How Solar Tech is Breeding Independence from The Grid

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For thousands of years, the sun has been revered by many cultures for its enormous power and size. Now, people are admiring the giant star for a very tangible reason: its ability to help lower electric bills. Installing solar panels will save the average person around $1000 a year on their energy bills, notes SolarEnergy.net – not too shabby!

In an effort to reduce the amount of money they spend on energy, more people are becoming interested in “going off the grid” and leaving traditional electric and gas companies – and their corresponding high bills – and getting energy from other sources. The use of solar power in residential homes was nearly 10 times higher during the first quarter of 2013 than it was five years ago, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports.

One way to take going off the grid from fantasy to reality is through solar power. By hooking up one’s home, RV or other dwelling to solar power, it is now easier than ever to go off the grid but still enjoy creature comforts such as air conditioning, television and computers.

Speaking of television, there are options for folks who are interested in alternative viewing options for their favorite programs while living off the grid. These include DirecTV packages that can work with personal computers and even mobile devices.

How to get started

First, figure out the best solar panel size for the dwelling. Take a thorough look at the existing roof. In addition to determining how large the roof is – which may involve carefully crawling up to do some up-close-and-personal measuring – it’s also important to note which directions the roof faces. If homeowners are unsure how to do this safely and effectively, they should consider hiring a professional.

In the United States, solar panels are most efficient when they are pointed to the south. If one side of the roof faces this direction, this is the area that will need to be measured. People with flat roofs or those with an east-west orientation can still go off the grid via solar power. In these cases, the solar panels can often be installed on the entire roof.

The importance of being an informed solar consumer

When it comes to solar panels, not everything is created equally. Fans of off-grid living will need to acquaint themselves with some pretty impressive sounding words, such as “photovoltaic,” “polycrystalline” and “amorphous crystalline.” Solar panels are made from one of three kinds of photovoltaic material – the aforementioned amorphous crystalline and polycrystalline, and a third one called monocrystalline. Amorphous panels usually cost less than monocrystalline, but they also take up a lot more space on a roof. When choosing which material is best, keep both aesthetics and, if applicable, their homeowners association in mind. In other words, folks who are going off the grid should be careful not to cover every inch of their roof with panels the HOA will ultimately ask them to take down. Do the research first, err on the side of caution, and still enjoy lower energy bills from solar power.

There are plenty of anecdotes that offer encouragement and inspiration to those who are considering going off the grid in favor of solar power. The New York Times writer Craig Leisher offers helpful advice and tips on how going solar can make off-grid living both comfortable and sustainable. The author was looking for a quiet and peaceful existence out in the beautiful woods of Maine. Instead of a noisy diesel generator – which would technically be off the grid, but not exactly serene and relaxing – the author also did plenty of research on solar energy. He found that due to an influx of subsidized imports from China and Germany, it is now more affordable than ever to go solar. Specifically, he noted, the retail price for solar modules is about half what it used to be. Although the author and his family have had to rely on the diesel generator a bit more than they were hoping for, they are using 76 percent less energy than most homes in their state. As a bonus, their solar system is portable, which allows them to move it to a new location if need be.

Interestingly, although solar power is thought of as being very “green,” an article on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website points out this form of energy can have a negative impact on the environment. This can include the loss of habitat and land use, as well as using potentially hazardous materials to make the solar panels.

Most solar panels do not need to be replaced for about 30 years, notes SolarEnergy.net. While some people who live in very sunny climates and who use smaller amounts of energy find they can go completely solar and eliminate their electric bills, others still need to use electricity from time to time. Even so, the notion of saving at least $1,000 a year on energy bills makes solar energy a very attractive option.

What are your thoughts on solar power?

Creative Commons image by Dave Dugdale

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • Sabrina Hill

    This is VERY doable if you were smart enough to NOT live where there are HOA’s. Ateyo and I have not had to pay a power company to pollute the atmosphere since 1994, and we are not by ANY stretch of the imagination “rich”, or even “well off”.

  • https://www.mysolarinstaller.com My Solar Installer

    Great article and good for you Sabrina. We get excited every time we hear of another family that is utilizing solar technology. To help families we have provided a free resource to help people locate the best solar energy solutions providers wherever they live. The more people we get on board the cheaper solar innovations will get for everyone.

    • Niri Tawa

      You are VERY right, I truly wish more people would make the switch.