If you’ve ever considered installing a home solar electric system and generating your electricity with free, renewable energy, now’s a great time to look at your options. In recent years, prices for solar systems have plummeted thanks to increased demand, mass production and intense competition among manufacturers. Generous government financial incentives for solar power have reduced the cost for homeowners even further, making a home solar electric system more affordable than it’s ever been.
Because the source of energy — sunlight — is free, the cost of solar power equates to the cost of your solar electric system spread over the lifetime of the system you buy — easily 30 years or more. As a rule, solar incentives for homeowners reduce the system cost by 30 to 50 percent. Incentives for businesses can lower the cost by 50 to 75 percent! However, even without incentives, the lifetime cost of solar electricity is now frequently cost-competitive with the cost of electricity from your local utility. In some places with relatively high costs for utility electricity unsubsidized solar is already cheaper than utility rates.
When purchasing a solar electric system, most people choose to contact a solar installer, who can help them decide which type of system they need. To find a solar installer, check local listings or use the Find Solar Directory to search for local options within a national directory. Another option is to plan and install your own solar electric system. For more on this approach read Choose DIY to Save Big on Solar Panels For Your Home!. In either case, before you get started you’ll want to learn a few of the basics about how solar electric systems work and what decisions you’ll need to make when choosing a system.
How Solar Power Works
As the name implies, solar electric — or photovoltaic (PV) — systems convert sunlight energy to electricity. This transformation occurs in solar modules, typically referred to as panels. Each module consists of numerous solar cells, which are usually made of silicon. They produce electricity when incoming solar radiation knocks electrons from the silicon atoms out of their orbits around their nuclei. These electrons flow to the surface of the cell where they are drawn off by tiny silver contacts.
In solar electric systems, numerous modules are wired together in series to provide the electricity for our homes. These modules are usually attached to an aluminum rack, which can be mounted onto your roof or a foundation set in the ground next to your house. The modules and the rack system constitute a solar array