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How to Convert Your Home to Solar Energy

by David Klecha
  • Overview

    With the rise of energy prices, concern about global climate change, and the driving need to make a difference, many are considering an end to their reliance on coal-fired grid power and using the sun to power their homes instead. In most of the country, a typical single family home rooftop can collect enough solar energy for the house's energy needs. But the process is not for the novice, and requires an understanding of the steps between grid power and clean power.
  • Converting to Solar

 
  • Step 1

    Determine the solar energy potential of your home based on where you live. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) maintains a webpage with maps showing how much exposure different areas of the US get to the sun, potential based on different types of solar energy collection, and even a calculator to determine what a photovoltaic system is capable of in a given location. Photovoltaic (PV) collection is what most people think of when thinking of solar energy--the flat, shiny rooftop panels that turn solar energy directly into electricity.
  • Step 2

    Decide whether you can go completely off the grid, or want to stay connected. Going off the grid requires some kind of power storage, like a large bank of batteries, and can be difficult in higher latitudes. Staying on the grid will allow you to sell excess summertime/daytime power back to the power company to offset when you'll need to use grid power at night, in the winter, or on darker days.
  • Step 3

    Select the photovoltaic solar modules that will work best for you. Efficiencies--that is, how much of the solar energy is converted into electricity--are constantly increasing, so it may make sense to wait and see if capacity goes up and prices come down. But at some point, you'll have to make a choice and go with it.
  • Step 4

    Solicit bids from contractors for the job. Unless you feel very comfortable working inside your AC breaker panel and up on your roof, and have some friends to help with the heavy and awkward job of handling the solar panels, you may be best off letting a professional do the job for you.
  • Step 5

    Contact your electric service provider and inform them that you'll be installing a solar system. Whether you'll be staying tied into the grid or cutting off from it entirely, they will need to be informed to adjust your account accordingly. They may even require the installation of a smart meter if you intend to sell your excess back to them.
  • 4
  • Request references from any contractor bidding to do your install. Solar is gaining sufficient popularity that you might encounter brand-new contractors, or other general or electric contractors trying to break into the business. You don't want to be someone's test case!
  • Request references from any contractor bidding to do your install. Solar is gaining sufficient popularity that you might encounter brand-new contractors, or other general or electric contractors trying to break into the business. You don't want to be someone's test case!
  • If you really feel like you can handle the job yourself, seek out detailed instructions and the advice of those who have done it themselves. High voltages and heavy, complicated equipment is involved and it is critical to understand the job inside and out before starting in on it.
  • If you really feel like you can handle the job yourself, seek out detailed instructions and the advice of those who have done it themselves. High voltages and heavy, complicated equipment is involved and it is critical to understand the job inside and out before starting in on it.

References & Resources