A lot of homeowners are thinking about installing a solar power kit on their home to take advantage of the free energy, tax incentives, and clean conscience that they offer. But before you go out and purchase a system or call an installer, you need to think about where it will installed. This article will help you decide. These are the questions you should be asking yourself:
1. Where is the best access to sunshine? Solar panels in the Northern Hemisphere should face south, or as close to south as possible. Many people automatically assume that the array should go on the roof. But if your roof does not have a south-facing section, you may have to consider putting it on the ground or on an out-building such as a shed or a garage.
2. How much shade will there be in this place? Shading will kill your panels' efficiency quicker than anything else. You'll have to consider your trees, your neighbors' trees, vents, air conditioning units, and any other obstructions that could shade your panels. And don't forget that the suns angle changes not only over the course of a day, but over the course of a year. The best tool to determine what kind of shading you will experience year-round is a Solar Pathfinder, which can be ordered at most online solar stores.
3. Will shading be a problem 10, 20, or 30 years from now? Solar panels can last anywhere from 20 to 50 years. So the system you install today will be there for a long time. Take a minute to think about how tall bushes and trees will be 30 years from now. Can you trim them? Will you want to?
4. Will I need to access them to remove snow and/or clean them? Homeowners in areas prone to snow, dirty rain, or heavy dust may need to occasionally clean the panels. If they are on a roof this may be dangerous and inconvenient. Usually solar panels are placed at an angle near 45 degrees, so they tend to 'clean' themselves. Often cleaning simply involves a garden hose or a long handled broom.
5. How much room do I need for the system? The most common panels take about one square foot of space for every 10 watts they produce. For example, if you decided that you wanted about 3,000 watts for your home, you would divide 3,000 W by 10, for 300 sq.ft. This is about 17 by 17 feet square. You'll also need about a 3' by 3' area on the wall near your electric meter to install the necessary components. If you are considering a battery bank for the system, you'll need an area about the size and shape of a large chest freezer to store them.
6. Will I be able to adjust them as the sun angle changes? As the seasons change, so does the angle of the sun. The optimal angle for the panels is at a 90-degree angle to the sun. The more adjustable the panels are, the more energy they will produce. Tracking systems will follow the sun across the sky at any angle. For those not wanting to change the angle of their system, the system should be place at an angle equal to their latitude. So someone living in Spokane, Washington, which is at 48 degrees latitude, would place their panels at 48 degrees from horizontal.
7. Is it close to my power needs? Solar units produce direct current (DC) power, which is notorious for line loss, which means the farther is has to travel, the more power it loses. The way to offset this loss is to use larger, and more expensive, wire to transport this energy. So, the farther away from the home equals greater installation cost.
8. How will this affect my neighbors? Solar arrays obviously collect sunlight, and therefore cast a shadow. Will this shade your neighbor's award winning tomatoes? Will the panels block their satellite dish? Installing solar is at least partially about being a good citizen, both locally and globally.
9. What are the local zoning codes and covenants? Although most municipalities are 'greening' their codes to allow for renewable energy systems, they all have restrictions on height and proximity to property lines that systems can be built. A visit to the local permitting office is usually worthwhile. Try to talk to someone with the most authority on the matter (usually a Planning Director or Compliance Officer) so you avoid the whole 'but the lady at the counter said it was ok!' conversation down the road.
10. Can I do this myself? With proper planning and education, the kits offered today make it easier than ever for do-it-yourself homeowners to install solar. However, you should always obtain the proper permits (this process will tell if you're even allowed to put it up yourself) before you start the work. You should also always have a licensed and insured (and preferably Master) Electrician do the final connections and testing on your system. And remember, working in high places can be dangerous, so always use proper safety equipment.