I chuckle a little when I get my electric bill. It makes me think about the naysayers that claim “solar power doesn’t work.” Those people are out there — still!
Well, solar panels do work. My most recent electric bill just came in (April 2015), and it was $23.16. My home is over 3,000 sq ft, I have a pool, and my wife keeps the air conditioning at 74 degrees. I do not take any extraordinary steps to save energy. My kitchen has nine old incandescent recessed lights. I leave my desktop computer on 24/7. The pool lights (2) and landscape lights run on a schedule every night. I don’t have fancy insulation, and my 1982 windows are not well sealed. I choose to use energy for a nice and convenient lifestyle.
I have a solar energy system that is average for a home like mine. It’s not crazy huge or overkill as you might expect from a solar guy. My system has 40 solar panels totalling about 10 kilowatts. It works completely seamlessly. The only reason I pay attention to it is that I get a monthly energy monitoring report by email, and a delightful surprise from FPL in my inbox.
I just broke a Cardinal rule of blogging that my friend Charly Caldwell taught me through his Success Academy — don’t “we” all over yourself. I’ve been talking about my system, but now I want to talk about YOUR SOLAR PANELS!
What will it take to get you started with solar energy?
The first step you will want to take is to learn how solar electricty works. This site is a great resource for that, or you can have a free informative consultation from Florida Solar Design Group. Once you have educated yourself on how solar electricity works, it will take a decision and a commitment. Fortunately, that commitment is really only financial (no big deal, right?) There is no required lifestyle change, and no change to the way you use electricity in your home. It is completely seamless.
What kind of commitment do you need to make to install solar panels?
Fortunately, new technology makes solar energy systems modular. You can install just one solar panel at a time, or go for it and install the largest system that will fit on your roof. There are economies of scale, of course. Installing solar panels one by one will probably be prohibitively expensive in most cases. If you are not ready to make a big commitment, you might consider starting with half of your goal, then adding system capacity in stages. As you add more solar panels, more and more of your utility electric bill will be offset, and the monthly cost of operating your home will be reduced.
Shouldn’t you start with efficiency before I install solar panels?
The short answer is, yes. If you are looking for the best bang for your energy saving buck, many energy efficiency measures could provide a better return on investment. Installing a variable speed pump is a no-brainer if you have a pool and an old energy hogging single speed pump. If you air conditioner is very old, your insulation is poor, or you have very old appliances, you might want to look in that direction. However, there is no easier way to impact your utility bill in a really big way than to install solar panels. Energy efficiency improvements make incremental improvements in your energy use, but can be a big hassle and not worth the effort. Also, it often makes sense to just replace appliances, light bulbs, and air conditioning with more efficient choices when these items reach the end of their useful lives (when service costs become too high). After all, you already have these items, so why get rid of them. The one item I would say you should consider changing immediately is your pool pump, which can be the #2 energy user in your home. It’s easy and affordable to replace, and it will pay for itself quickly.
Why solar panels work to reduce your utility bill
Solar panels are connected to your home’s existing electrical distribution system and the utility grid. This is called a grid-interactive system. Solar panels work in parallel with the utility company to provide seamless electricity to your home. When solar panels are not producing enough power, the utility company makes up the difference and sends you the needed additional power. When you solar panels produce more power than you need, the excess is delivered to your neighbors and the utility company give you credit for this electricity (and bills your neighbor). You can use the excess credits seamlessly when needed. This process is called net metering. You are only billed for your net usage of utility provided electricity each month.