We, the inhabitants of this planet, are burning more fossil fuels than ever before. Individually, we sometimes wonder what we can do to help, as individuals, to reduce our carbon footprint. Well, it’s easy. Solar power is pretty much everywhere now, and even the smallest panels fueling part of your life can drastically change the effects of climate change when applied as a whole. If you plan on doing more than charging your phone with solar, this article will introduce you to solar planning, and give you some insight as to how many panels you need and how they can be connected for your particular situation.
Portable Solar Generation for Everyone
Solar starts small. A little charger for this or that, and scales up to systems that can replace all of your household energy. Let’s take a look at what’s out there.
We dismiss the little panel on a calculator or other small electronic device because it doesn’t do all that much. Replacing one tiny battery isn’t exactly your idea of going green, right?
But there has been a revolution in portable electronics, and small kits are available now that can power your phone, flashlights, laptop, and even jump-start your car! For those in rural areas, you might be using solar power for electric fencing. It’s everywhere, and that’s great for everyone, and it’s the easiest place to start.
But what if you want to power your whole house? Read on.
How Many Panels does it take to Power my House?
The average American uses about 30kWh per day. The kilowatt-hour is the standard unit used for solar energy as well as your electric bill. It’s basically one kilowatt of power running for an hour. Easy, right? Solar panels are rated in watts. Most home-sized panels are in the 300-400W range. So three of these in full sun and perfect operating conditions makes about 1kWh per hour. That’s not much compared to our energy usage, and they aren’t small. Most are around 3ft by 5ft in size.
Panels also don’t make as much energy in the morning as they do at noon. In the solar community, we talk about solar hours per day as a measurement of how much power a panel will generate. You can see a solar map to find out how much sun you are getting. Solar hours lumps most prevailing conditions into a standardized measurement to make things easy, as efficiency changes depending on season and where you live.
Multiply your daily solar hours by the panel wattage, and that’ll tell you how much power you will get from a panel. Most of the US gets about 5 solar hours per day on average. More in the summer, less in the winter, obviously. So a 300W panel will make about 1.5kWh per day. Compared to our 30kWh per day consumption, that means about 20 panels per house.
Do you really need that much? It depends.
Your Personal Energy Budget
Not everyone in America has two cars, 2.5 children, 1.5 pets, and all the other crazy averages reported, and our energy needs vary with climate and location. Someone in Minnesota who heats with wood or natural gas in the winter uses less electricity than for a person in Florida who is all electric and drives a Tesla.
The biggest energy eaters are the air conditioner and the fridge. The refrigerator cools your food at the expense of warming your house, making extra work for your A/C!
The easiest and best thing to do is look at your electric bill and see how much you are using. A smaller fridge or freezer, timing on the central air and heating, automatic lighting, and other modifications can make your energy bill easier to bear, and you’ll need less panels to cover your switch to solar, so consider stepping down your energy use as well. Reigning in your power usage is often the first step to going solar.
Too Many Panels?
You don’t have to run your house only on solar. An off-grid setup is bulky, expensive, and requires not only the panels, but inverters, batteries, and regular maintenance.
If you want to start modestly, you can save money, time, and stress while still helping the environment by getting a grid-tie setup. In this case, your solar panels can run full blast all the time (off-grid setups will limit power generation when batteries are nearly charged) and lower your energy bills by supplying power to your house all day with extra going back onto the grid for everyone else.
Not only that, you can expand as needed. Get a couple panels here, then maybe add batteries as an emergency backup for your home, and finally go off-grid one day if that’s your thing. Or, keep making more power to reduce fossil fuel burning at the power plant and maybe get some cash back from the power company at the same time.
There are many options and many ways to go with solar. Even a solar powered battery backup for your phone can help, and it’s something you can do today.
As for reducing your carbon footprint and powering your house from solar, you don’t have to do everything at once. If you can spring for the whole setup, great, but a couple panels on your roof will definitely help out, and every kWh you collect means a little less fossil fuel burned, and a lower energy bill. Panels these days are known to last for more than 20 years.
A Final Note:
You might notice that we haven’t mentioned costs. These are constantly changing, mostly lowering. Plus, having the right solar provider and installer makes a world of difference. There are permits to deal with, power regulations, and more that change with every location, so it’s impossible to nail down a price tag. Try to go as local as you can and find a reputable installer who will help you figure out your power budget and who knows how to get the best prices and quality for your area and budget.
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