While there are ways for people in apartments to use solar energy, today it’s still most common for a solar energy system to be installed at a single-family home. So that’s what we’ll focus on here.
But if you’re interested in shared solar, just Google “community solar” to learn more about opportunities that will come up in the future to use solar power even if you don’t have a house to put it on or if your house isn’t appropriate for solar.
How to Know if Solar is Right for Your Home
The U.S. Census says there are about 72 million single-family detached homes across the country, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says that 25% of those houses are “solar compatible.” That means the available market for residential solar in the United States is around 18 million houses.
Virginia has nearly two million of those homes, meaning that in the Old Dominion there are probably about 500,000 houses that could host a solar energy system.
Of course we’d love to see everyone in the state go solar. But homeowners have to be realistic about whether solar is a good investment for them right now.
Not every house that can host a solar system in Virginia will see the biggest benefit from getting solar.
To decide if solar is really right for your house, you have to consider not only whether there’s a spot that’s free from shade on your roof or in your front yard to allow the sun to hit your solar panels. You also have to consider how you use electricity in your house.
Homes that Benefit Most from Solar
Air conditioning serves as a pretty handy litmus test. If you run it during a big enough part of the summer, chances are very good that you’ll save money from day one by going solar.
Other candidates for immediate solar savings are:
- Large homes
- Older homes
- Homes with electric water heaters
- Households that do a lot of laundry
- Homes with swimming pools, space heaters or grow lights
But even if you’re a fogged-in energy miser and your electric bill is minuscule, you’re still going to save money with solar.
Folks with high bills start saving right away. But virtually everyone will save money over the long run. For people who fall somewhere in the middle, you’ll probably break even in the short run and save over the long term.
And contrary to popular belief, you can still generate solar power on a cloudy day.
The sun’s radiation penetrates through clouds, so your solar panels can still absorb energy from the sun. In fact, some studies have shown that solar panels perform better when the sun is not scorchingly hot. An overcast day provides a cool environment for your panels while still allowing them to absorb solar energy.
Get Efficient First and then Get Solar
If your home is not weatherized, it may make sense to invest in energy efficiency upgrades before going solar.
Some efficiency upgrades are simple and inexpensive, such as changing out all your old energy-wasting incandescent lightbulbs for energy-sipping LED bulbs. It may also make sense to blow insulation into your attic, seal drafts around doors and windows and service your AC and heating systems.
A good solar installation company will recommend easy upgrades to make your home more energy efficient, or even refer you to a trusted contractor who can help, before recommending that you go solar.
For example, one of our customers, Mark Rathke in Bridgewater, talks about how we helped him make his home more energy efficient before installing solar panels. Cutting home’s overall need for electricity actually allowed Mark to get by with fewer solar panels, saving him money.
After all, going solar is not just about producing some or all of your power from the sun. It’s also about saving you money and helping you get smarter about energy!
This article was adapted from our ebook, “The Top 10 Questions and Answers on Home Solar in Virginia.” Download your free copy now and become smarter about solar power.
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar