The practicalities of solar power

Written by michelle lanz
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Pros and cons of harnessing the sun in your everyday life

The practicalities of solar power
Solar energy doesn't make sense for everyone. (Getty Thinkstock)

Solar has the risk portfolio of a savings account, but the high-rate return of a high-risk stock.

— Rick Joseph, Solar Energy Consultant for REC Solar Inc.

Solar energy is sustainable and abundant, and it helps conserve fossil fuels and save people money. But because it’s not yet an established norm, it requires a significant investment for your home or business. Switching to solar can be practical depending on the location of your home or business, your financial situation, and your chance of saving money on your energy bills in the process.

Location, Location, Location

Not every home or business is situated in a way that would make solar worth the cost of installation.

“The No. 1 factor that impedes someone getting solar is shade,” said solar consultant Rick Joseph. “If you live in a house near a lot of mature trees and the house is shaded, you’re going to have to cut the trees or solar is not going to work.”

Solar works best if the home or business has a south-facing roof. East- and west-facing roofs can be used, Joseph says, but the systems don’t take in as much energy and won’t yield as high a return on your investment. North-facing roofs cannot be used for a solar energy system.

Consider your options

To maximise the benefits of purchasing a solar power system, it is important to act quickly. Solar incentives are focused on early adopters, so people who opt early to go solar stand to reap the most government credits.

Not everyone has tens of thousands of pounds to spend on a solar panel system for a home or business, but financing and leasing options are available to combat the high up-front cost.

“The cost of solar has gone down over the past few years probably about 15 to 20 percent,” said Shawn Young, solar design consultant for Green Designs. “Manufacturers have started partnering with banks to offer a 15- to 20-year lease in which the bank owns the solar system on your roof, but your energy bill comes down maybe £50 or so every a month.”

There’s also something that Young calls a “sweet spot” system: a smaller, less-expensive panel array that lowers your bill by keeping your electricity usage out of higher, more expensive energy billing tiers.

A valuable addition

Solar panels also can greatly increase the value of your home.

According to a study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, every pound you save on energy bills due to green initiatives results in a £20 increase in the value of your home. If your solar power system saves you £700 a year in energy bills, Young explains, the value of your home will also increase.

A solar system also can make your house more attractive to future-minded buyers. “Any Realtor will tell you that if there’s two similar houses side by side and one is solar, there’s a two-to-one chance that those people are going to choose the solar home,” said Young, whose business specialises in designing and installing solar systems. “This benefit applies to commercial properties as well.”

A solar system will pay for itself on average in five to 10 years. “Solar has the risk portfolio of a savings account, but the high-rate return of a high-risk stock,” said Joseph. “Say I put £20,000 from an investment account into a solar system on my roof and I save £3,000 a year on my electric costs. That’s a 15 percent return on my money. Was that £20,000 investment returning 15 percent? Very likely not, and if it is, it’s a high-risk investment.”

Get the kids involved

If clean energy such as solar is going to be more widely used in the future, it is important to start teaching kids about it at a young age.

Another way to get kids engaged in solar energy is to try incorporating it into their science projects.

Yet another way to get kids involved is to lead by example, Young says. Start a discussion about incorporating solar energy into your home and include your children in the decision.

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