Going Solar in 2018: Planning Your Investment!

A growing number of individuals, companies, and communities, are declaring their energy independence by going solar in 2018. Government agencies haven’t completely shifted their support to the solar industry. The coal and oil industries and their lobbyists still wield considerable economic—and political—power. However, governments worldwide recognize the fact that a global transition to sustainable energy sources is inevitable.

They also recognize that sustainable energy is essential for our future safety and security on all levels—individual, local, national, and global. If you need evidence of that recognition, consider Minnesota’s newest solar farm, which is a joint venture between Minnesota Power and the Minnesota National Guard.

Both federal and state agencies offer useful information as well as incentives for homeowners who are ready to invest in their own energy independence. The Clean Energy States Alliance guide and the Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar are two helpful sources for making a successful transition to solar energy.

Federal tax credits of up to 30% are available through 2019 for small solar energy systems. To take full advantage of those incentives in 2018, there are a few things you’ll need to do first.

1. Determine your total current energy usage by kilowatt hour KwH. Your heating and cooling needs will determine the amount of solar energy you will have to produce and what type of system production of that amount will require.

2. Weatherizing your home can save you money before, during, and after the transition to solar energy.  Reducing your energy needs can also reduce the cost of the solar system you will need to meet those needs.

3. Investigate your home’s true solar energy potential.  There are some useful mapping services that can help you do that. The number of days of annual sunshine in your geographical location isn’t the only thing to consider. Other factors affecting your home’s solar    potential include atmospheric conditions, the shape of the roof, and surrounding buildings and vegetation.

Neighborhood or homeowner association restrictions may also be a factor.  Sometimes declaring your energy independence requires working with others with the same goal for political change.

4. Learn everything you can about all of the options available to you. Some people purchase and install complete systems.  Others may buy only certain components of a system and rent other components.  For example, you might begin with just rooftop solar panels, and over time, use those savings to later purchase a solar powered water heating system—or vice-versa.

5. Consider the type of panels you want to install.  Most solar panels use silicon semiconductor technology.  Fortunately, within the last few years, prices have dropped drastically to less than $1 per watt, while efficiency has improved dramatically.  There are three types of silicon solar cells:

a) Multi-crystalline: This type has both the lowest cost, averaging about $.050 per watt with an average efficiency of 14%-16%.

b) Mono-crystalline: This type of solar cell uses silicon in a more pure form.  While they are more expensive, they increase efficiency to between 15% and 18%.

c) Mono-crystalline back contact: This type of solar panel is made with a contact on the back side of the panel. The contact improves the connection between cells, increases durability, and reduces shading.  Its level of efficiency is up to 21.5%.  Difficulty of production and the small number of companies currently producing them are two reasons their cost is significantly higher. still relatively high.

6. Whatever system you decide to install, any bid from a solar installer should state the generating capacity of the system measured in Watts or kilowatts.  You can also request an estimate of how much energy the system will generate monthly and annually. Bids should include the total cost of any necessary permits, hardware, installation, connection to the grid, sales tax, and warranty.  Cost per watt is a useful method of comparing prices.

7. Make a list of all the things you would rather spend money on than higher energy bills. It’s an inescapable fact that energy prices have risen each and every year since 2002.  However, you can escape those rising costs by switching to solar energy. Every year, new technological advances are made within the solar industry.

One exciting new development is a transparent solar collector .  This technology would make it possible to make glass for windows, or even smart phones and tablets, that would collect solar energy.  However, unlike solar panels, that technology is still in the primary stages of development and won’t be widely available anytime in the near future.

The introduction of any new technology requires widespread social acceptance and mass production to make it not only widely available, but widely affordable.  Fortunately, solar energy technology has finally met those requirements.  As more people declare their energy independence, the cost of that independence will continue to decrease, while the benefits continue to increase.

There has been a gradual shift within our social consciousness as people realize that our natural resources are limited.  Our economic resources are limited, too, as is another valuable resource–our time.  It’s been said that time is money, but it’s not possible to purchase more time on earth.

More people are choosing not to spend their valuable time working more hours to earn more money to pay higher energy prices. Rather than funding more vacations for oil company CEO’s, investing in solar energy is helping people take more vacations themselves.