Starting small takes the “pocket pain” out of solar power

To cover your home energy needs, a solar installation should be about 5 to 7 kilowatts (kW) in size (average American homes eat up an estimated 920 kilowatt-hours, or kWh, per month, says the EIA).

home solar baby steps 

At 7 kW, given an average solar insulation value of 4.5 across most of the nation, EcoSolar International predicts an electrical production rate of 38.5 kWh per day, or 1,155 per month, which is actually closer to real energy use in homes in the electronic age.

The average costs of 5- to 7-kW systems, plus installation, still remain about $33,000 to $49,000 to make your home energy-independent. Obviously, a home that is more energy-efficient in other ways will require significantly less electricity, and therefore lower costs.

Of course, various federal, state, local and utility incentives – from tax breaks to actual cash – reduce that cost, if you qualify (in some cases, like Oregon, by more than 50 percent). And if you can do the work yourself, you save even more, but be certain you are qualified. Incorrectly installing a $31,400 Kyocera kit is like going to Vegas and losing, big time.

7 Baby Steps to Go Solar

For those who want to go solar, but don’t want to invest in the whole-hog approach or lack the technical know-how to install a traditional solar PV system, consider taking baby steps.

diy solar panels

#1—Install DIY kits with built-in panel inverters, or microinverters, like those offered by Solar Sphere’s DIY Solar Kits or Sustainablog’s green shopping site. These panels deliver AC (alternating current, the kind your electrical panel requires), and are easier to wire into your home’s electrical system.

#2—Or choose GoGreenSolar’s 250-watt, grid-tied, Plug N Play Solar Power Kit, which plugs directly into any household outlet and delivers 1 kWh of electricity a day. Plug in 10, and you have lighting and emergency electrical backup covered. Way to go, pro!

#3—Akeena Solar, whose 175-watt Andalay solar panels won the Kansas Climate and Energy Project Take Charge Challenge, is merging with Westinghouse, the appliance giant, and changing its name accordingly. In 2009, Akeena sold its trademark plug and play Andalay panels through retailers, including 21 Lowe’s locations in California.

#4—Ready Solar offers a “kit in a box” with web-based performance monitoring whose modular design allows for simple expansion.

solar clover

#5—And Armageddon Energy plans to offer a solar panel in the form of hexagon that – snapped into three other panels – forms a “solar clover.” One unit delivers .33 kW, and the product should reach the market in 2011, but like many too-good-to-be-true products advertised as plug and play, installation is slightly more complicated.

#6—The same is true of Lumeta PowerPly’s [video] flexible “peel ‘n stick” solar modules (think Contac Paper), which deliver 2.25 kW in 34 minutes on flat roofs.

#7—Last, but far from least, consider Clarian Technologies, which currently offers a truly plug and play unit called Sunfish, rated at 1 kilowatt and costing about $3,000 (or a mini-Sunfish at 200 watts and $800 or less). The units, equipped with all-UL electronics and a GFCI circuit breaker to protect homeowners and linemen from electric shock, are lightweight and help reduce distribution line losses.

While waiting to decide on the most cost-effective system to purchase, you might also want to reflect on the fact that competition can only make solar energy simpler and less expensive. In fact, manufacturers are finally beginning to discover the consumer ideal: products don’t have to be “fancy,” but they certainly do have to be “easy.”

Now, if only the industry could clone a plug ‘n play teenager!

Photo Credits via Flickr: mjmonty & rtadlock