While big solar farms tend to grab the headlines, the rooftop revolution is quietly making its mark. Solar panels in residential settings do so much more than generate free electricity.
Here are some more benefits and advantages in adding a solar power system to your house.
Carbon emissions reduction
Conventional coal fired electricity generation systems generate emissions of around 2 pounds of greenhouse gases per kilowatt hour; a solar panel, zero. While it vary depending on local conditions, an entry level system consisting of 1.5kW worth of solar panels (6-8 modules) can avoid around 3.2 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions year (compared to brown coal fired power generation).
Reduction in water consumption
Electricity generation can be a very thirsty business. A coal fired power plant uses around 1.5 gallons of water to generate a kilowatt hour of electricity (source). A solar panel – none.
Solar panels can also act as rooftop insulators. Researchers determined the savings in cooling through a solar panel’s roof shading qualities amounts to a 5% discount on the cost of the modules over their lifetime.
Increases house value
A study of the real estate market in California found houses with rooftop solar power system achieved better sale prices than homes without a solar array.
Can be a better investment than money in the bank
This will greatly depend on financial incentives in your area, but where feed in tariff incentives exist that pay a premium rate for the electricity produced by a system, investing in solar panels can provide a better return than sticking the equivalent amount of cash in the bank. This can also apply in areas where there are no feed in tariffs, but where electricity costs are rapidly increasing.
Encourages further energy efficiency
Something I’ve noticed with some households that go solar is a sudden awareness of and interest in electricity consumption, which in turn leads to other energy efficiency and electricity saving measures being implemented.
Durable and reliable
Most solar panels should have a useful life of over 25 years – with no moving parts, there’s very little to go wrong in the panel itself. Solar inverters, the box between the panels and your switchboard that converts the DC current to AC have a life of around 10 years.
Time = money. Aside from *perhaps* needing to wipe down the panels very occasionally, if ever (solar panel glass has self cleaning qualities), and keeping the inverter dusted, that’s about all the maintenance involved.
Increased energy security through distributed generation
It’s never wise to put all your eggs in one basket, but that’s exactly what we tend to do with energy. We rely too heavily on massive power plants that are subject to failure, human error and also targets for sabotage.
In September 2011, 1.4 million customers of San Diego Gas & Electric were left without power for 12 hours due to an “inadvertent operator error” – the actions of a single employee.
Home rooftop solar power systems help provide a more secure electricity supply through distributed generation – all that’s needed is for mains grids infrastructure to catch up with the technology.
Minimal line loss
The further from the point of electricity generation to the point of consumption, the more energy is lost, usually as heat. It’s estimated between 7 – 10% of all electricity generation in the United States is wasted through line loss; which means millions of tons of coal are burned each year for nothing. Rooftop solar power systems only have to transmit over a very short distance, not miles – and no coal is burned in the process.
Reducing the need for peak load stations
In Australia, ten percent of capital expenditure in electricity infrastructure goes towards providing capacity to respond to peaks in electricity demand that occur for just 20 hours a year.
The massive uptake of home solar power systems in the Australian state of New South Wales has delayed the need for baseload fossil fuel based electricity generation capacity in the state being added for around 3 years – and the same will occur wherever there are a high number of home solar power systems installed.
A census carried out in August 2010 by the Solar Foundation found the U.S. solar industry was employing 93,000 people, with that number expected to have increased 25% by August 2011 (latest census figures expected soon.). A 2011 report prepared for Solar Energy Industries Association found 75 cents from every dollar spent on a solar installation in the US makes its way back into the US economy through wages and associated services.
Optimizes land usage
One of the prickly issues involved with large solar farms (or any electricity generation plant) is the large amount of land they require. Our cities and towns provide a sea of rooftops that could be harvesting energy from the sun.
Encourages wider adoption
Solar farms stuck out in the middle of nowhere are seen by relatively few people. A solar farm on your rooftop will likely be seen by many – it helps keep the technology in front of people and stirs up curiosity that results in research. It’s been shown that a single household installing a solar power system can act as a catalyst for other households nearby to do the same. Be the solar pioneer in your street! :)
There’s so much more to home solar power than just the free electricity aspect. Aside from slashing your electricity bill, as you can see from the above, the other benefits to you, the wider community and the environment are substantial.
Footnote and shameless plug – if you’re in Australia and thinking about going solar, consider doing so through Energy Matters – Australia’s home solar power system specialists. Yes, I’m a little biased as I consult for the company :). The Energy Matters site contains an abundance of information on solar energy, offers instant online solar quotes for home grid connect systems and also showcases hundreds of renewable energy components, such as solar panels, solar inverters and deep cycle batteries for off grid applications.