handbook 2009: A Simple, Practical Guide to Using Electric Solar Panels and Designing and Installing Photovoltaic Solar PV Systems and Photovoltaics: Design and Installation Manual. Make sure you buy or borrow and read at least one of these two books of you feel that you need a deep understanding for how residential solar energy systems may be set up and function.

Residential Solar Energy Installation FAQs

How does a solar energy system work?

Residential solar energy systems are most commonly mounted on your roof although they can be mounted on a south-facing wall or on the ground.

A solar energy system uses solar cell technology in the form of solar panels, shingles or roofing tiles to convert solar energy (heat) to direct current. The energy produced by each panel or tile is fed through a device called an inverter which transforms the direct current into a useable form of electricity that is also useable by your local electric utility (AC current). The energy is then stored in a battery for use as needed.

What is the difference between on grid and off grid system?

You can have a stand-alone system that supplies all electrical needs of your home and is not tied into the local electricity grid or you can have a grid tied system.

Grid tied systems are more popular because most homes only use solar to generate and cover a portion of their electrical load and use the local electricity utility to supply backup power as needed. The other benefit of a grid tied system is the ability to sell the excess power you generate with your solar system back into the grid reducing the payback period on your investment and reducing your overall energy costs.

Stand-alone systems are popular in very rural areas where there is no nearby electric grid. In this case the solar system has no back up other than the energy stored in the battery which is used for night-time electricity needs and other periods when the sun is limited.

Where can I put residential solar energy?

The most reasonable place is roof because of its angle and exposure to the sun. The size of the roof is important because it takes a lot of panels to produce enough electricity to power an average size home.

If you do not have a lot of roof space you may have to consider a ground array of panels or adding panels to a south facing wall.

Is shade a problem to the system?

Shade can be a problem for solar arrays. Shade can reduce the efficiency and power output of your residential solar energy installation.

It is best to keep the area where your solar array is mounted (roof, wall or ground) clear of trees and debris that may create unwanted shade. Your local solar dealer can assist you in planning the location and best landscaping options for your home when adding a solar power system.

Do I need a new roof before doing residential solar energy installation?

No. Adding a solar power system to your home does not require a new roof unless the roof is in bad disrepair or is unable to support the additional weight of the new system. With solar shingles and tiles now available you can easily integrate solar into your existing roof. These new solar products have greatly improved the appearance and aesthetics of going solar.

During residential solar energy installation, Can I add reflectors or mirrors around the solar panels to increase the power they generate?

Concentrated solar is another newer option in solar technology which can be integrated into your system to increase panel efficiency. It is important you work with an expert to do this because the intense heat that results from the use of mirrors or reflectors must be managed carefully to avoid fire hazards and damage to the solar system itself.

How many solar panels do I need to produce enough electricity to run my house?

There is no simple answer to this question. It depends on a number of factors including geographical latitude, your total electrical usage, climate, average amount of sunlight you receive daily and the size and wattage of your panels. This is a very good reason to work with an experienced solar dealer and installer. They will gladly help you calculate the number of panels you need, the amount of roof space or ground space required and the best type of solar power to install (panels, tiles, shingles etc) given your specific location and situation.

Is shade a problem to the system?

In theory the answer is yes. In practice it is more common to have a solar system that meets between 40 and 50% of your overall electric needs.

You are only limited by the size of your roof or ground space as to the number of panels you can install but you need to think carefully about the cost of a system large enough to meet all of your electrical needs and whether or not it is feasible to cover 100% of your energy needs.

Can I still do the residential solar installation if the system can't be mounted on my roof?

In principle, yes. In practice there may be significant hurdles to overcome. Latitiude and angle to the sun are important. Ground based and wall systems are possible but they tend to be far less efficient than roof mounted systems. Thus, the cost is considerably higher and the payback period considerably longer.

What if I rent a home, can I still do residential solar power installation?

Technically, you would not have the right to install a grid-tied system because the owner is the responsible person for any net metering agreements or rates. If the landlord agreed to the installation of a grid tied system the electric bill would have to be in their name in order to receive the benefit of selling excess power back into the grid. You can purchase and install a stand-alone system that will not be connected to a utility.

Before taking either step you should consult and gain the approval of your landlord (the homeowner). Have any agreement put in writing and make sure you clearly define who is responsible for any damage, the type of system, any reciprocal agreements around a grid tied system etc. You could encounter legal issues if a disagreement ever arose between you and the home owner so get legal counsel before taking any action.

What is an inverter?

There are two kinds of electricity, DC and AC. Homes that are connected to utility power use AC electricity. Flashlights, small radios and automobiles use DC electricity. In order for you to be able to use solar energy to operate the lights, heating or appliances in your home you will need an inverter.

The inverter is a piece of equipment that converts the direct current generated by your solar system into AC power. There are two types of inverter units. One type uses batteries (UPS) to store power and the second type uses the utility grid for power storage (Grid-tied). Inverters are now required to use meters that indicate their performance. Some manufacturers supply remote display units that can be mounted inside the home. It is a good idea to check on your inverter regularly. Take time to acquaint yourself with its operation and performance.

What about accumulating and storing solar power?

For large arrays of electricity you will need a special industrial battery. These batteries are not portable and do require regular maintenance. They are useful for situations where houses are located far away from an electric utilitie's power grid.

Grid-connected systems provide a better solution. With a grid tied system you connect your solar system right into the local electric grid. This allows you to use electricity from the utility when you need it. When you produce excess energy you don’t need you can also sell it back to the utility. There are net metering laws to regulate the prices of selling and purchasing electricity. These rates and laws vary by state and utility.

How much does it cost to install a solar system?

In general the cost of installing a solar power system is expensive but with the increases in manufacturing costs are rapidly declining. The cost of residential solar energy installation is calculated on a per watt basis. For example, during 2008, the cost of solar power ran between $7 to $9 per watt.

But the government, states and companies offer various incentives which can reduce the cost by up to 50% or more. There are many solar calculators that can help you calculate your system and installation costs but the best policy is to shop around and get several quotes. Research the incentives available in your area.

Now, these were the most frequently asked questions about residential solar energy installations. We hope you now feel more empowered to proceed with your plans and carry out a more or less extensive residential solar energy installation. Good luck!

Learn more...

  1. Home Solar Power Systems - Sizing and Planning
  2. What are the best residential solar kits for Do it yourself
  3. The top 13 questions about installing residential solar power
  4. Where I gonna find a reliable solar contractors in my area?


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