Solar technology for powering the home is more efficient and available than ever. That doesn't mean it's a snap to get started. Creating an effective solar power system means coordinating different activities and building trades. Here's what you need to know before you begin planning for energy independence.
Connecting to the grid
Even if you intend to use solar energy for most of your home's electricity, there will still be times when you need to draw power from the grid. A grid connection is also required if you want to sell excess power. This means your home must have a meter that can run both backward and forward, depending on which way the juice is flowing. Check with the local power utility to make sure you get the right permits and equipment.
Panels or shingles?
Solar power for a single family home comes down to two choices: rigid solar panels or solar shingles that integrate into the surface of the roof. This is a decision that must be made early in the design phase.
Panels can be mounted on brackets above the roof or on a pole or a shed. Since they aren't built into the roof, panels can be set to different angles or even mounted on motorized brackets that track the sun.
Solar shingles, which are also available to integrate with tile roofs, form part of the roof's surface. They are able to withstand most storms and don't significantly affect the appearance of the roof. Your roofing contractor may be able to install solar shingles.
Battery backups and power inverters
Any home that depends on solar power must also have a way to get electricity at night or when the sunlight simply isn't strong enough to provide all the power needed. A battery backup can store excess energy produced during daylight hours, making it available at night. In addition, the system will need a power inverter to transform DC power into the AC your lights and appliances use. A licensed electrician can help determine the best place for the inverter and any battery backups.
Landscaping for solar power
It might be tempting to leave planning the yard until after the house is built, but this would be a mistake. Your landscape designer can calculate the direction of the sun and use this to ensure that your trees don't end up shading your solar panels or shingles. This is also a good time to coordinate with your plumbing contractor to make sure roots, pavements, and retaining walls don't interfere with water lines or septic systems.
A successful solar power installation has many components and interacts with many other aspects of your home. Careful planning and consultation with the contractors you hire are vital to living green, on the grid or off.